Bestselling novelist Ann Patchett knows how to walk right up to the edge with people she loves. She is the friend who sits with you during chemo, or lets you spill your secrets in the car. She shares what powerful lessons she learned early on about how to approach suffering with humility, knowing you can rarely change a life, but you can be there to witness and be amazed.
In this episode, Kate and Ann discuss:
CW: addiction, death of friends, cancer
Visit Anne’s bookstore Parnassus Books next time you’re in Nashville, TN.
If you do go to Parnassus Books, make sure you meet Ann’s dog Sparky the bookshop dog!
You can buy Ann’s novels including The Dutch House, Commonwealth, Bel Canto, and Ann’s book of essays These Precious Days: Essays, from Parnassus Books online store here.
Find Lucy Grealy’s book Autobiography of a Face, here. You can also buy the book Ann wrote in response to Lucy’s memoir called Truth & Beauty, here.
Find Horton Hears a Who, here.
Read an excerpt from Ann’s book These Precious Days published in Harper’s Magazine about her friendship with Sooki (including Sooki’s beautiful art throughout the article).
Ann references Father Greg Boyle as an image for loving acceptance of others. Listen to Father Boyle talk about his ministries as a guest on Everything Happens, here.
It’s not too late to join us for Lent! Find our Good Enough Lenten guide, here.
Buy Ann’s friend, Lucy Grealy’s book, Autobiography of a Face, here. You can buy Ann’s companion piece called Truth and Beauty, here.
Read These Precious Days: Essays by Ann Patchett Essay written with and for Ann’s friend Sooki; and admire the GORGEOUS cover art that Sooki painted for this book.
Kate Bowler There are some people who just know how to walk right up to the edge with people. The friend who sits with you during chemo or goes to the funeral home with you. The one who lets you spill your secrets in the car, no matter how ugly or scary or embarrassing. The one who doesn’t seem to mind that the great friendship balance sheet is entirely out of whack because yes, you have another problem. And I’m so sorry would you mind if-? Of course she wouldn’t mind. She’s already two steps ahead and has picked up your favorite trashy magazines and offered to grab the kids and has a bottle of wine ready to go. These are the kind of people who don’t just see you as your illness or grief or drama, but see you. Love you. Want your fullest, most complicated, most creative self. I’m Kate Bowler and this is Everything Happens. And today I’m talking with someone who models this kind of open hearted love someone who knows you can rarely change a person or their circumstances, at least not by very much. But you can bear witness to their beautiful and sometimes terrible lives. My guest today needs no introduction, and yet the convention of introductions requires that I dare speak her name, Ann Patchett. She is the author of gorgeous New York Times bestselling novels like The Dutch House and Commonwealth, delightful children’s books and poignant essay collections like her latest the beautiful These Precious Days, she continues to be a champion of independent bookstores and writers alike, and she is a co-owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville. And I have been to the- I’ve been there, I’ve been around there, I’ve been to the adjoining place it is, it is a, it is a gorgeous place and you must go when you are in Nashville, Tennessee, where she lives with her husband, Karl and their pup, Sparky. They don’t actually live in the actual bookstore, though that would be amazing. Tables made of books, ottomans made of books. You can see where it breaks down with electronics or fires. And I have been look looking forward to talking with you forever. Thank you so much for doing this with me.
Ann Patchett I’m really excited and prepared, which I usually have two modes. Either I’m the interviewer, which I do a ton of at the bookstore, and then I am very prepared or I am the interviewee and I do absolutely nothing. I just show up like a blob. But in this case, I’ve been having a little Kate Bowler festival, where I’ve been reading your books and listening to your podcasts and really loving you really, really loving your work and having so many moments of thinking I wish I was interviewing you. So if this doesn’t go well, let’s just switch hats and I’ll interview you. I’ve got a million things I want to talk to you about. The prosperity gospel. What the hell is up with that?
Kate Bowler Yes, that would be the subject of my new bio, The Prosperity Gospel. What the hell is up with that?
