Compiled by The Bedford Citizen, with input from Ginni Spencer, Kim Siebert MacPhail and Julie Turner with photographs by Richard Krusemark and video by David Lance
First Parish on Bedford Common was packed to the rafters on Monday night for a rousing, rambling, thought-provoking talk by Anne Lamott, author of numerous books and essays.
Lamott’s work includes a classic for aspiring writers, Bird by Bird, but many readers are also familiar with Operating Instructions, her memoir of her first year as a mother, and a more recent work written in collaboration with her son about her first year as a grandmother, Some Assembly Required.
An enthusiastic crowd lined up early with copies of Lamott’s latest book, Help. Thanks. Wow., in hand. One visitor from Westford, Emily Teller, arrived at 1:30 in the afternoon. Armed with the New York Times, her knitting, and notes to write to friends she proclaimed the First Parish sanctuary a lovely place to spend the afternoon. When asked why she came so early, she said she was determined to get a good seat because “Annie Lamott’s not just a celebrity, she’s more of a kindred spirit.”
For the hour or so before Lamott’s talk, the assembling crowd was entertained by First Parishioners Bob and Fran Tyler, jazz stylists with a long history as part of Greater Boston’s music scene.
In his introduction, First Parish’s senior minister John Gibbons said, “Thank you, Annie, for ever pointing us to a path of heart, balance, gratitude, and joy (you do use those words); and for helping us endure the inevitable times when we are off, way off, that path. Thank you for exposing and admiring and – in laughter and tears – making more tolerable what you call, ‘our groping, lurching and unfinished lives’.”
Lamott stepped to the podium and began speaking as if she were settling into a conversation with a single good friend over coffee rather than a capacity crowd.
She shared stories from her childhood when she was “diagnosed” as an overly-sensitive child – a condition she now recognizes as being the hyper-awareness of a writer in the making. Years of alcoholism and substance abuse eventually led her down a particular spiritual path that has sustained her through her life’s ups and downs. Lamott revealed a wry and poignant perspective on the world that clearly resonated with the audience. Drifting easily from topic to topic, she talked about her year on Match.com, her competitive nature, and her need to be constantly reminded that “I am not in charge of everything”.
Beyond the fully occupied pews in the sanctuary, chairs were arranged in the second floor rooms overlooking the sanctuary, and a video feed facilitated by Bedford Television brought Lamott’s talk to adjoining classrooms. An estimated 700 people were spread throughout the historic meeting house for the talk and reception.
A latecomer noted, “Upon entering the building, I immediately heard a roar of laughter and murmurs of appreciation. Trying to find a place to stand where I could see and hear her was difficult because everywhere I looked there were people, packing the church to the limit: the sanctuary, the overlook room, and a double classroom upstairs with audio and video feeds. Standing in the hallway outside the classroom, peering through a window to see the screen that showed Anne Lamott was the best I could do; even so, the experience was amazingly intimate because of what she shared with the audience about her life, about her beliefs and about what sustains her.”
At the close of her talk Lamott invited everyone to join in a three-part round of Seek Ye First which brought the evening to a close with a rousing alleluia. Emilie Hitron, a Needham resident who works at the Bedford VA, helped to lead the singing. “I loved being on stage with Anne Lamott, singing my favorite hymn,” she said.
With special thanks to First Parishioner David Lance for this video of Seek Ye First at the end of Anne Lamott’s visit to First Parish in Bedford.
More images from Richard Krusemark
All images are copyrighted, 2013 all rights reserved.