09 May 2010

Sheep in Wolf's Clothing (aka Never Judge a Book By It's Cover)

Confession: Sometimes, I can be such an elitist snob! See, I have this thing about "mass thinking." It turns me off. I'm not fashionable or hip. I just know what I like and that's that. Pop radio lost its luster for me decades ago. And it's rare that I would run to the theaters to check out a blockbuster. And, based on what I'd heard, read and seen about it, Eat, Pray, Love had suffered snotty my judgment, thereby being relegated to the "Seemingly Spiritual-But-Actually Self-indulgent-Psychic dump-Oprah Book Club-Feel Good Lite-Chick-Lit" category. No, mam! I wasn't going to succumb to mass female hysteria surrounding this New York Times best-seller. I dismissed it.
Years after the celebrity of the book subsided, it somehow, found its way to my bookshelf. After my friend, Lisa, found out was sick, she gifted me with said book. Her note said "I hope it brings you as much joy as it did me." I thanked her kindly and promptly shelved it -- there to gather dust for a few months. I forgot about it.

Little did I know that this unfairly pre-judged book, I had taken for granted was going to play a major role in my life last year. Somehow, as I approached the end of my chemotherapy treatment, a heavy weight of sadness and loneliness had gripped me. I wrestled with feelings of helplessness, desperation, and hopelessness and all sorts of resources through different cancer resource organizations. I joined chat boards, read literature, and talked to some folks about it. Nothing helped. Nothing, until the eve of my last chemo. I was sleepless and sad. I wanted someone to talk to, but it was too late in the evening. After tossing and turning in bed and exhausting all the possibilities on cable TV, I started perusing my bookshelf for anything that would jump out at me. Anything! And there she was, lying face at eye level in my bookshelf. "Pasta, prayer beads, and flower petals. Hmmmm.." So, I started reading. What did I have to lose? And that was the night, Elizabeth Gilbert's book rescued me from my seemingly endless wheel of loneliness. Eat, Pray, Love had kept kept me company for the next few weeks, giving me reason to read, feel, eat, pray, love and move on. Liz Gilbert was like the best friend I needed at the time. What a god-send!

But, what could a sucessful 30-year-old author, going through a divorce and travelling to find the divine (courtesy of a $200,000 advance she got from her publisher to write Eat, Pray, Love) have anything to say to me? We couldn't be any more differently situated! I'd sorted through my divorce years ago. I've never felt the absence of the divine in my life, no matter what I'd gone through. And I certainly did not have the $200,000, to spend on a year travelling to exotic places to "find the balance between pleasure and the divine." Why then was I so enamoured of this woman and her journey to find herself through food in Italy, the divine in India, and love in Bali?

The answer was embarassingly simple. She spoke my language and she spoke to my heart. The pain and loneliness that I couldn't articulate properly to anyone else was salved by her book. It didn't matter much that our individual situations couldn't be any further apart. At a certain juncture, I think that struggle is universal -- whatever form it takes. And, better yet, redemption and triumph are equally as universal. And as I struggled through my own crisis, Elizabeth Gilbert was a comforting "friend" to have. What an invaluable treasure her book was to me! (And to think, I had dismissed her and her book based on my own literary prejudices.) Eat, Pray, Love gave me comfort, laughter, tears, wisdom and kinship. For as long as I read the book, I did not feel so alone, even though the "conversation" was only one way. That was exactly what I needed. Yes. No I felt that no one could understand my struggle then. BUT, I understood hers. And that was what I needed!

Who knew, eh? Something (and someone) I had dismissed because of my snobby prejudices ended up soothing my soul and saving my sanity. Humble pie eaten in generous proportions, thank you very much!

And so, to Ms. Elizabeth Gilbert, my gratitude for being a brilliant, inspiring, and encouraging "friend" albeit only for a few weeks. Thank you for Eat(ing), Pray(ing) and Love(ing) and nurturing my soul.

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