Ann Patchett I didn’t know about that. I grew up as a Catholic and it was like, Be poor, be poor, be poor. God loves the poor, all about the poor. You want to, you know, like, I used to cry at night because my parents had had money and I would- I was doomed.
Kate Bowler Oh Ann!
Ann Patchett Yeah, we would never get through the eye of the needle. We were doomed. And so then I start reading your books and your silly religion based around people begging God for money. Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz? My friends all drive Porsches. I must make amends. Yeah. I had no idea. I thought that was just a silly Janis Joplin song. I didn’t realize it was like a religion thing.
Kate Bowler Oh my gosh. That’s amazing. Yes. I think that’s one of the first things, the first feelings I have when I open up this memoir is for These Precious Days is, Oh, she’s not expecting everything to be possible. She is, she is hoping for some beautiful things to be possible today, and that makes us well kindreds. Immediately kindreds.
Ann Patchett No joke. My motto in life is low expectations are the secret for happiness.
Kate Bowler I love it.
Ann Patchett It’s the source of all my joy.
Kate Bowler That’s amazing. That’s amazing. Yeah. Let’s lower that bar.
Ann Patchett Oh, yes. Step right over it so easily. And then you’re thrilled every day!
Kate Bowler There is this very wistful quality to this book that feels it feels like that breathless, anticipatory feeling like anticipatory grief, anticipatory fear. And I like the the waiting and the in-between. And I, I know so many people have a hard time starting new things if they’re worried that they’re going to lose or they’re worried that they can’t guarantee the outcome. And you write this lovely bit about why that is true even of or maybe even especially about books. Tell me about the emotions required to write a book and why you choose to write essays instead.
Ann Patchett Well, so normally I’m a novelist. I’m a novelist, if I have to fill out my passport and it says job, I write novelist. The way I write a novel is I spend a long time thinking about a plot, couple of years. And I don’t take notes because my whole idea is that if I forget things, they were meant to be forgotten. And if I start writing things down, I get attached to them. So I try to keep things very loose for a long time while I’m figuring things out. And then when I’m writing it, nobody else is reading it. It’s just me and the people in my head and I’m walking around, and I always have this feeling that if I step out into the street and get hit by a car, it’s like everything goes. It’s not just me, it’s everybody. You remember Horton Hears a Who?
Kate Bowler Yes.
Ann Patchett And all the little whos in the dandelion puff? It’s like that. You know, if something happens to Horton, then all the whos die as well. So I’m carrying around all my whos. Whereas when I write nonfiction, nonfiction happened. And even if I’m not the one to write it, somebody else saw it. So somebody else could finish it or tell the story. But if I get taken out in the middle of a novel, then and it all goes with me, which, no loss to literature. But it just makes me kind of sad.
Kate Bowler You’re right, there is something very stable about facts. I’m just thinking of me writing history books. You’re right, I don’t feel the sense of burden unless, of course it hasn’t been written before, and it’s all primary sources and then I feel kind of nuts. But if it’s, if it’s interpretation. Yeah.
Ann Patchett But even then you’ve, you know, you’ve taken notes. Those primary sources are still there. Somebody else can pick up your work. You’ve got a T.A.. Certainly, you’ve got a T.A. Somewhere. Who can finish your work for you.
Kate Bowler You know who my T.A. is? It’s my dad. My dad is my T.A. He’s my research buddy.
Ann Patchett I’m kind of in love with your dad. I just I feel very close to your dad.
Kate Bowler He is, well, if you want someone in your life who instead of saying, I love you, says I’ll follow your career with interest, then you may you may have my father.
Ann Patchett That was my father and and he was actually very good at saying, I love you too. But boy, did he follow my career with interest. He was my own personal clipping service. Every single thing he clipped, he put into mylar sleeves and he kept.
Kate Bowler Yeah. Your writing about your dads, your three dads was both hilarious and tender. And such a wonderfully confusing way to think about the way that we belong to each other, especially with dads. There’s some kind of relationship between hopes and dreams and expectations and making you into a certain kind of person. And each one of those dads had a different sort of way of carrying that, didn’t he?
