Anne Lamott, Harold Kushner, and Me

Even though I read for a living, I couldn’t pick up a book about cancer for months after my diagnosis.  I was living cancer 24/7.  No need to spend any additional time reading about it. 

But once it started to sink in that cancer defined the parameters of my new life, I sought out books that would help me understand the contours and dimensions of life saturated with cancer. 

I read earnest accounts of strong and courageous people knocked down by cancer; meditations on personal journeys of faith in the midst of cancer; expletive-laced narratives highlighting the awful attributes of cancer; and prescriptions for the correct language usage when discussing cancer.

I appreciated the writings of others struggling to live with this disease.  At the same time, being a religion professor who thinks long and hard about the big questions of life, I longed to read more about wrestling with those big questions in light of cancer.  What I read about faith and cancer often pushed toward a sense of resolution I couldn’t relate to.  When I found narratives that were wholly unsentimental and irresolute, faith often was not a prominent theme. 

What I finally realized I wanted to read was the kind of book Anne Lamott would write if she had cancer (which, thankfully, to my knowledge, she does not have).  I longed for something like Lamott’s wry, honest accountings of her failures and successes; of life’s challenges and unexpected gifts of grace; of the wonder, humor, and chaos of human relationships. 

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