Dusk, Night, Dawn
My comic friend Duncan once said nine words on stage that changed me. He said that when you first meet him, you’re meeting his bodyguard. I wrote it down and later taped it to my bathroom mirror, where all truth resides at least briefly. His bodyguard is smart and charming, and keeps people out. Deep inside, his true self is very human, which is to say beautiful and kind of a mess—needy, insecure, judgmental, like most of us. It is full of love, warmth, and rage. He is devoted to his Neo-Hindu spiritual community. Their guru says to love and serve and feed everyone: he co-founded a medical organization forty years ago that has restored eyesight to millions of people around the world.
So Duncan feeds and serves everyone he can through this community, and he is also cranky, acerbic, and often on edge, having survived cancer in his thirties, and then having had a child last year. We share the belief that we are both loving awareness with skin on, and walking personality disorders. We believe in deeper realities of stillness and magic. We both see earth as forgiveness college, and that we are at best B-/C+ students. We believe in the immortality of the soul, although he finds it hilarious that I am a Christian, and I think it is hilarious that he is whatever the hell he is. When troubles befall, we are both combo platters of anxiety, faith, constriction, sharing, expansion, trust, and panic. He loves, judges, forgives, and grouses, gives and receives deep love, sharing life’s inevitable pain, maintaining his humor and belief that love is who we are, and why we are here.
Me? Well, of course, I believed this, too, until the power went out in our county for four days, and I spiraled into victimized self-righteousness. And it was good.
Pacific Gas and Electric is a privately owned utility whose outdated equipment starts catastrophic fires in California’s glorious forests. Once it has started the fire, PG&E turns off our power to prevent the fires from spreading. While we all have tiny opinions on PG&E, we sprang into action, grumpy but prepared-ish. Some of us bought generators. We rose to the occasion.
Everyone was there for everyone else; the first day.
We discovered early on the first day of the power outage the great lesson of life, which is how much actually does work all the time: candles, water, soap, pets, walking, friends. And gas! We had hot water. We had a laugh about what whiny babies we were, and reminded one another how, after each blackout, we’re actively grateful for all the blessings of our lives, for about 24 hours.
The WiFi didn’t work, and periodically not even the phone, but man, indoor plumbing did, which is the beginning and end of all civilization. I savored the hot shower. To show my inside person that there was a caring mother on deck, I lovingly washed my big funny body, my baby belly button, behind my ears, between each toe, like I had for my baby son, and his. I put on a pretty shirt, forgiving pants, excessive mascara. I made saltines with peanut butter and raspberry jam, and then Good & Plenty: heaven.
The sky was a bowl of arctic blue, with a touch of aqua, and sun dappled the sidewalks through our trees. Shadow steals the show so often, when light isn’t looking. Light thinks it is Beyoncé, shimmying with celestial meaning, but shadow knows that without it, we ain’t got nothing to show for ourselves—no paintings, poetry, or song.
I loved that we could use lamps and the microwave, but the generator sounded like a jet engine and some of the generator-less neighbors seemed distant and maybe bitter. Neal and I walked into town. At that point, I still liked him very much, partly because he had bought and set up the generator, which meant that while half the neighbors hated me, I would have milk for my coffee.
We walked along with espresso in paper cups and five minutes later, I had an epiphany: I had appreciated the first sip greatly, but that was the last I’d really noticed it. And now it was gone. What part of each day do I do this? I’m guessing about two thirds. Note to self: As Sharon Salzberg says, mindfulness isn’t hard. You just have to remember to do it, over and over again. I breathed deeply, and I was back.
From DUSK, NIGHT, DAWN: On Revival and Courage by Anne Lamott published on March 2, 2021 by Riverhead, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2021 Anne Lamott.
This essay was featured in the April 11, 2021 edition of The Sunday Paper. The Sunday Paper publishes News and Views that Rise Above the Noise and Inspires Hearts and Minds. To get The Sunday Paper delivered to your inbox each Sunday morning for free, click here to subscribe.