Ann Patchett It was very Sleeping Beauty. You know, it’s like the three graces come to the baptism and each one gives an essential gift. And so my mother’s three husbands throughout the course of her many long marriages, each gave me a gift. My father wanted me to be safe and secure. You know, he wanted me to have a steady job. He was afraid for me to be an artist. He had grown up very, very poor. He wanted me to be safe. And he didn’t approve of my choices because he thought I wouldn’t be safe because he loved me. Yeah, my my stepfather, who was really crazy, wanted to be a writer. So he wanted exactly what I had and thought that I was the second coming of Christ. And I mean, absolutely. I didn’t think his own kids were the second coming of Christ. It was just me or my sister. No, there were six of us. He only liked one of us. And it was me.
Kate Bowler And the amount of him writing in him wanting you to read it seems like what a voluminous.
Ann Patchett Yes.
Kate Bowler Burden of love.
Ann Patchett Or just a just a voluminous burden. Which I think there’s a full stop there. We don’t need to, he wasn’t writing out of love. I mean, they were really, really bad novels, but he was a brain surgeon. And and he didn’t even read his own books. He would just sort of vomit them onto a page and then or 600 pages, really, really super heavy, fine stock like resume paper. Yeah, he would have them printed and bound at Kinko’s. And then I would mark them up, and then he would give them to his secretary to work in my edits and then have them reprinted and sent back to me. And sometimes there were three or four novels a year, but I learned a lot. I learned a lot about time management
Kate Bowler and the value of my own life and how I don’t always want to give it away.
Ann Patchett Actually, I do think where writing is concerned, we can learn so much from other people’s mistakes. Yeah, when people ask me if they should go to an MFA program and study writing, we say the if you wanted to just study good writing, you could stay home, you know, read Chekhov. Fantastic. But bad writing, actually, I think can make you learn much more quickly. When you see someone doing something wrong and you know you can identify it and then you think, Well, I’m not going to do that. I know that that’s not what dialogue is like. And it’s a it’s an accelerated way to learn.
Kate Bowler Yeah, yeah. She exclaimed. Period. Did she exclaim it?
Ann Patchett You’re a really beautiful writer.
Kate Bowler Oh Ann!
Ann Patchett And yes, I mean, no, really sentence to sentence. You’re really, really beautiful writer. And I just wondered if that was always part of your path when you were a kid. And how did you think I want to write?
Kate Bowler Well, the first I mean, the first creative writing I really ever did, other than when I had the best friend’s writing club, when I was 12 and every heroine had like a single thin scar on her delicate forearm. She had no discernible flaws. And I recognized that later when I started studying celebrities how they always gave us only one tiny not flaw to focus on. Someone always had like a sticky farmhouse table, as if, like her only flaws, that she just didn’t properly wipe down the counters.
Ann Patchett It was like Cindy Crawford’s little mole.
Kate Bowler Yes! That’s exactly right!
Ann Patchett Could relieve us and just let us fully take in her beauty like the Amish quilt with one square turned.
Kate Bowler That’s exactly right. Yes. Yeah, I think I mostly wrote like that. But, when I thought I was going to die that year, I figured, well, no one has to read this. So I wrote that first memoir in about six weeks just because I kind of speaking of people vomiting things up, I was kind of like. And that’s and that’s that book. So I after that, I took a look.
Ann Patchett It’s a great book!
Kate Bowler Well, so thank you.
Ann Patchett It really is.
Kate Bowler It was such a joy to be able to tell stories, to tell it like a story instead of just tell it like a historical record that I kind of, you know, you have that wonderful feeling when you tell a friend and you’re like saving the delicious, funny part till the end, you know, when then you realize they’re both trapped in the same phone booth and they didn’t even have to be there in the first place. It just, it felt so, that has been the the freedom, I guess, of it, of mostly the freedom of humility. Like no one has to read. It doesn’t even have to be that good. But I can do it.
