We began Tuesday’s discussion by sharing our thoughts on Elizabeth Gilbert’s decision to uproot her life for the sake of rediscovering her personal identity. As many individuals who already read the novel noted, our reactions to “Eat, Pray, Love” are dramatically different the second time read. I too experienced this as my initial dislike of Gilbert has now blossomed into a significant degree of understanding and respect. When I first cracked open the text this past summer lounging by the pool in the warm August sun, all I could think was, “How could this woman be so miserable?” I could not bring myself to reason with her frustration with life. Now, almost one year later, I totally get it. Some might suggest it’s because I am no longer reading the novel poolside, but I would argue its because I can finally relate to this incredibly honest woman - even if it is only on the most minute of scales.
Gilbert’s quest to rediscover herself is in many ways like buying a new house. She is overwhelmed by the fear of being “homeless,” that being a life with which she is not already familiar. As she herself admits, she is literally “addicted” to attention. Without it, she barely recognizes herself. “Addiction is the hallmark of every infatuation-based love story,” she states, lamenting her inability to exist solely in herself (20). Since Gilbert was a mere fifteen years old she has been with a man, never once asking herself, “‘What do you want to do, Liz?’” (23). Her home is defined not by where she feels confident and present within herself, but how she conforms to the needs of others. While home is known to exist within another human being, Gilbert forgets her own personal home first. When her husband and David are no longer present, she is left homeless and exposed.
Gilbert’s journey calls into focus the necessity of balance. It’s something we are told from a very young age, repeated over and over to us, that we must “be balanced.” Much harder to do than to say, maintaining a balance within our lives is a daily challenge, forcing us to combine rationality with irrationality. We want to do the right thing, but isn’t a little fun important, too? Even Gilbert’s friend, Wayman, acknowledges the intricacies of the concept, declaring, “To lose balance sometimes for love is part of living a balanced life” (298). Somewhat of a paradox, the word balance almost suggests a delicate position somewhere at the tip of a ledge between our lives. It is not until Gilbert recognizes this need for balance through embodying her prophecy that she is able to stand steadily on earth.
Since my days spent at the pool this past summer, I have been forced to acknowledge the next step of my life after the impending twenty-first of May. I will (hopefully!) not be returning to my summer job as a lifeguard, but embarking on a new experience defined by a new career, a new city, and new friends. As I reread Gilbert’s story this past week, I suddenly identified with rather than rejected her sometimes overly dramatic behavior. I myself have been subject to moments of personal drama and the occasional “meltdown about my future.” Tackling a new step in one’s life is extremely daunting, perhaps more so than I had ever anticipated until it suddenly sprang into my face. Rather than think, “This woman is a mess,” I was thinking to myself while reading, “This woman is actually a lot like me….because she is human.” Her homeland is one of humanity, something anyone who has had to undergone a change will or most likely already has, experienced. Be it a life-changing event or the simple question, “What do you want?,” we are all faced with the decision to identify the home within us.