Just One Question…

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Hey there Family Life lovers,

Sometimes I read books. This was not always true in my life. When I was a little kid, my mom and I read a lot of great books together: The Berenstain Bears, Where the Wild Things Are, Sometimes Even Mommas Make Mistakes (my personal favorite), and Amelia Bedelia. Then something terrible happened: the fourth grade. My teacher assigned a book to be read as homework……. Um, whhhat? Excuse me? You want me to read for homework? No thanks, I only read for fun.

I didn’t read a single book for homework in the fourth grade, or any grade after that. How can one possibly manage graduating from high school or college without reading the books assigned? It is probably best not to reveal the secret, but I will say that I had a system that did not involve cheating off of friends, renting the movie, or reading the Cliff’s Notes. It involved listening in just the right ways. I never read Bless the Beasts and Children in my freshman year English class, but I got a 98% on the test.

I would still read for fun here and there over the years, but I didn’t enjoy it like I did when I was a kid. Then I discovered “the book.” The book that I did not want to put down. The book that reached out to me in ways that no other book had ever done before. It was Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies. A friend suggested I read it, gave me a copy, and then boom! Life changed. I now call this book my “sanity book.” I make sure to pick it up every couple of years and I usually find myself reading it when all things in life are not going as planned.

A few days ago, I received an email from Goodreads.com asking readers to a submit question for Anne Lamott for an interview they are going to have with her. I thought for a minute and came up with nothing. I mean, what do you ask the person who helped change your views on God and faith and books and reading and writing? What else could Anne Lamott possibly offer me that she has not already? How am I supposed to ask this woman just one question?

Then I remembered. I’ve already done this… in person. I saw Anne do a book reading in St. Louis a few years ago. After the reading she graciously signed her books. I watched a couple hundred people line up with their favorite Anne Lamott book in hand, nervous and excited. A friend that I was with asked if I was going to join her in line. Duh. Standing in line, my friend asks,

“Where’s your book, Betsy?”

“I didn’t bring one”

“Then what will she sign?”

“Not sure yet.”

I was wearing a green and white hat with a Johnny Cash patch sewn on the front. I said to my friend, “I wonder if she signs hats.” When my turn came, I took off my hat and handed it to Anne saying, “I didn’t bring a book, but I did bring a hat.” She smiled and began to pick up my hat. Before she could sign it, I stopped her and said, “Wait a minute.” Anne looked up at me and then it happened. My one question

“Do you like Johnny Cash?” My friend laughed at me and asked what difference it makes. I explained to her, and Anne Lamott, that not just anyone can autograph a Johnny Cash hat. You have to be a fan. I can’t disrespect the Man in Black. Anne Lamott smiled and said, “I do like him.” I said, “Okay, good. Continue.” Anne signed my hat and I was on my way.

Three months later, my dog ate the hat.

If I had the chance to do it all over again, to be face-to-face with my favorite author and just one question, I wouldn’t change a thing.  In my brief moment with Anne Lamott, she was not Anne Lamott: Author. Or Anne Lamott: Life Changer. Or Anne Lamott: Theologian. She was simply Anne Lamott: Person. I asked the same question of her that I would ask anyone.

We live in a society where we are often encouraged to judge or covet a person’s status, success, wealth, or fame. This has never sat well with me. I am learning that I prefer to be with people when they are at their most human. I am trying to be more intentional about setting aside quick judgments and thinking that I know someone’s story before hearing it. My interaction with Anne Lamott reminds me that people are simply people. Some like Johnny Cash and some don’t. Some get to autograph my hat and some won’t. Either way, my dog is going to eat the hat, so it doesn’t really matter.