Ann Patchett Boy, isn’t that the truth? And that’s the part that no one gets. People are always so afraid. They, you know, they say, Oh, I can’t write about the truth because I’ll hurt people and I’ll disrupt lives. What I have to say is so powerful. This is what the youngsters believe that I can’t write it because I would just devastate and disrupt. And I always say no, the hard part is coming to terms with the fact that no one cares at all what your writing. Like even if you’re Margaret Atwood, no one really cares.
Kate Bowler Oh, that’s so great. Yeah.
Ann Patchett That’s the devastating part, that you’re not going to disrupt or devastate any lives.
Kate Bowler And there is such a wonderful permission there about, you know, we’re spending our lives staying on script. And then if we did, for instance, break script, what would happen? It feels like the world would explode when really, maybe we would say something slightly more honest that most people truly didn’t care much about in the first place?
Ann Patchett That’s right, because we are all the hero of our own play. And we forget that everyone is the hero of their own play and they’re not watching our play. They’re watching their own play. So it doesn’t make, it doesn’t make any difference at all. It is there is so much freedom in writing. I have a mentee and I keep telling her, I want you to think of yourself as a tiny grain of sand because you’re so unimportant and in your unimportance, in your invisibility, you can go anywhere. You can witness anything. You have nothing but privilege if you want to write. That’s just such a privilege to be able to do that. You’re tiny. You’re unimportant. Bring your very, very best A-game. You’re not going to hurt anybody. You’re not going to change anything. Just feel the enormity of the world and the enormity of your freedom and do something astonishing for yourself. And whenever she writes to me, she signs her emails grain. Love grain.
Kate Bowler Oh, that’s so good. That’s a beautiful humility.
Kate Bowler I think what I thought for this last effort and honesty that I wasn’t, I wasn’t going to be able to write another book because I couldn’t see the part where I stopped being inspirational and everybody stopped caring. And there is, you know, there’s a moment in an illness where everybody just stops caring because it’s not new information anymore. And yeah, you know, you’re still trying not to die and everyone else is still, you know, doing laundry. And at some point there’s no there’s no sort of sheen to it. And would it be, would it be all right to just be to have a boring, terrible life and and be honest about that feeling of exhausting loneliness and sort of second grief about it? And the second I kind of wrote that paragraph, I realized, you’re right. I don’t think I’ll explode anybody’s life. I feel terrible in writing it. But it was wonderful, to be honest about it let me be, it let me have survived, I guess.
Ann Patchett It’s so true, though, and it’s a truth that people need to hear. I had a young friend who I took to chemo every week when she had breast cancer and and when she was done, she said, I just really miss it. Like I miss sitting together for two and a half hours every week with the drip. I miss all that time and and everyone’s interest. And I was like, Yeah, that’s called getting well.
Kate Bowler Yes! That’s right.
Ann Patchett Yeah, but what a shift, because you totally go into one place and you think you’re going to stay there until you die and then you have to come back out of that place. And yeah, everything that you wrote about trying to move back into your body after you’d given up on your body and your body had given up on you. You know, it’s like having to move back in with your ex-husband or saying, like, I really thought we were done, Oh my God, we’ve worked it out.
Kate Bowler Ann, you’ve obviously been practicing for such a long time, being really close to the edge with people. It’s like walking right up to the edge. You can feel the upward draft people’s toes curl over the the edges and you might feel some rocks fall. You had a friend early on in your life, Lucy. I would love to hear about.
