152. for a friend…finally
A friend of mine wrote an especially brutal, transparent blog. She talked about a time when she was at spiritual rock bottom and how God found her there – poked his head in out of the blue, unexpected but not unwanted (welcome, in fact).
Anyway, reading that blog reminded me of the introduction (what she calls an Overture) to Anne Lamott’s amazing book, _Traveling Mercies_. I told this friend of mine that I’d share this introduction but I’ve been unable to because I’ve either lost the book or loaned it out to someone who hasn’t returned it (if this is you, keep the book because…). So I was at Borders today and bought another copy. It’s one of those books I just have to have on hand, like a security blanket.
In this introduction (sorry, Overture), Lamott talks about how she came to accept Christ into her heart. It’s the most hilarious conversion story I’ve ever read. You’ll see.
I only share the section where she accepts Christ. There’s lots of stuff that comes before and a bit more stuff that comes after, and then the book really begins. Buy this book! You won’t be disappointed. If you are, I’ll buy your copy off of you.
Oh, and I don’t know if the publishers have little bots that scurry around the internet looking for posts like these, posts that lift reams of text from copyrighted books without asking permission. Read it while you can and if you know someone who knows someone who might know someone associated with the book in some business-like fashion, please don’t tell.
In the dust of Marin City, a wartime settlement outside Sausalito where black shipyard workers lived during World War II, a flea market was held every weekend for years. In 1984 I was living in a mother-in-law unit on a houseboat berthed at the north end of Sausalito, on San Francisco Bay. I was almost thirty when I moved in, and I lived for the next four years in a space about then feet square, with a sleeping loft. I had a view of the bay and of Angel Island. When it was foggy, San Francisco across the water looked like a city inside a snow globe.
I got pregnant in April, right around my thirtieth birthday, but was so loaded every night that the next morning’s first urine was too diluted for a pregnancy test to prove positive. Every other day, Pammy (her best friend), who still lived in Mill Vallley with her husband, would come by and take a small bottle of pee to the lab that was near her home. I did not have a car. I had had a very stern conversation with myself a year before, in which I said that I either had to stop drinking or get rid of the car. This was a real no-brainer. I got around on foot, and by bus and friend.
The houseboat, on a concrete barge, barely moved even during the storms of winter. I was often sick in the mornings. On Weekdays, I put coffee on, went for a run, took a shower, had coffee, maybe some speed, a thousand cigarettes, and then tried to write. On weekends, I went to the flea market.
[I’m taking out a large chunk of text where she talks about the flea market and how through this flea market she finds a small church. It was the singing that drew her in, but only as far as the doorway.]
Eventually, a few months after I started coming, I took a seat in one of the folding chairs, off by myself. Then the singing enveloped me. It was furry and resonant, coming from everyone’s very heart. There was no sense of performance or judgment, only that the music was breath and food.
Something inside me that was stiff and rotting would feel soft and tender. Somehow the singing wore down all the boundaries and distinctions that kept me so isolated. Sitting there, standing with them to sing, sometimes so shaky and sick that I felt like I might tip over, I felt bigger than myself, like I was being taken care of, tricked into coming back to life. But I had to leave before the sermon.
That April of 1984, in the midst of this experience, Pammy took a forth urine sample to the lab, and it finally came back positive. I had published three books by then, but none of them had sold particularly well, and i did not have the money or wherewithal to have a baby. The father was someone I had just met, who was married, and no one I wanted a real life or baby with. So Pammy one evening took me in for the abortion, and I was sadder than I’d been since my father died, and when she brought me home that night, I went upstairs to to my loft with a pint of Bushmills and some of the codeine a nurse had given me for pain. I drank until nearly dawn.
Then the next night I did it again, and the next night, although by then the pills were gone.
I didn’t go to the flea market the week of my abortion. I stayed home, and smoked dope and got drunk, and tried to write a little, and went for slow walks along the salt marsh with Pammy. On the seventh night, though, very drunk and just about to take a sleeping pill, I discovered that I was bleeding heavily. It did not stop over the next hour. I was going through a pad every fifteen minutes, and I thought I should call the doctor or Pammy, but I was so disgusted that I had gotten so drunk one week after an abortion that I just couldn’t wake someone up and ask for help. I kept on changing Kotex, and I got very sober very quickly. Several hours later, the blood stopped flowing, and I got in bed, shaky and sad and too wild to have another drink or take a sleeping pill. I had a cigarette and turned off the light. After a whiile, as I lay there, I became aware of someone with me, hunkered down in the corner, and I just assumed it was my father, whose presence I had felt over the years when I was frightened and alone. The feeling was so strong that I actually turned on the light for a moment to make sure no one was there – of course, there wasn’t. But after a while, in the dark again, I knew beyond any doubt that it was Jesus. I felt him as surely as I feel my dog lying nearby as I write this.
And I was appalled. I thought about my life and my brilliant hilarious progressive friends, I thought about what everyone would think of me if I became a Christian, and it seemed an utterly impossible thing that simply could not be allowed to happen. I turned to the wall and said out loud, “I would rather die.”
I felt him just sitting there on his haunches in the corner of my sleeping loft, watching me with patience and love, and I squinched my eyes shut, but that didn’t help because that’s not what I was seeing him with.
Finally I fell asleep, and in the morning, he was gone.
This experience spooked me badly, but I thought it was just an apparition, born of fear and self-loathing and booze and loss of blood. But then everywhere I went, I had the feeling that a little cat was following me, wanting me to reach down and pick it up, wanting me to open the door and let it in. But I knew what would happen: you let a cat in one time, give it a little milk, and then it stays forever. So I tried to keep one step ahead of it, slamming my houseboat door when I entered or left.
And one week later, when I went back to church, I was so hungover that I couldn’t stand up for the songs, and this time I stayed for the sermon, which I just thought was so ridiculous, like someone trying to convince me of the existence of extraterrestrials, but the last song was so deep and raw and pure that I could not escape. It was as if the peole were singing in between the notes, weeping and joyful at the same time, and I felt like their voices or something was rocking me in its bosom, holding me like a scared kid, and I opened up to that feeling – and it washed over me.
I began to cry and left before the benediction, and I raced home and felt the little cat running along at my heels, and I walked down the dock past dozens of potted flowers, under a sky as blue as one of God’s own dreams, and I opened the door to my houseboat, and I stood there a minute, and then I hung my head and said, “Fuck it: I quit.” I took a l
ong deep breath and said out loud, “All right. You can come in.”
And that was my beautiful moment of conversion.