Millions of people (granted, mostly women) have read Elizabeth Gilbert's best-selling 2006 memoir Eat, Pray, Love. It's not for everyone. Some people hate it because it has become for women what Twilight is for teenage girls---a guilty pleasure.
But for me this story isn't so much about finding love after another failed relationship. The settings are wonderful (Italy, India, and Bali), but they don't make the story.
Elizabeth Gilbert has lost her sense of self. She lost it to her first husband in the hopes of becoming the perfect wife. She lost it to her rebound relationship to a younger man (David) in the hopes of forgetting her failed marriage. This story isn't new. She's not the first person to travel to a different country (or in her case, 3 countries) to find God, love, and a sense of self. But that's the beauty of it. Gilbert is the everyman "woman?" we can all relate to.
There may be some who would righteously argue that she spends the first half of the memoir hopelessly self-involved (and why can't she just travel to three different states instead of three different countries? if I had the money that she had...maybe I could do the same thing, and blah, blah, blah).
However, when you've lost everything. When your only companions are loneliness and depression, you've got to be selfish. You've got to cling to the only piece of you that's left and fight for it tooth and nail.
Gilbert organizes her memoir into three sections in 109 japa malas (or beads that Yogis use to stay focused during meditation). The end result is a beautifully-woven strand of tales told from one woman's perspective and from one woman's determination to find balance in her life.
I found Eat, Pray, Love four years after its publication, four years after it being lauded by critics and by Oprah, and four years after it had made its way to every woman's book club in America. Like Gilbert, I had just come out of yet "another" failed relationship. I wasn't happy with the way school was going. I wasn't sure if I had made the right decision to move out here to Boston. I wanted my old life back---the life of English Club meetings, of being the brilliant Pollyanna of Kent State's English Department, of hanging with friends at the bar two blocks from my house, but that was all gone. I wasn't the golden child out here. I was just another fish in the pond. And it sucked.
For so long, I've tried to define myself in exterior terms. The English Major. The Good Son. The One Who'll Go Far. The Boyfriend. And then in early April, it all came to a crashing halt. I didn't think I could do it. It being Boston. It being Emerson College. It being on my own. I was terribly homesick and I wanted nothing better than to go home to Ohio and cry on my mother's shoulder. But I couldn't. She was there. I was here. And I had the inexplicable feeling that I had no idea what I was doing, who I was, or what I was going to accomplish here in Boston.
I came to the book in a vulnerable state and I found a companion in my loneliness: Elizabeth Gilbert. So what if she was a thirty-something year old woman and I'm a twenty-something year old gay man.
But early on in the memoir, I read a line that hit close to home, "Never forget that once upon a time, in an unguarded moment, you recognized yourself as a friend." Why would anyone want to be friends with themselves, I wondered. And then I realized, "Wow dummy, you've got work to do."
Of course not everyone is going to have the same experience reading Eat, Pray, Love that I did. Some will think its nothing more than chick lit memoir fluff. But it's not. It's a way to reconnect with something you thought you've lost--your sense of self.
I just saw the film version of the movie starring Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem, Billy Cruddup, and James Franco last week. The movie wisely chose to avoid a lot of the internal monologue and stick more to the wonderful "journey" that Liz goes on by "eating, praying, and loving." For what it's worth, I liked the movie. It remained faithful to the book, while at the same time, making it conducive to the medium that is film.
The memoir and the film adaptation may not be for everyone. But for me, it was like revisiting an old friend. And reminding yourself, that yes, sometimes, it is possible to "attraversiamo," or cross over and go full circle.