Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Power of Language

It was when I got to the end of Eat, Pray, Love that I really realized one of the carrying themes of the book, which is how important words and language are to finding peace and identity. In her second-to-last chapter Liz tells the origin of the notebook which she often refers to, saying she wrote, "'I love you, I will never leave you, I will always take care of you.' Those were the first words I ever wrote in that private notebook of mine, which I would carry with me from that moment forth, turning back to it many times over the next to years, always asking for help" (328). As emphasized in the beginning of the book, that notebook is where Liz would talk to herself, and give herself encouragement when she was feeling down. I thought this aspect of Liz's journey to recovery really interesting because I would have never ever thought to do something like that for myself. When I am trying to feel better, talking to myself is usually the worst possible option! I often find solace in external things, so I am curious if a method like that could ever work for me. Nonetheless, I think it is doubtless that Liz found power from her own words. I think this concept is especially interesting since we can take it in contrast to all the other languages that she comes in contact with throughout her journeys. Primarily, she went to Italy simply for the purpose of studying the Italian language which she finds so beautiful. She found the language to be splendid and enjoyable to speak. Learning the language helped her to make so many friends and find her own little niche of a family in Italy. But perhaps more importantly, it made her happy. In addition, Liz discovers the power of yoga and meditating in both India and Bali. A part of these two activities involves mantras which must be repeated so that (and I hope I'm right here) the mind can be cleared and elevated. Liz has a lot of trouble with this because she cannot escape from her own thoughts, and it is only through great discipline that these foreign words keep her focused. Words can have the power to both help and confound. While learning a foreign language can open doors and be highly enjoyable, like learning Italian was for Liz, sometimes a foreign language is just that--foreign. For example, one of my best friends is German...born in Germany, has lived in Germany for all her life (we met in Africa...that's a different story). A few summers ago she came and stayed with me for about a three weeks. She told me at one point (and mind you, her English is very good), that two things she couldn't get away from were 1) how much better she thought her English was and 2) how German she is, afterall. Maybe if she spent a long time in America she would one day start to feel American, as I think can happen to anyone who moves out of their home country. But I think it's funny that sometimes at the end of the day, where we come from and what we speak can determine where we feel at home. I don't think that's set in stone, if we are to think of Liz and her time in Italy, for example. But sometimes, it's a natural and familiar voice which rings truest--the one we we've held in our head the longest, that's not afraid to say I love you.

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