Ann Patchett Yeah. So Lucy and I went to college together. We went to Sarah Lawrence together, so we’d known each other since we were 17, but we weren’t really friends in college. She was very popular. She was the most popular girl. And Lucy had had a Ewing’s sarcoma in her jaw when she was nine and had lost half of her jaw, and she was one of the first children to ever receive chemotherapy. Wow. Which was horrific. I mean, she said it was just like being burned alive and I could talk about this forever. But her parents didn’t tell her that she had cancer because they just said, You, you know, you lost a tooth. You’re going to have to have surgery because nobody thought she was going to live so there really was no point in explaining it to her. But she did live, and then she only had half of her jaw. She couldn’t swallow. She lost all her teeth. You know, it was a nightmare. She had thirty nine reconstructive surgery over the course of her life, anyway. So when we were in school, she was this wee tiny thing with with long, dirty blond hair, and she would tip her head forward. So there would be this curtain of hair. She looked like Cousin It. And then we both got into Iowa. Lucy was a poet and I was a fiction writer. And neither one of us had enough money to get our own place. So we lived together. And at that point we became best friends when we were 21. Oh, I just learned a million things from Lucy, and I thought of her so often when I was reading your work and wishing that I could give her these books, which is always isn’t that the worst part of someone dying when you see something that you want to give them? They want to buy for them? They would have loved this book. You would have love this bedspread. Oh, she would have died over this puppy? Yes. If only she could have lived to have died over this puppy. Those kinds of it’s like, what? Anyway, when we were 39, she had a bone removed from her leg and grafted into her jaw, and the graft didn’t take, and she then couldn’t walk and she became addicted to because she was always so far ahead of the curve as she became addicted to OxyContin. And then she became a heroin addict, and then she died and she was a real cause celebre. She wrote a book called Autobiography of a Face, which was very famous, and she would be on CNN talking about the importance of beauty, and she would be on MTV’s House of Style talking about beauty. She was sort of the face of disfigurement, and a lot of it was that you could tell she was very beautiful in a very traditional way, but she had been so botched. So many times. Yeah, and had suffered so enormously and there were so many surgeries, but that wasn’t even the point. I mean, it was just such a profound psychic suffering of wanting to be loved and wanting to be loved. Never, never, never, never enough love, never enough people and never enough time, never enough laps to crawl into, never enough love. And she did really teach me how to be with someone, and she taught me about the enormous light that there is around death, and I spent so much time in the hospital with her and so much time I don’t know, like sitting behind her in the hospital bed, holding her head while she threw up. It was that kind of a friendship and I I got good at it. I got really good at that. And people say, Oh, you know, it’s so sainted of you, you are so good at it. And I’m always like, Oh, well, let’s make a list of the things I’m really bad at. Like, I’m terrible with children, just children just terrify me. If I couldn’t make it in a montessori school for 20 minutes. You could put me in an old folks home. You could put me in an Alzheimer’s unit. You could put me in a hospice and I’d be great. Put me in a kindergarten, not a chance in the world.
Kate Bowler Yeah, I guess that is what is so refreshing about knowing you and your words is like when you write about your priest friend, Father Charlie and his account of why he is, so you’re describing what a what an unbelievably altruistic and open hearted and giving person he is. You will say in the same moment that if we describe that as sainthood, if we put that, if we make that other that that light that you’re describing, we maybe don’t always recognize the same stuffiness of which we are made. And then we you say we kind of let ourselves off the hook for it.
Ann Patchett Well, that was Dorothy Days’ whole thing. Don’t canonize me because if you do, then you will not take responsibility to do the work that I’m doing. If you think that there’s something special or wholly about me, you’ll let yourself off the hook. And so we do, we think of saint, you know, we think of Saint Joan. We think of being burned at the stake as opposed to Charlie Strobel, who just manages to meet every single human being with love and acceptance and Greg Boyle as well, just that there is no other, there is no separation. There is no margin. I’m always there with you. Yeah.
Kate Bowler Yeah. Not letting sick people be other does a little bit seem like something you have gotten, you can always tell when someone is scared of you, you know, and you exude this wonderful fearlessness about pain that I just have to say, I personally find very refreshing. It gives a kind of permission for if you feel like you’re the tragedy that someone is willing to, I guess, it just feels like that category of witness like there will be a witness to it. Yeah.
