In these times, when I have focused my reading on learning about critical issues and exposure to other cultures and points of view, reading Anne Lamott’s Dusk Night Dawn was like a guilty pleasure. I have read her before, but never has it left such a mark on my soul.
This is probably because the moment in her life that forms the foundation for the book is her late-in-life marriage. She writes of marrying at the age of 65. And I, too, married late at 47. By these ages, we are fully formed and independent. To allow another person to pick up our slack, see us in our glory and our failure, and bring all of themselves to us, can be, well, challenging. And even as we are wowed by the arrival of a loving, concerned, and supportive human in our lives, we sometimes wonder why they are not going home.
The darkness in Lamott’s title points both to the ongoing pandemic and her response, as a progressive, to the Trump administration. She does not hold back her truth, or choice expletives, in expressing opinions about politics or other lunacies, and I confess that she was preaching to the choir here. Yes, I know I should be looking to understand those who don’t share my views, but sometimes it is just so nice to sing along. And I appreciated Lamott’s confidence that “the center just may hold.”
The last element of this book that I adored is the unique integration of her deep spirit and religious commitment with a healthy irreverence. Like when she recalls a deeply moving Sunday school lesson she once led, only to realize the students were mostly interested in the upcoming snack. Or when she offers a spiritual reflection to the reader, only to remark that perhaps it wasn’t “very Jesusy.”
As a progressive religious person and spiritual leader (a congregational rabbi), I too find that I maintain perspective by deeply appreciating the beauty and value of my tradition while not taking it — or myself — too seriously and by immersing in my truth, without needing to hold myself or other to any Truth with a capital T.
This is a recovery memoir, but getting sober is only part of Lamott’s story; it isn’t her reason for writing. Tales and lessons learned from her years of drinking and process of recovery are woven into the fabric of the book in a way that is enriching for all readers.
Michal Woll is Rabbi of Congregation Shir Shalom in Milwaukee, and coauthor of a memoir, Mixed-Up Love: Relationships, Family, and Religious Identity in the 21st Century.