Everyday Miracles

Anne Lamott has an unremarkable life. “I hike every morning with my dog Lily, rain or shine. I come home and work. I take a nap every afternoon. I hang out with Sam. Every night I see my boyfriend, Rory. I just do the total mom thing, the quiet, aging hippie Marin thing.”

It would not be unfair to claim that someone who has written four national best sellers and a whole slew of other beloved books—fiction and non—and who draws crowds of hundreds whenever she gives a reading isn’t exactly living an average life. But it is precisely her ordinariness, and her ability to write about it with piercing wit and naked honesty, that have earned her a piece of the literary spotlight.

In Grace (Eventually), Lamott’s third collection of essays on life and faith (the first two were Traveling Mercies and Plan B), she once again explores the presence of grace in all its mysterious and surprising forms. Her themes are the big ones: forgiveness, friendship, love, death. But many of her details are quotidian: skiing with her son, helping out at a friend’s special-ed dance class, worrying about her neck and thighs, wrangling a group of five- and six-year-olds while teaching Sunday school. She is, as she says in her introduction, “a vulnerable mess,” but she’s a vulnerable mess who manages to find something extraordinary in what might otherwise pass as an unexceptional day.

Over the years, her short, funny essays, which are themselves a bit of grace, have become her trademark of sorts. “I love being able to start something and finish it within the same week or so,” she says. “I like to read [a piece of writing of] this length and I’m always happy when I come upon it.”

When asked what has changed since her first such book, she pauses. “I thought Traveling Mercies was going to be every single thing I knew about faith,” she says. “But things have changed. When I wrote the first [nonfiction] book I was still in very deep grief about the death of my friend, Sam was a little boy, and Clinton was president—so I was in a much better mood about that.”

Many things have indeed changed. Sam, whose life has been chronicled by his mother since his birth, is nearly 18. Lamott, who has written extensively about finding her way out of drug and alcohol abuse, has been sober for 20 years; and George W. Bush is serving his second term as president, something she may have finally come to uneasy grips with. In the new book she writes, “I don’t hate anyone right now, not even George W. Bush. This may seem an impossibility, but it is true, and it indicates the presence of grace, dementia, or both.”

What hasn’t changed in the seven years since Traveling Mercies is her deep Christian faith, as well as her cranky sense of humor and her liberal politics. “I have been in the best mood since the [November] election,” she says from her home in Fairfax, where she is getting ready to appear at a benefit to raise money for a clean water system for a village in Sierra Leone. “It gave me a complete new lease on life. I feel like our country was really saved by the bell . . . we got a miracle.” Which is precisely the kind of thing she writes about: a light in the darkness, a moment of hoped-for grace that once seemed impossible.