This post has been kind of falling together for a few days. How fitting that it’s ready to hit the interwebs on Mother’s Day…
Anne Lamott wrote this letter to her Grandson Jax at 4 months old:
“Dear Jax: Yesterday was your first Thanksgiving, and it is time for me to impart to you the secret of life. You will go through your life thinking there was a day in second grade that you must have missed, when the grown-ups came in and explained everything important to the other kids. They said: “Look, you’re human, you’re going to feel isolated and afraid a lot of the time, and have bad self-esteem, and feel uniquely ruined, but here is the magic phrase that will take this feeling away. It will be like a feather that will lift you out of that fear and self-consciousness every single time, all through your life.” And then they told the children who were there that day the magic phrase that everyone else in the world knows about and uses when feeling blue, which only you don’t know, because you were home sick the day the grown-ups told the children the way the whole world works. But there is not such a day in school. No one got the instructions. That is the secret of life. Everyone is flailing around, winging it most of the time, trying to find the way out, or through, or up, without a map. This lack of instruction manual is how most people develop compassion, and how they figure out to show up, care, help and serve, as the only way of filling up and being free. Otherwise, you grow up to be someone who needs to dominate and shame others, so no one will know that you weren’t there the day the instructions were passed out.
I know exactly one other thing that I hope will be useful: that when electrical things stop working properly, ninety percent of the time you can fix them by unplugging the cord for two or three minutes. I’m sure there is a useful metaphor here.”
~Anne Lamott, from Some Assembly Required
Good Lord, I love everything about this.
…when I got to, ‘here is a magic phrase that will take this feeling away,’ my heart inflated like an out-of control water-balloon. I knew where she was going. I knew there wasn’t a magic phrase. But boy, oh, boy, did her little build-up suck me in, into thinking that maybe, maybe, it was real. I probably didn’t miss it in second grade, but there probably was some easter egg hidden somewhere in my adulthood that I blew right on past without even knowing, like about all the things you can learn in books like Emily Nagoski’s Come as You Are. There was a lot I missed along the way, and for just a split second, she had me euphoric with the thought that this was one of them, and I was about to be let in.
Two split seconds, actually. I reeled it back in by the period, but she had me on the hook again with the feather thing.
…when I got to the flailing, I was angry with her for being so hopeless, like I think she is sometimes. So arms-in-the-air F*#@ it! like she gets. Even though she rarely stops there. And of course, she didn’t.
Of course she didn’t.
She took the flailing to it’s ultimate purpose, to forging compassion, to empathy for our broken brothers. To what it means to be human.
…when I got to the otherwise, I almost cried. Because how horribly true is that?
And here we are back at the feet of compassion.
…when I got to the electrical woes, all I could think was, ‘Way to ruin a good thing. Always have to make a joke.’ Like some other broken people I know.
…and when I got to the metaphor I did cry. Just a little bit.
I’ve written a few letters to my girls over the years. It was my intent all along, to give them a stack of notebooks filled with pithy and pragmatic wisdom and love, when they broke out into the big, bad world. I’ma be honest and tell you that I didn’t really start until they were each teens. I dunno who hit the Warp Speed Actuator back in the day, but life got away from me.
Things started picking up a bit when Rachel was closing in on adulthood and I opened her notebook to find only one sad little note. Amazing what an impending deadline can do for a project.
But it is my hope that they’ll keep their letters, even if there are only two of them. I hope that I can lay out a little, tiny fragment of the love I have for them on paper, and that they can return to it again and again, when they wonder if they were ever really here.
When I finished Annie’s letter to Jax, I knew that my letters would never be hers, but I hoped that they might be enough. Maybe I’ll photocopy hers, and tack it into each of their mostly empty notebooks. Maybe they won’t notice that I’ve never once called them, affectionately, Jax.
I love you, Monsters,
And for the slideshow illiterate, the impatient, and the visually challenged: