An update on my reading of Eat, Pray, Love. I’m only 2/3 of the way through the book. I’m still interested in Gilbert’s journey, so I won’t put it aside, but I will say that it has become sort of a slow read for me. The first third of the book, in which the author recounts her time in Italy, is very entertaining. Food, adorable characters, food, Italian language, food, soccer, and more food. Loved it!
The book slows way down in the second third, which is about the author’s months at an ashram in India. The pace, I think, reflects the difficult content more than it does the author’s talents. Gilbert tries to describe her inner journey of healing, her struggles with meditation, and her communications with God. However, as her experience becomes more about inward reflection, it also becomes more difficult to articulate.
For all my ambivalence about the book, it has inspired me to do something that I haven’t done in some time: mark up the pages. At first it felt strange to do, but there were some passages that were either too beautiful, too funny, or too thought-provoking to leave unmarked, with no way for me to find them again. I knew I would want and need to return to some of them. So, if you see my copy of the book, you’ll see my trail of breadcrumbs – dog-eared pages, flags hanging of the edge, and, even, stars in the margins. There is one part in particular that keeps rattling around in my brain, and I don’t quite know what to make of it (neither what to make of the passage itself, nor what to make of its apparent significance to me).
Liz is talking to her mother in this scene, and telling her mother how she struggles with her boyfriend David’s tendency to pull away from her. She says that David is like her father in that way, but she herself is “not as tough as you, Mom. There’s a constant level of closeness that I really need from the person I love. I wish I could be more like you, then I could have this love story with David. But it just destroys me to not be able to count on that affection when I need it.” Her mother – who, according to Gilbert, is in a stable, happy marriage – surprises her daughter by saying, “All those things that you want from your relationship, Liz? I have always wanted those things, too… You have to understand how little I was raised to expect that I deserved in life, honey. Remember – I come from a different time and place than you do. … And you have to understand how much I love your father.” (pg. 83)
And each time I read it I trip over the word “deserve.” What do any of us deserve from anyone else? Gilbert’s description of her mother paints an image of a self-reliant, capable person who reaches inward for her feelings of fulfillment and joy, while sharing a rich life with her husband. I have only admiration for that attitude. For myself, I tend to feel incomplete without an ever-present accomplice, or at least a witness. I’m like a kid on the edge of the pool, longing to dive in but, instead, futiley calling “Mom, watch me! Watch me! Watch me, okay?!”
And I am trying, trying so hard, to cultivate an inner strength, an inner witness. Life is good, but not because there is someone there to vouch for the fact that you are living it, to pat you on the back for a job well done. But, doesn’t having a partner for your life enrich the experience? I tend to think it does. Perhaps not for everyone. But for me, yes.
I’m wondering: does the notion of what one deserves even enter into the equation? When we fall in love, and are fortunate enough to have our love returned, are we then obligated to provide a quota of support and affirmation to each other? Keep it coming, and don’t go away, because I deserve this, buster.
What if Gilbert’s mother had decided, at some point in her marriage, that she deserved more? That she deserved the constant stream of affection that she would have preferred? She might have left her marriage, might have found another, perhaps could have found a partner who gave her what she wanted…. but she would have paid a dear price. She would not have known the sweetness of a long, shared history with her dear friend and partner, and the fruits of the life that they had created together – the friends, the home, the children, the grandchildren. Nor would she have been forced to develop her own inner resources, would not have known the satisfaction of digging deep into her heart and spirit to become a woman who could be her own witness in order to find joy in the life she had chosen.
I’m trying to be like that, myself. Trying to be the girl who can plunge right in, and enjoy the dive for itself instead of for the round of applause that I expect afterward.