Sunday, November 02, 2008

Auntie Lois B., Part I: Dancing with the Limp

(My aunt died this September 30, of complications from cancer. My next two entries are written for her.)

..for some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid pieces of paper unfolds world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet you or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die. They are full of the things that you don't get in real life--wonderful, lyrical language, for instance. And quality of attention: we may notice amazing details during the course of a day but we rarely let ourselves stop and really pay attention. An author makes you notice, makes you pay attention, and this is a great gift. My gratitude for good writing is unbounded; I'm grateful for it the way I'm grateful for the ocean.

Anne Lamott wrote this in her book Bird by Bird, and I think my Auntie Lois B. felt the same way.


I always loved hearing about Auntie Lois’s book club which she organized and attended regularly in California for over twenty years. She once sent me a list of the books they’d read together, and put asterisks next to the ones she particularly recommended. Whenever she was here for a visit, we’d talk about what we were reading and share stories about the neat things we’d learned from books, the joy and comfort that reading brought to us.

I am so glad I was able to participate in a couple of her Minnesota family book clubs. I will always remember talking about books and life with my family, sitting in my other Auntie Lois’s beautiful gazebo, drinking tea and enjoying the excellent company.

I gathered some quotes from the books and authors that we read together, and put them together for others to enjoy. When I read these quotes, they bring Auntie Lois back to me for a moment: I remember her smiling eyes as she asked us to share our thoughts about a particular plot point or character, her strong voice as she read an exerpt to us from a review of the book we read, her gentle hands patting ours when she expressed a shared perspective or a differing opinion.


The first book we read was All New People, by one of Auntie Lois’s favorite authors, Anne Lamott (quoted above.) Here is a quote from All New People, which sounds a bit like a piece of advice my Gramma Caryl might give:

[My eccentric mother used to say] ‘Dwell in the solution,’ which was shorthand for something a Christian writer named Emmet Fox once said, which was, ‘Do not dwell in the problem, dwell in the solution; the solution is God.’

For this book club, we watched a video together about Anne Lamott, and remarked on her humor, her strength, and her eccentricities. We got a big kick out of her; we loved her originality and honesty, and her descriptions of the role of faith in her life. Here are a few more Lamott quotes (which I found online -- I hope that means they are okay to share here) that give you an idea of the person she is:

'No' is a complete sentence.

If you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans. ~ Bird by Bird

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people.... I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it. ~ Bird by Bird

We all know we're going to die; what's important is the kind of men and women we are in the face of this. ~ Bird by Bird

Your problem is how you are going to spend this one and precious life you have been issued. Whether you're going to spend it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy it and find out the truth about who you are. ~ from her graduation commencement address to Berkeley

I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything. I remembered something Father Tom had told me--that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns. ~ Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

Peace is joy at rest. Joy is peace on its feet. ~ quoting her pastor in Salon, April 25, 2003

You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.

Sometimes grace works like water wings when you feel you are sinking. ~ Grace [Eventually]: Thoughts on Faith

I never had a particularly strong craving to procreate, except for earlier fantasies of wanting to be Marmee in Little Women.

Here are Anne Lamott’s rules for life, from Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith:

Rule 1: We are all family.
Rule 2: You reap exactly what you sow, that is, you cannot grow tulips from zucchini seeds.
Rule 3: Try to breathe every few minutes or so.
Rule 4: It helps beyond words to plant bulbs in the dark of winter.
Rule 5: It is immoral to hit first.

And here is one more quote from her about the importance of books in our lives:

Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It's like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can't stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship. ~ Bird by Bird

1 comment:

Michelle said...

What a perfect tribute to your Aunt Lois, Caryl, to capture her spark by speaking through books you shared! How touching. And those friends you met through books will be moments with your Aunt you can always call back...