Ann Patchett But but to just, you know, when she died, so I wrote a book about her called Truth and Beauty, which was a companion piece to her book Autobiography of a Face and an old high school friend who I hadn’t seen in a long time read the book. And this old high school friend had a brother who was a drug addict. And she said to me, Don’t you feel like you enabled her? And I said, It’s so interesting. It’s such an interesting question, because my only regret is that I did not enable her every second. My only regret is that I did not sit with her while she shot up. Seriously, that that there was part of me that was like, No, if you’re going to be a heroin addict, I’m not going to send you money anymore, because what you realize later is that life has an arc. And people are going to do what they’re going to do, and you can’t affect change, but you can witness it. You can’t change the outcome, but you can sit with someone while they’re going on their journey and just say, I see you and I’m here with you. And I know you’re suffering and if you’re suffering because you’ve had another horrible botched surgery or you’re suffering because school boys chase you down the street in Glasgow barking at you like a dog at two o’clock in the morning or you’re suffering because you’re shooting up and you’re alone. I just want to be there. I just I can’t change it, and I can’t stop it. But I can be there. That’s it.
Kate Bowler I’d love to talk about Sooki. You met in this really unconventional way. She was like an email acquaintance who became a huge part of your life. And and then Sooki got a reoccurring pancreatic cancer and ended up moving in with you and your husband while she was enrolled in a clinical trial nearby. You knew at the outset of that friendship that Sooki probably wouldn’t survive her disease. I guess that kind of made me wonder how did bearing witness to Lucy’s life and death change how you bore witness to Sooki’s? If that makes sense.
Ann Patchett So when I met Sookie, then I knew that wasn’t going to go well, but I thought, I can. I can be there. And another great thing that happened after Lucy died and I had written about her and everywhere I go all these years later, people always ask me about that book and they always asked me about Lucy. And I say, I’m so lucky because I get to talk about her and go home and ask people about their dead beloved people because nobody’s forgotten. We all want to talk. Yeah. And somebody said to me once, How do you think it would have changed Lucy’s life if you had written this book when she was still alive? And I thought, Oh, wow, that’s a great question. And then when I met Sooki and I thought, OK, I know you’re going to die. But I can write your story now, and everyone can read it. And oh my God, it was the single most amazing thing I had ever been part of because it was published in Harper’s Magazine. We talked about it forever. She helped me with it. We worked on it. And it went around the world three times. Everybody read that piece, and the love that poured out for her was absolutely like nothing I’ve ever seen from old friends who found her again, from people who loved her paintings, from people who wanted to say, I love you and I’m praying for you and I’m thinking about you, and I’m so sorry this is happening to you. And it did nothing to save her, but it boosted her it, it held her aloft, and it was basically all these people saying, I am bearing witness to you. Yeah, I see you in all of your beauty and talent. I see the enormous graciousness of your life and I love you. And that it that came back, it was such an incredible thing to watch. And then when the book was finished and I knew at the very end that I went out to L.A. and she was going to die and she did the cover, the painting on the cover and on the back, those are Sooki’s paintings, but she did she picked out all the colors. Her whole life was about color. She had read the book. She wasn’t going to see the book published, and I and I called my editor and I said, I’ve got to write an epilogue. I’ve got to put something in that says she doesn’t live because I don’t want people reading this book thinking that she got out and it was OK that she was some special magic unicorn who got out because all she wanted to be was the special magic unicorn, and she tortured herself, tortured herself by reading books and blog posts by Magic Unicorns, who said I soaked my feet in zinc oxide, and now I don’t have recurrent pancreatic cancer. I wanted to kill those people. They hurt her so much and they made her feel like a failure. And I didn’t want anyone to read this book and think she succeeded and I failed, because it’s not that. Yeah. She just she her cells separated incorrectly. And she died. And it was no failure. She tried everything, she did everything, she worked so hard. She did absolutely everything right 100 times over and she still died.
Kate Bowler Yeah, yeah. The way you write and the way that we witness, it’s almost like you just said behold with two truths that feel like they should cancel each other out, right? Behold, look at this beautiful woman, behold, look at her passions and her dreams and her effort. Behold her, do every good thing and be deserving of every good thing. And yes, carefully, you then say, behold, this is her death. This is the unfairness of it. This is, the this is the end without an ending that we get despite the fact that. That the truth of her life was beautiful to behold.
