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Help, Thanks, Wow

The best part of Anne Lamott's thin tome Help, Thanks, Wow (subtitled "The Three Essential Prayers") is the title. That doesn't mean that the body of the book is bad, but rather that its name is truly, totally brilliant. Those three single-word ejaculations (in the classic grammatical sense of that word) — a cry from the depths of despair, a heartfelt expression of gratitude, a gasp at the glorious wonders of the world — pretty well capture what most people try to express when they talk to God, or the universe, or themselves.

Lamott is smart and wise and funny. Maybe too funny at times, when she comes across as Erma Bombeck on 'ludes or Louis C.K. with existential dreads and dreadlocks. Her pop religion is diluted enough that even devout atheists won't be much offended. Her self-deprecation is effective, though occasionally when slathered on a bit thickly makes one wonder how a best-selling Marin County author can truly feel the pangs of poverty and depression that her earlier life was filled with. There's not a lot of theological logic in Help, Thanks, Wow, and the sections of the book keep creeping into one another's turf. For instance, in the middle of Thanks:

I admit, sometimes this position of gratitude can be a bit of a stretch. So many bad things happen in each of our lives. Who knew? When my son, Sam, was seven and discovered that he and I would probably not die at exactly the same moment, he began to weep and said, "If I had known that, I wouldn't have agreed to be born." This one truth, that the few people you adore will die, is plenty difficult to absorb. But on top of it, someone's brakes fail, or someone pulls the trigger or snatches the kid, or someone deeply trusted succumbs to temptation, and everything falls apart. We are hurt beyond any reasonable chance of healing. We are haunted by our failures and mortality. And yet the world keeps on spinning, and in our grief, rage, and fear a few people keep on loving us and showing up. It's all motion and stasis, change and stagnation. Awful stuff happens and beautiful stuff happens, and it's all part of the big picture.

In the face of everything, we slowly come through. We manage to make new constructs and baskets to hold what remains, and what has newly appeared. We come to know—or reconnect with—something rich and okay about ourselves. And at some point, we cast our eyes to the beautiful skies, above all the crap we're wallowing in, and we whisper, "Thank you."

That's unfortunately typical Lamott logic. Not too convincing, if you diagram out the syllogisms. David Foster Wallace's speech "This Is Water" is a far more thoughtful, useful, insightful guide to life. But Lamott's title is a better mantra. And when things get really rough and a life-preserver is desperately needed, maybe that's good enough. Help, Thanks, Wow.

(cf. HeadlightsAndDecisions (1999-06-26), ...) - ^z - 2013-02-25

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