Betty Duffy

Friday, July 23, 2010

Revisiting an Old Friend

Since the Eat Pray Love phenomenon was the reason I started a blog, and since the movie is scheduled to arrive on the day I wrote the following post, I thought I'd give it a rerun.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008
One more word on Eat Pray Love

One of the reasons I read Eat Pray Love so willingly, and thought about it so much, is because there was something about her story that felt very seductive, while at the same time very dangerous. It hit me in a vulnerable place, because I am a creature of fantasy who tends to put hope in imaginary things, willing to believe that someday I'll be blissfully happy if I keep moving away from what is real and right in front of me towards the pictures of glory in my mind (i.e. A tour of Europe, good food, spiritual highs, S-E-...--and a book deal to cap it all off).

My cycles of dissatisfaction are brought on, not only by the fact that I have chosen a different route in life (which has its own specific ups and downs), but also by my ego, which believes that I deserve to enjoy the perks and pleasures of a life I don't happen to be living. And my ego is constantly metamorphosing into new and mysterious disguises, adapting its wants to a prettily packaged, harmless looking memoir about three very good things. If I could nail my constant pining for some other happiness as the blatant ego preservation that it is, I'd give it a violent death. Or maybe I wouldn't. Maybe I would just hope that somehow my ego and my desire for Heaven could peacefully co-exist. I'd bumble along for the entirety of my life, on average terms with Jesus, on better terms with myself, and just hope for the best. That at the end of my life, I will have gotten by. I will have done just enough to ensure my entry into Heaven, but I will have brought with me my one true love--my Self.

Everyone feels a silent pity for the elderly, first because they are so close to dying, but mainly because, being so close to the end, they have never been cured of those defects that forever have been glaringly obvious to everyone but themselves. In their old age, we can forgive them, feel pity even, because the aged, like the very young, don't know any better. We can only assume they don't know any better because they've had a lifetime to discover those defects and cure them in the Refiner's Fire, but instead, those defects have only grown more intense. How many times have I said that I don't want to be the crusty old woman who never got the point? I believe in the mercy of God to do for people what in life they were unable to do. But I am aware right here and now of the specific details and defects driving a wedge between me and God.

This is to say that I don't need anyone encouraging me to put myself first, or to remember my best me, or to spend another second thinking of or pampering my self. All of this comes very naturally to me. Even with four kids and a bun in the oven, my first thought of the day's labor is always a recognition of the cost to my self. Oprah Winfrey and books like Eat Pray love are big business, because if we really can buy the conviction that all this self orientation is good for our souls, we will do it.

All that said, I'm probably going to see the movie.


Karly said...

Thank you for your post. I am with you in your distaste for Eat Pray Love--its basic narcissism. I read your words just now after spending a lovely quiet morning while my family was sleeping reading selections from two books: Judith Plaskow's Standing Again at Sinai (about what it could/would mean to be a Jewish feminist), and one of my treasured books, Mirabai's ecstatic poems (given to us as a present by a dear friend on the occassion of our daughter's birth). I thought of her poem "Mira the Bee" now, because, in contrast to E,P,L, her ecstatic union with God is described as a total loss of the self--there is a line that goes something like "When you give yourself to the Lord, at the first moment your body is crushed." But that mystical union, as real as it may be, is often so fleeting, and then you have to take the wisdom of it and try to somehow integrate it into a quotidian, everyday life. It's hard. I know that we're not supposed to compare ourselves to others, but one thing that has definitely helped me ride the waves of dissatisfaction in my life is to remember friends I've lost, who died before their time---they would be so grateful just to have one more day, this day I get to experience, even with its inevitable irritations and (minor) suffering. It puts things back in their proper perspective.

I really want you to read Gilead--it's kind of like Eat, Pray, Love, only more mature in its worldview.

karyn said...

The fact that Julia Roberts is playing Gilbert makes it even less likely that I will be seeing the movie. That, and having four little kids makes it unlikely I will see any movie anytime soon, but that's beside the point!

Catherine said...

Every time I see a trailer for that movie I remember your blog post and frown at the tv.
I hate the way the media makes hedonistic "spirituality" so seductive. Grrrrr.

lauren said...

can I be your best friend? Are you looking for one... cause I'm available. You have a way of putting into words what is in my heart.

I mean it about the best friend thing...

BettyDuffy said...

Karly, I brought Gilead home from my mom's house this afternoon. Will begin soon. That total loss of self you mentioned seems to be cyclical. I find the self needing a good crushing every so often because it keeps popping back up, and then sometimes I think it's not fair that I have to crush myself because Liz Gilbert got to go to Italy and Indonesia and wherever else, and nobody else seems to be crushing themselves. And then I realize that I'm not loving well, and that if I were loving better I wouldn't feel crushed by the loss of self, but rather, liberated. And it seems that the way one can be a believer and a feminist is if the loss of self is a freely given gift. But it is a challenge to give the same gift over and over again each day.

Lauren, I'd be glad to be best friends. Wanna move to Indiana?

Karly said...

Betty, glad to hear you are going to read Gilead (and I'm not surprised your mom owned it!) As I think I mentioned to you before, I see that novel as one long ethical will, which is also one of the ways I see your blog.
I hear what you are saying about the ecstatic loss of self/connection to the divine being cyclical (and we women know something about living life in cycles) but want to be careful talking about it as always a self-crushing. After all, God made YOU, in that particular body, with that particular mind; your face is also the face of God, so try to be gentle with yourself. That being said, I'm going to be pondering your assertion that "the way one can be a believer and a feminist is if the loss of self is a freely given gift." It somehow reminds me of a line from Gilead, to the effect that there is nothing true that can be said of God from a posture of defense.

I also keep thinking of one of the funny things you said awhile ago here, about it looking like the next languid afternoon for reading might be in the nursing home... and somewhere I read that, statistically and in actual fact, people tend to be most unhappy or dissatisfied during the childbearing-parenting years--because they are HARD. They're rich and emotionally satisfying and they give life meaning, but sometimes you just feel like counting down the days to high school graduation. That's another strategy I use to counter depression: looking at life through the eyes of a long distance runner, knowing things will hopefully flatten out a bit after this long uphill climb.

BettyDuffy said...

KArly, I read this this morning, and it struck me as pertaining to our conversation:
"When we lose touch with eternal truths we get submerged in the weeds that sprout all over the garden of our life. They are senseless trivialities that assume an air of real importance. Though they pretend to have a purpose they are quite futile, and merely add obscurity and confusion to a life which is gradually engulphed in a sort of eternal twilight without light or takes little to keep him bogged down in depression and despair...there is only one remedy for such a state; each person must return to God, listen to his inner voice, consciously make contact with him. The great conversion will invariably win a blessing, one which will make our wilderness blossom. A surrender without reserve is essential; then "these things" are give back to us.

BettyDuffy said...

That quote was by Fatehr Alfred Delp, SJ, by the way.

Margie said...

Gilead is my number one favorite fiction book. Ever. Keep picking it up to re-read parts of it. I'm late in this catch-up reading of your posts, but hope you comment on it after you're done.

I have not, and won't, pick up Eat Pray Love. I know too much about it, already.