Thursday, July 17, 2008

A few thoughts from "Eat, Pray, Love"

Today while I was reading "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert over my lunch, I came across a couple of passages that really touched me/made me think. The writer, at the time, was 34, as I am, and no longer married, which I have never been. The things she says seemed extraordinarily relevant to me and my life and I thought I would take this opportunity to share them with you. First one:
...To create a family with a spouse is one of the most fundamental ways a person can find a continuity and meaning in American (or any) society. I rediscover this truth every time I go to the big reunion of my mother's family in Minnesota and I see how everyone is held so reassuringly in their positions over the years. First you are a child, then you are a teenager, then you are a young married person, then you are a parent, then you are retired, then you are a grandparent - at every stage you know who you are, you know what your duty is and you know where to sit at the reunion. You sit with the other children, or teenagers, or young parents or retirees. Until at last you are sitting with the ninety-year-olds in the shade, watching over your progeny with satisfaction. Who are you? No problem - you're the person that created all this. The satisfaction of this knowledge is immediate, and moreover, it's universally recognized. How many people have I heard claim their children as the greatest accomplishment and comfort of their lives? It's the thing they can always lean on during a metaphysical crisis, or a moment of doubt about their relevancy - If I have done nothing else in this life, then at least I have raised my children well.

But what if, either by choice or by reluctant necessity, you end up not participating in this comforting cycle of family and continuity? What if you step out? Where do you sit at the reunion? How do you mark time's passage without the fear that you've just frittered away your time on earth without being relevant? You'll need to find another purpose, another measure by which to judge whether or not you have been a successful human being. I love children, but what if I don't have any? What kind of person does that make me?

Virginia Woolf wrote, 'Across the broad continent of a woman's life falls the shadow of a sword.' On one side of that sword, she said, there lies convention and tradition and order, where 'all is correct.' But on the other side of that sword, if you're crazy enough to cross it and choose a life that does not follow convention, 'all is confusion. Nothing follows a regular course.' Her argument was that the crossing of the shadow of that sword may bring a far more interesting existence to a woman, but you can bet it will also be more perilous."

In the second, she talks about how she has battled depression (melancholy) in her own life and how the melancholy of Venice affects her:

" Yet I don't get depressed here. I can cope with, and even somehow enjoy, the sinking melancholy of Venice, just for a few days. Somewhere in me I am able to recognize that this is not my melancholy; this is the city's own indigenous melancholy, and I am healthy enough these days to be able to feel the difference between me and it. This is a sign, I cannot help but think, of healing, of the coagulation of my self. There were a few years there, lost in borderless despair, when I used to experience all the world's sadness as my own. Everything sad leaked through me and left damp traces behind."


kieron said...

Mother Teresa had no children, no husband.

But she poured herself a MOTHER. The key is a focus outward, and (I agree) having a purpose in life.

On either side of the sword, without a purpose, despair looms close.

Anonymous said...

I love this book. A friend has it now so I can't directly quote, but the part that made me howl in tears was when her inner voice said she would always be there for her or something like that. This book changed my life and how I view myself.


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