Ann Patchett And but also. That was the shape of her life. That was the arc of her life. And that was the end of her life. And that is part of, part of the beauty and the wholeness for all of us. And ten days before Sooki died, she had her first art show. It was unbelievable. I would have bet the House that she was not going to be able to get off the couch. Yeah. She was so ill. She was so unspeakably ill. And she got off the couch and we’d set up everything, you know, so it would be on Zoom so she could watch it. Nope. She got up. She got dressed. She was beautiful. She was there. And I said, This is your wedding and your funeral and your art show all today. This is everything. This is it. Everybody’s here. Everybody’s here. And she spoke. It was so unbelievable she saw all of her work. I mean, all all of her work that she had done since she got a diagnosis for pancreatic cancer, she didn’t start painting until she got her diagnosis. She’d always been talented. She’d always knew that she could, she could paint a little. She didn’t ever have the time and the the cancer gave her the time, and she took every single second of it. And she made this astonishing work. She lived, yeah, so fully. And then she got to see it, and she got to see everyone she loved seeing it.
Kate Bowler Like the fullness of time in a moment.
Ann Patchett It really was.
Kate Bowler What a wonderful kind of permission. You write, I just I’m just sorry to read you back to you, but I loved this quote and you write As it turned out, I needed the same thing to find someone who could see us as our best and most complete selves. Astonishing to come across such a friendship at this point in life, at any point in life.
Ann Patchett Lucky me and lucky her and lucky us.
Kate Bowler I don’t know how to put this as a question.
Ann Patchett Then don’t.
Kate Bowler Can there be a wholeness to a life, like the shape of it? Can you feel it sometimes? Like when maybe does that feel what a like a what a good death could be or a good life can be when you can feel the arc of it?
Ann Patchett Every single one. Every single life has a shape and an arc and it is the truth of that life. There’s no life cut short. There’s no life too long, it’s that is the life. That’s the hand. I don’t know, it is what it is. I mean, it is we’re the grain of sand and and we’re just a blink. And the question isn’t how long you live, the question is whether or not you can remember that you’re alive. That’s it. And I and I try. And that was the, you know, that was the tragedy of Lucy that she always thought that after the next surgery, that she would start to live her life.
Kate Bowler Yes, that it was.
Ann Patchett And yes, and that lesson. Everything I know, everything I know Lucy taught me. She was always going to start next year and that the the extent to which I tried so hard to not wish my life away, to not always think next week it will be easier and next week I’ll be caught up next week I won’t still be doing publicity next week. I will have signed all the books next week. But to say. I’m alive. This is astonishing. I always wonder if I had a religion, if I had my own religion, it would be this that. That we are in paradise. And the question is whether or not we can see it. Yes. And then it’s done for all of us, but could we see it? Or were we always straining so much and the future of our own life or the idea of an afterlife? Are we so straining to see something else that we miss what’s here? And that’s what the pandemic was so great for everybody had to stay home and think about their own death. But what that did was just, for me, make me feel these are precious days, you know, so beautiful.
Kate Bowler Yes. Yeah. When we can’t go wide, we go deep.
Ann Patchett Yeah, exactly. Yeah, yeah. Kate!
Kate Bowler I love you. You’re a miracle to me. You’re a fucking miracle.
Ann Patchett Kate. Kate, I love you too. I really do. Yeah. I mean, I have a feeling the last thing in the world you need is a new best friend but-
Kate Bowler But I’ll take it. I really, really, really have. I just it’s it is, so it’s God what a beautiful, beautiful truth. Thank you, my dear.
Ann Patchett Thank you. Thank you.
Kate Bowler They say no one is safe around a writer, but that is one writer I would trust. And because we believe in blessing the crap out of each other here at the Everything Happens Project here is a blessing for the ones who bear witness. Blessed are the noticers, the ones who see the story in its fullest. Blessed are the attenders, the witness bearers, the story holders, the ones who tiptoed to the edge right alongside us, knowing that the very act will break their heart in pieces too, choosing you anyway. Blessed are those who are amazed by a life lived in its fragility, in its brevity and its beauty. Blessed are the ones who stand close enough to say, Behold, behold, this is their love. Behold, this is their silly hobby they probably should have given up on years ago. Behold, these are the people they loved who know way too much at this point. Behold are their quirky habits and favorite songs to belt in the car, and this is the marvel I get to know. Behold, this is not a problem to be solved this is a person to be loved. And how lucky are we, these people, these loves these precious, precious days. Thanks be to God.
