Stories as Reliable Medicine: A Book (well, first chapter) Review

Almost everyone who knows me knows I’m a devoted fan of the Brooklyn (aka Los Angeles) Dodgers. What almost everyone who knows me doesn’t know about me is that I’m a devoted fan of best-selling author Anne Lamott.

I could tell you stories of the Dodgers when they were in Brooklyn that even the most ardent of fans can’t recall, stories of Pete Rieser, Cookie Lavagetto, Red Barber, Dixie Walker, Sandy Amoros, Carl Furillo, and Karl Spooner, but those stories, while they probably help to define my childhood, would mean little to most listeners. That’s because my stories have become a kind of “good medicine” for me, and Anne Lamott recognizes that our stories keep us healthy and hopeful in our darkest moments.

Reading Lamott’s latest reflections on revival and courage, a 2021 volume called Dusk Night Dawn, is like sitting beside the outdoor pool of an old motel lobby at the midpoint of an 18-hour drive toward home with a cup of styrofoam coffee and listening to another aging traveler who has taken a seat near me and is reading aloud from a Gideon Bible she’s removed from her motel room as she interprets those ancient stories of Jesus and other prophets.

She holds up the Bible and says: “Love is sovereign here, and the hardest work we do is self-love and forgiveness.”

It’s as if this stranger, a traveling street-preacher of good stories, has singled me out as one in need of her vision of salvation. It’s Spring and it’s still a bit too chilly for a dip in the pool. I’m on my way home after speaking with others about climate change at an Earth Day celebration. I’m listening to an unlikely angel of concern for the earth.

Lamott, the unknown evangelist, apparently has been active in her own discussions of climate change. “It’s going to be really hard to turn the environment around, but we can do hard,” she preaches. “We can do hard and in fact we have done hard before—World War II, vaccines, antibiotics, antiretrovirals. We are up to this.”

“Never give up,” Lamott urges. “Never give up on intimate relationships or science or nature.”

Admittedly, I’m just at chapter one and I’m already recommending Lamott’s message. “Love is the mastermind of it all,” she says as she relates her own stories. She cites Mozart: “The soul of genius is love, love, love,” and I hear the Beetle’s echoing that wisdom—“All you need is love.” And then Lamott turns this discussion into an admonition: “We need to stop racing and to savor beauty, to look up from our screens at the weather, one another’s faces, the ocean, the desert, a garden, and architecture, which is another kind of garden.” [She gets my “faith@ease” vote right there.]

Enough of my story. Lamott’s book has 11 chapters and I’ve just told you about the Prologue. But she discloses her method in her prologue’s discussion of conversing with a group of women: “I told them my stories of mess and redemption, because stories can be our most reliable medicine.”

Her book, Dusk Night Dawn, I can affirm after swallowing its first pill, is good medicine for a world coming to grips with the here and now of a pandemic, melting arctic ice, disappearing shorelines, and a general planetary temperature rising at a scary rate. I’ll be back in a few months when I’m finished with Dusk and Night and am hopefully welcoming the Dawn.

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