I’ve seen very few movies over the past decade. For the most part, my husband and I raised our children without television or video games, showing them only a few carefully selected videos over the years. We have no double standard. Our general rule is, if it’s not good for them, it’s not good for us. We have no regrets.
My avoidance of fiction in general (with a few defensible exceptions) is a personal protest against what I regard as human obsession with conflict. Without it—or so we teach our children—there is no such thing as good literature. We fabricate it to entertain ourselves, both in art and in real life. Conflict has become an end in and of itself. We’re satisfied as long as we can analyze it ad nauseum and never come to any hard and fast conclusions.
I really can’t say why I responded to a friend’s Facebook recommendation to see Eat, Pray, Love. Generally I’m of the mind that if the masses love something, it can’t all be good. But, having seen it, it tended to prove my point.
The subtitle to Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir Eat, Pray, Love is “One Woman’s Search For Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia.” It may have been one woman’s search for everything, but it was also one woman’s discovery of nothing. And it’s not merely incidental to point out that Gilbert’s journey of self discovery was paid for in advance by a book deal. She had to know that no one pays money for answers, but questions are worth a fortune.
My friend posted that Eat, Pray, Love gave her “interesting food for thought.” (Others said it was “heartwarming” and “enlightening.”) Maybe I expected something akin to Born Free or Sound of Music. After seeing the movie, I sent a puzzled, private inquiry, “OK, so I just have to ask why you thought Eat, Pray, Love was interesting food for thought.”
I suppose because some of the things [Gilbert] struggled with are things that I struggle with. It resonated on a lot of levels, unfortunately. I don’t agree with the choices she made. I don’t endorse her actions. Also, I have been awakened to the reality that there are all sorts of cultures and lifestyles out there that are foreign to me, but just because I’m American, Christian, and Republican doesn’t mean God loves me more, or that I am right about ‘things.’ I have grown up extremely myopic and, although I’m thankful for where I live and how I was raised, the sheltering, etc., there is a whole world out there that I know nothing about. And there are beautiful people in those places made by the very same Creator.
Later, she continued…
I’ve had the confusing experience of being loved and accepted by people who aren’t [of my faith], and some would say it’s been corruptive. I’ve also had the experience of being unloved and not accepted by [those who are considered] most pious. Those experiences have left me at an interesting point in my journey. I have no desire to be the judgmental, rigid, critical person I once was, yet I can’t divorce myself from the beliefs I’ve always cherished. Quite frankly, the internal conflict is rather disconcerting. On any given day I feel paralyzed because I don’t feel like I belong anywhere, can’t go back, am too scared to go forward…and that my friend is most of the story.
Here is my response—to my friend, and to anyone else who sees Eat, Pray, Love as enlightening or liberating:
I, too, could relate to Gilbert on every level…and have actually walked down the same path to a certain degree. Leaving a husband, exploring culture and various religions during college. Thinking anyone and everyone was nicer than the Christians I knew.
I remember doing something blatantly rebellious and just inviting anyone to judge me, as I’m sure they did, and then judging them back for it—and then later realizing we were all wretches, and I had no business determining what I did or didn’t do or what I believed or didn’t believe based on what I thought they were or weren’t thinking about me.
I guess I would ask my friend why she can’t divorce herself from her beliefs. I know why I can’t. I’ve examined the alternatives and find this path the only solid and credible one. At some point, my experience with God eclipsed my experiences with others, making all the rest seem very small. I studied all the inconsistencies in the Bible with atheist professors who flashed patronizing, sympathetic smiles at me and did their best to prove that Christ was just a man and that the Bible is just a collection of myths.
And that would have been fine with me. I didn’t necessarily want to believe anything specific at that point. But when I read the Bible for myself—very quickly, from cover to cover—I detected a recognizable voice that was so consistent it defied what I’d been taught by all the other random voices. It was stronger, deeper, wiser, and more real than all their ‘scholarly’ rantings.
It’s not that I was or have never been open to other voices. But nothing has ever rung as true in my mind since. So I’m where I am because I believe it personally, not because I’m caught in some set of traditions or because I’m a product of Christian culture. At one point, I wanted to be anything but Christian—particularly the brand of Christian I was raised with (because other people were much nicer)—but “something” drew me back.
What is “going forward” anyway? If you see what you used to believe as “going backward,” then you’ve already left it behind in my estimation.
Personally, I never saw my friends as judgmental, rigid, or critical. Who told her that she was? Was it someone’s assessment of Christians in general that she felt she had to wear because it seemed to fit?
And since when does an unloving person deserve to be called ‘”pious”?
Here’s the thing. From the start, Gilbert’s character in the movie struck me as so confused, ungrounded, and self-focused that there was no way for things to end well (and I would not say the movie ended well, no matter how much self-discovery she claims to have experienced).
What did she really gain in the end?
Because that’s all there is if you leave one thing.
You get… something else.
Cultures and places and lifestyles may be different to a degree. But Italian wives fight with their husbands as often as American wives do. People on every continent feel a deep sense of discontent and dissatisfaction with their own lives. So they go looking for…something else.
And that’s all they find.
Always something else…
What does it mean to be myopic? If you leave your husband and travel the world and eat food that actually tastes good and see sights and hear sounds and experience every emotion under the rainbow, are you really less myopic than someone who grows up happy and contented with the husband or wife of their youth in their hometown, surrounded by friends and family and a few dogs for good measure? Is that person myopic—or just focused? Do you gain more by trying to embrace everything rather than something?
I don’t think so.
For all the enlightenment Gilbert gained while on a path of self-discovery, she still had to have some crooked-toothed, grinning guru explain to her the obvious in the end. And he seemed just as stunned by her ignorance as I was.
And now her ignorance is the new gospel for liberated and enlightened women everywhere.
There was no truth in her world, except what she felt or experienced (or someone else told her was true at a given moment). And the world labels that “heartwarming” and “enlightening.” I don’t buy it.
You can stand back and refuse to commit to anything for fear you’ll miss out on something — and end up missing out on everything. There’s a whole world out there you can never know everything about. And yet if you read you can also end up knowing a lot about everyone everywhere. And it all plays out as true if you examine hearts, minds and actions. It doesn’t matter where. Italy, Sweden, Timbuktu. Everyone’s looking for…something else.
Personally, I have found a field where a pearl of great price is buried, and I am willing to sell everything else to buy that field. I will take something over something else any day.
Our moments are limited, and in the end they are numbered. Every choice precludes another.
Despite human longing to experience the world, to go everywhere and see everything, to attain a certain level of sophistication that gives us the right to write books that enlighten others…
we’re each and always…
just one person…
in one place…
doing one thing…
at one time.
At any given moment, that’s something.
And something else may not be all it’s cracked up to be.