Kate Bowler Here’s the part where I get to thank everyone who makes this work at the Everything Happens initiative possible Lilly Endowment. The Duke Endowment. Duke University. Duke Divinity School. And Faith and Leadership an online learning resource. Thank you for your generous support and my team. Jessica Richie, Harriet Putman, Gwen Hegginbotham, Jessie Broome, Keith Weston, JJ Dickinson, Karen and Gerry Bowler, Jeb and Sami. Your gifts make this work shine. I’m Kate Bowler and this is Everything Happens. Don’t miss an episode. Be sure to subscribe to everything happens wherever you listen to your podcasts. Oh, and if you don’t mind, please leave a review when you’re there. We really love to hear from you. We always read those reviews and who really love listening to your stories. You are really special to us. Find me online at KateCBowler or at KateBowler.com. And it’s not too late for you to jump in and join the sadness Lent train. We’re inviting you to read along with us as we have a Good Enough Lent. Learn more and download a free discussion guide at KateBowler.com/lent that’s KateBowler.com/lent.
11 thoughts on “Behold, These Precious Days”
Wonderful to hear Ann Patchett with Kate! Thank you as always for making our world a kinder more gracious space.
Even when you speak of the most desperate things, I hear laughter and hope in your voice.
I loved listening to you and Ann Patchett talk about love, loss and desperation in terms of an arc of a life and how the arc is all of it.
Thank you for doing what you do. I send you blessings to be present and much gratitude that you give us your presence.
The interview with Ann Patchett was wonderful. Several days later I am still chuckling about it, a great dose of humor and fun!
Somehow after spending everyday of my life with my nose in a book since I learned to read, I missed Ann Patchett. I just don’t know how that happened. Thank you Kate Bowler for introducing us to her and for letting us listen to her story. We love you.
I don’t usually leave on a reply. Today I felt I must.
This podcast with Ann Patchett was absolutely wonderful and so meaningful to me.
I recently read “These Precious Days” so to hear Ann discuss various fascinating things from the book was quite special. Thank you for sharing such a lovely conversation between the two of you. Best wishes on continued success and good health!
Thanks for your reply and thank you for being here!
Thank you for writing Everything Happens. When I was wor koi ng, some one had a sign on their desk that said everything happens for a reason. I thought it was so sad.
I just listened to your podcast wm with Kate Pachett. It was so good. I want all my friends to hear because they a see watching me die and I don’t know how to help them. It makes me want to cry. Anyway I love your books and your podcansts.
This podcast moved me in a way that I have a hard time expressing. I discovered Kate on an On Being podcast with Wajahat Ali and when I saw that she was interviewing Ann Patchett, I had to listen. I had no idea what I was in for! Such a beautiful and life-affirming conversation between two amazing women. Thank you.
Thank you for this great interview with Ann Patchett. (I am enjoying your book, Good Enough, I must get Ann’s latest book, These Precious Days). I have been volunteering with our hospice services in my community for the past 22 years. The discussion about “being there and bearing witness” explains why I have been doing this for so many years. Back in 2000 when hospice was in its infancy in our area, my husband and I were very involved in his 75 yr old mother suffering with multi systems atrophy, a divesting disease, all the way to her death. I just knew there had to be a better way to be present, so I took a hospice course. This interview and both of your words were so edifying and your blessing, Kate, was dessert.
I needed this podcast right at this moment in my life!!! My step daughter and her boyfriend have relapsed and I have been trying to figure out my role in their lives during this time. Ann’s words regarding her friend Lucy helped me. I have been been absent in this situation because I don’t know the answer. I don’t have to know the perfect thing to say or do because there isn’t such a solution. This is their journey and I need to walk with them, be with them and that does not mean I am enabling them. I can accept their journey as their own and love them on their way. Thank you for your beautiful interviews, guests and words.
Such a beautiful message. Thank you for sharing.