Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Five Rules For Being An Adult

Anne Lamott (Anne Lamott; AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Five Rules For Being An Adult

Annie Lamott, whom I quoted in yesterday's essay, jostles with Annie Dillard in being my favorite writers of all time. At that same Art and Soul Conference I referenced earlier, she told me/us a couple of things which I've used, sometimes daily, ever since. I'm going to share them now.

The first is a story she heard on NPR, which, as she said with a laugh, meant it "must be true". It occurred in the period immediately following the liberation of Europe after World War II. American aid workers poured in to help the destroyed communities of Europe -- the civilian casualties of this war, as in all wars, were exponentially greater than military losses. In particular, there were vast numbers of orphans or lost children. Huge encampments were set up by Americans to feed, clothe, and treat these children as some surviving member of their family was attempted to be located.

One relief worker recounted his experiences with these children. They were ravenous in every regard (when they weren't catatonic) and for the most part, the adults looking after them allowed them to eat as much as they wanted. One little boy, emaciated and starved beyond belief, ate his fill but still woke up every single night with screaming nightmares. The relief worker would hold him until he went back to sleep, but often the nightmares recurred the same night. This went on for weeks. Finally, one night as dinner was ending, the little boy picked up a loaf of bread from the table and slipped it under his shirt. The relief worker noticed this act and didn't interrupt. When the little boy went to bed, he put on his pajamas, then hid the loaf under his pillow. After the lights went out, he retrieved the loaf and held it clasped in his arms.

He had no nightmares that night.

He knew he would be eating the next day, even if all the adults disappeared.

Offering succour to those who are damaged to this extent means giving them a loaf, yes. But it has to be a real loaf, not simply listening to the screams of nightmares.


During a talk the next day, Annie offered us these
Five Rules For Being An Adult:
1. Have nothing wrong with you.
2. If you do have something wrong with you, don't admit to yourself.
3. If you cannot deny what is wrong with you, hide it from others.
4. If you cannot hide it, at least have the decency to not show up.
5. If you insist on showing up, be ashamed.