Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love gained a lot of recognition when it came out, becoming a #1 New York Times Bestseller. Now that the movie is here, it is gaining even more of a following. But until this week, I was one of the apparent few that had not made the adventure with Gilbert through Italy, India and Indonesia.
I’m not sure what I expected. Her beautifully written words and detailed descriptions are exactly what I anticipated finding after reading her reviews. Humor and honesty flow over every page. I picture her anxiousness, her joy, her heartbreak and her hope. But, it took me a long time to really like her. I know that depression and anxiety can be debilitating and cause huge personality shifts, ruining relationships and the ability to see outside ourselves. I am not glossing over the fact that Gilbert struggled a great deal with both of these, but she seemed a little…dare I say it…whiny and selfish. Divorce is ugly. It is never friendly – if two people could maneuver in a respectful way, communicate clearly and learn to compromise – then they probably wouldn’t be getting a divorce. Perhaps the real struggle wasn’t about a marriage ending, but the fact that the marriage should never have happened. Perhaps her depression and anxiety stemmed from guilt of entering into a life-long committment that she could not sustain in the first place.
One of my favorite song-lyrics comes from Feist’s song Let it Die.
“The saddest part of a broken heart
Isn’t the ending so much as the start
The tragedy starts from the very first spark
Losing your mind for the sake of your heart
The saddest part of a broken heart
Isn’t the ending so much as the start”
To be fair, I have not actually finished this book. Presently I am still half-way through India, and enjoying this experience a great deal. Elizabeth Gilbert started to become more likeable towards the end of her Italy travels. She redeemed herself in these words:
“I don’t want to insult anyone by drawing too much of a comparison between myself and the long-suffering Sicilian people. The tragedies in my life have been of a personal and largely self-created nature, not epically oppressive. I went through a divorce and a depression, not a few centuries of murderous tyranny. I had a crisis of identity, but I also had the resources (financial, artistic and emotional) with which to try to work it out.”
It was good to see her admit that some of the drama in her life was self-inflicted. I believe that true healing can only happen when we become accountable. There has to be a change in perspective that allows us to see that we have some control of our lives, and that we are ultimately responsible for the choices that we make. But I was then puzzled by her next statement:
“Still, I will say that the same thing which has helped generations of Sicilians hold their dignity has helped me begin to recover mine – namely, the idea that the appreciation of pleasure can be an anchor of one’s humanity. I believe this is what Goethe meant by saying that you have to come here, to Sicily, in order to understand Italy. And I suppose this is what I instinctively felt when I decided that I needed to come here, to Italy, in order to understand myself.”
There is a danger of confusing the appreciation of pleasure with self-indulgence, isn’t there? I mean, we see it all the time. Families who are financially struggling to the point of almost losing their homes, their transportation and their children and yet continue to do things like pay for cable, get their hair and nails done, eat at restaurants. There is a confusion between “wants” and “needs” because, as a society, we start feeling entitled. I’m not blinding making a statement. I’ve been there. I remember barely being able to pay for groceries, but thinking “I need to get my hair done because it is the only thing that really makes me feel good about myself.”
I know that I still struggle with recognizing “wants” versus “needs” and I would be lying to say that I do not still over indulge or do things purely because they make me feel good, but at this point in my life, I hope that I have a greater appreciation for the beauty in life rather than just in myself. Experiencing art, culture, religion, music and personal beliefs gives all of us more depth, allows us to have a greater world view and perspective, hopefully helps us to be more sympathetic to the people around us and less focused on the things that we feel we are “missing” or “entitled”. Less focused on ourselves.
Although there have been moments of shaking my head and thinking, “What average woman could afford to find herself on a world tour?” it has been enjoyable to learn about other cultures and beliefs. There have been some moments of insight and personal growth through Gilbert’s words, enough that I will continue reading and finish this journey.