Sunday, December 16, 2007

'Eat, Pray, Love' ...

I've been reading this book for many months.

Not because I've been rationing the short chapters the way a David I once knew, an ascetic sort, would suffer self-imposed literary restrictions on books he loved to make them last longer.

No, as Doreen so sagely said last night, "You're just not in the right place to be receiving the message right now."

Clearly not. Every time I'd try to make any headway, I'd fall asleep.

Reading can be a sleepy pursuit, but not all books leave me nodding off. I devoured the last Harry Potter and found sleep to be a bit of an inconvenience, really. I simply wanted to keep reading.

But today, after shoveling more snow than I've ever shoveled in my life (a big thanks is due to Neighbor David for being neighborly and helping me finish once he was finished with his own), I came into the warmth of my house, which was still smelling faintly of warm sugar from baking the day before, shed a few of the layers I'd piled on for shoveling, picked up Eat, Pray, Love, and settled in on the loveseat in the living room. And then, a bit later, I got up, grabbed my afghan off the couch in the TV room, and settled in to the comfy chair, determined that today would be the day I'd finish this book.

And I just have. It's a remarkable book. Elizabeth Gilbert's writing style is easy and chatty, much, I like to think, like my own. But the framework of this book is brilliant: A 30-something woman's three-country quest to find her center.

I love the power of words, how they contain power themselves but are imbued with greater power by the reader. Late in the book, she and a friend are lounging on a beach, drawing a map of Manhattan in the sand, tracing Broadway's crooked path, marking the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building with seashells, and she ends the paragraph with this: "Out of respect, we take two sticks and put the Twin Towers back at the base of the island, back where they belong."

I yelped at that sentence, an involuntary cry as though I'd just suffered a sharp, sudden pain, and tears ran down my face. I wonder if I'll ever be able to think of that day without crying.

Throughout the book, there are parts to which I can greatly relate, such as her relationship with a man named David, a man whom deep down she knows is not for her, but to whom she returns, over and over, wishing for it all to work.

It's hard to discount that sense that you feel in your soul – in that place deep in the center of your chest, so deep that it ceases to be physical, that bit of infinity you carry inside – that you can be connected to another person so strongly, yet that person, ultimately, is not the one.

On page 149, I began underlining a passage and didn't stop until the following page. This is some of what Gilbert wrote, a conversation between her and her new friend Richard (who calls her Groceries because of how much she can eat):

"I think the reason it's so hard for me to get over this guy is because I seriously believed David was my soul mate."

"He probably was. Your problem is you don't understand what that word means. People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that's what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that's holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life. A true soul mate is probably the most important person you'll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with your soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then they leave. And thank God for it. Your problem is, you just can't let this one go. It's over, Groceries. David's purpose was to shake you up ... tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light could get in ... . That was his job, and he did great, but now it's over. Problem is, you can't accept that this relationship had a real short shelf life. You're like a dog at the dump, baby — you're just lickin' at an empty tin can, trying to get more nutrition out of it. And if you're not careful, that can's gonna get stuck on your snout forever and make your life miserable. So drop it."

"But I love him."

"So love him."

"But I miss him."

"So miss him. Send him some love and light every time you think of him, and then drop it. You're just afraid to let go of the last bits of David because then you'll really be alone ... . But here's what you gotta understand, Groceries. If you clear out all that space in your mind that you're using right now to obsess about this guy, you'll have a vacuum up there, an open spot — a
doorway. And guess what the universe will do with that doorway? It will rush in ... and fill you with more love than you ever dreamed. So stop using David to block that door. Let it go."

"But I wish me and David could —"

He cuts me off. "See, now, that's your problem. You're wishin' too much, baby. You gotta stop wearing your wishbone where your backbone oughtta be."

And with that, I wrote in the margin, in capital letters, "WOW."

I underlined that passage many months ago. And since then, a similar situation has come to pass. I'm in the process of clearing out the space in my mind and growing a spine. No wonder my back hurts so much lately. All in all, so far, so good. Any day now, I'll expect the universe to rush in and fill me with more love than I've ever dreamed.

If her book is truly prophetic, I have a 50-something Brazilian named Felipe in my future.


Blogger J. Marquis said...

Glad to hear you liked it so much. I got it for my wife for Christmas.

11:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find it fascinating that this book has garnered such a cult following. I found the author to be a complete head case ... a self-involved wimp, who instead of dealing with her life, ran away from it. I read about the book when it was released, couldn't wait to read it, then was terrible disappointed.

11:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's TERRIBLY disappointed.

11:46 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

I think the key about this book is like Doreen said: You have to be in a place where it resonates with you.

I've certainly wanted to get away from my normal life for a while to figure things out. Of course, I couldn't afford to travel around the world for a year. But I did spend an overnight in Louisville once.

I'm not saying it's the greatest book ever written. And I may never reread it, but for where I'm at today, it was a nice commiseration.

Happily, Anon, there are a zillion other books out there. May I recommend "Animal Dreams" by Barbara Kingsolver? One of my all-time favorites. Fiction, but beautifully written. The heroine, technically, runs away from her life, but she ends up at home, helping to care for her father.

7:09 AM  
Blogger Alison said...

I LOVED the book. Loved it. It really resounded with me.

8:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like Barbara Kingsolver and have read her books. But for luminous ficton writing, I really like Charles Baxter. And I also highly recommend a collection of short stories called "Brief Encounters With Che Guevara," by Ben Fountain. Now that's writing.

Everybody wants to escape their lives to solve their problems. Most responsible people don't do it, however.

12:07 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

Thanks for the recommendations, Anon. I'll check 'em out.

As for escaping, I guess if you have the means, it's not nice to get away for a while and rethink things. I have a friend who had a crazy, high-powered job in advertising (i.e. made a lot of money) and decided to get out of that racket and reinvent her life. Part of that process was taking a few months off to just drive across the country with no real agenda, just letting herself go where she wanted to go.

Seemed to help her. Her life is completely different now. She's very happy.

So I don't begrudge Gilbert her journey. If I could walk away from my job for a year, I'd do it, too.

12:13 AM  

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