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We’re all inclined to stash: the catch-all drawer in the study; the jammed shelves in the front hall closet; the rusting bikes and tools in the garage; the dusky trunks in the attic; the bulging sacks in the basement; the faded shed in the backyard; the discolored boxes stashed in the annex; the stacks of recipes from House and Garden magazines bundled in the kitchen cupboards.

What compels us to hoard stuff we think we’ll use someday, especially when that “someday” rarely arrives?

A similar clutter can also occur in our psyches vacuuming social media for titillation, engorging the latest scandal from The Hill or undigested trivia, staring down our neighbor’s excesses—even Broadway productions of festering resentments.

And then we wonder why we seek medical or psychiatric attention: pills to fix us, an injection to mellow us, or even surgery to cut out the disorder.

Can it be about mindlessness?

There is a response to this disorder offered by a wise friend: “If in doubt, out!”




“Oh no! —Would look at that? —That’s me! —I can’t believe that!” It tickles, unmercifully, the heart, the mind, even the gut.

Even the presentation of these nine essays is a hoot. No serious authors use the color orange for their book jackets. Sky-blue graces the inside covers, the title page, the chapter titles, and page numbers; it also highlights the first letter of the word in each chapter’s opening paragraph. Lavender replaces the usual black print in the text.

Who is behind these reversals?

It is Anne Lamott, a prolific author, now in her sixties, “with bad hands and feet.” Again, she leads her readers into the intricacies of her seasoned psyche found on each page of Hallelujah Anyway – Rediscovering Mercy (2017). Wide-eyed, she does not flinch from life’s setbacks. Her soldering spirit enlists humor, the “wise counsel of teachers with flashlights,” the fruits of Eastern and Western spirituality, and the courage to change, with others, often—all within the mystery of heart-mercy that forgives and offers relief.

Anecdotes flesh out this process, often messy and unseemly.

Such tickling pries open the clinched heart and plummets it within deep prayer wherein mercy resides. We breathe, again.



What were the true circumstances of Miss Margaret Fairchild, an impoverished woman living in her disabled Bedford van parked in the courtyard of British author, Alan Bennett for fifteen years? Thanks to his compassionate restraint, he delayed publishing her story in The London Review of Books until after her death in 1989. For decades he had already studied the downtrodden and heralded their stories.

Throughout the movie, The Lady in the Van (2015), its screenplay written by the same author, we glean hints of her past: a concert pianist, who had studied Chopin with the Swiss-French virtuoso Alfred Cortot; a former nun whose superior ordered her to sacrifice her passion for music with prayer; a psychiatric patient committed by her brother for treatment of her shattered world; an escapee who lived the rest of her life within its pieces. After her van accidentally killed a motorcyclist on a country road, she changed her name from Margaret Fairchild to Mary Shepherd.

Through the artistry of Alan Bennet, we have the portrait of a damaged woman, bold-spirited, eking out her last years among neighbors on Gloucester Crescent in Camden Town, an inner city district of London. Many of them remembered Mary and shared stories with the film crew.

Kudos to Alan Bennett for perceiving Miss Mary Shepherd as a lady, despite her stench, her stubbornness, her vinegar speech, her raucous laughter. Her nobility shines through the shards of her existence. We were touched.





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