A few excerpts on the novel by its parts (Italy, India, Indonesia) and its immediate effect on my life: memories induced, lessons learned, intertextuality...etc.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s life here caused within me a spontaneous combustion of nostalgia for my life abroad. For example, I allowed myself to have a chocolate croissant the other day for the first time since I’d been home from France (my sister and her husband bought it for me from a cute French bakery in downtown Winter Park). It was so good I nearly cried. I really wish that I had indulged in French cuisine more when I’d been over there. Liz (and yes, I feel connected to her enough that we are now on a first name basis) was so ambitious in her attempt to find obscure restaurants, and her success in relaying the mastery of these dishes not only justifies and compliments the life’s work of these hard working Italians but also promotes their way of life with eagerness and ease. (Serious props to her understanding of ancient Roman history, too). Overall, however, reading this portion of the novel allowed me to fully appreciate my life abroad for exactly what it was: beautiful, imperfect, difficult, rewarding, enlightening, compelling, full of fast-paced and slowed down memories, new people, history, languages, tears, laughter and regret. And beauty. And God. And life.
Did I mention beauty…?
Upon reading Liz’s struggle with meditation, her quote by Walt Whitman struck me hard. She longs to attain what he described as the capability to stand "apart from the pulling and hauling...amused, complacent, compassionating, idle, unitary...both in and out of the game and watching and wondering at it all." The word “compassionating” intimidated me, as I don’t necessarily see myself as a very compassionate person to begin with, nonetheless one who causes others to imbibe a compassionate nature within themselves. But it motivated me to ask God for a more compassionate outlook on the world so as to at least set a good example for others while hopefully mending aspects of my life that have long been ignored. This whole portion of the novel reminded me of a scene in The Darjeeling Limited when Frances forlornly gazes at his demolished face in the mirror after removing his bandages. With a forgiving and understanding brother on either side, this exchange brings a little hope and redemption to each of their situations:
Frances: "I guess I've still got some more healing to do."
Jack: "You're gettin there though."
Peter: "Anyway, definitely guna add a lot of character to you."
Jack: "What should we pray for now?"
I guess we will all forever have more healing to do, and in the meantime more prayer is a reassuring comfort. I think Liz would agree.
One of the many reasons that I came to fall in love with Liz occurred in her chapters on Bali. I was at first critical and judgmental of the decisions she made in her sexual relationship with Felipe, and actually got into a pretty serious argument with my sister Erika over the matter. She pointed out to me that we all have made our decisions on sex, including myself, and are not right to assume we know that which is or is not best for someone in his or her intimate relationships. It was hard for me to swallow since I took what she said to heart, and only after my emotions came to a boil could I finally take a deep breath and admit that she was right. So among the other elements of this book that have taught me a lesson (whether or not Liz originally intended for them to do so), its propensity for honesty and admittance without judgment was powerful, and I’m sincerely grateful to my sis for dragging that truth out of me.
On a lighter note, I loved that after moving into a small cottage in the Balinese countryside, she decides to give all of the plant life her own new “moniker” since she doesn’t know what anything is called:
“And why not? It’s my Eden, is it not? Daffodil tree, cabbage-palm, promdress weed, spiral show-off, tip-toe blossom, melancholy-vine and a spectacular pink orchid I have christened ‘Baby’s First Handshake.’”
Just a glimpse of the self-entertained woman who so deftly describes her life in newfound territory.
I want to strive to be creatively comfortable within my own Eden always, wherever that may be.
As should we all--it’s for our best.