The latest book that I have been consuming is Eat Pray Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert, which my mom gave me for Christmas. I’m not sure that she had actually read it before giving it to me though, because it’s really not her kind of book. Actually, I’m not really sure if it’s my kind of book, either.

I will probably be strung up for saying that, because I know it’s a huge bestseller and I’m sure it’s transformed many people’s lives. Don’t get me wrong: at this point in our societal development, there is nothing wrong with adding a little self-awareness, love, and spirituality to the American psyche. And Gilbert’s story is very well-written, profound yet still wry and self-deprecating, with some great analogies and references thrown in to keep it lively.

I’m about two-thirds of the way through, having just finished the “pray” section of the book (i.e. her trip to India) last night. Actually, to be precise, I read the entire India section at my parents’ house yesterday, and before that about half of the Italy section. No, you definitely can’t say that I don’t like this book. However, there is something about it that has been rubbing me the wrong way ever since I started reading it, so much so that I had to put it down for a couple of weeks before picking it up again this weekend.

At first, I thought it was because Gilbert’s neuroses reminded me too much of myself. I too am unable to sit still for very long, or to be content with any one place, always thinking that happiness is right around the corner. Due to an overly introspective nature, we also share a tendency towards melancholy, self-criticism, and occasionally depression. All in all, it’s not very relaxing to read a book that might be taking place in one’s own head. But as I read on, I realized that this wasn’t all that was bothering me.

The basic premise of the book is simple. After a great deal of inner struggle, Gilbert decided that she no longer wanted her picture-perfect life, house, and marriage, and left to live with a younger man. The destructive end of both relationships was what spurred her year-long trip, and therefore this book.

In her journey, both physical and emotional, I recognize many of the truths that I myself have learned during the past year and half of my father’s illness. She had to leave for a year to fight her inner demons, whereas I had to learn how to stay in one place in order to defeat my own. Somehow, by embracing the very same life she rejected, I am learning similar lessons to the ones she traveled so far to find. OK so I’m still having problems with the “eat” part of the equation, and I’m definitely not getting paid to write a book about sitting with my dad for hours on end, but my point remains.

What bothers me the most is that despite the sincerity of the lessons she is learning, she seems to have missed the biggest one of all. Most of her book does ring true to me, but the very fact that she is writing a book about it in the first place (and set out on her journey with an intent — and an advance — to do so) says to me that all of her self-discovery was in fact only ever about one thing: herself.

This is where our stories diverge, and why I find hers somewhat hollow. Over the past two years, my own self-discovery has been found entirely in the service of others, in learning how to place their needs before my own. While Gilbert took four months meditating in an Ashram to find the meaning of devotion, I found it in my father’s laugh, my mother’s gratitude, my husband’s arms. Devotion is quite simply a determination to love, no matter what the cost. It didn’t take me leaving the world behind to discover that. I merely had to embrace what was already there.

Perhaps I’m just jealous that she had such a glamorous path to discovering what I had to learn in a hospital room. That’s definitely part of it. Or perhaps I just haven’t gotten to the “love” portion of the book yet, and she will discover selflessness in learning to love another person again. Who knows. But I do know that so far, after reading about all of her eating and all of her praying, Gilbert’s big truths remain somewhat empty. They are no less entertaining for it, just slightly disappointing.

Nevertheless, let no book go unfinished. Onward we go, to Indonesia, and to love.

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