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Some time ago, I wrote about the fire that raged its way to within a mile of my parents’ house, and how it made me think about what in that house is truly important to me. Last week, I got yet another sharp reminder of where my priorities should be. (Why is it that whenever we think we’ve grasped a lesson, it still comes back to hit us over the head time and time again?)

On Friday, my husband called me after his bachelor party river rafting experience, breathless and excited from the sheer reckless exhilaration of it all. After talking to him for about five minutes, he tentatively said, “I have some kind of bad news.”

“Oh yeah?,” I said, “what’s that?,” thinking maybe someone’s camera had fallen in the river or something.

His sheepish, quiet reply was slow in coming. “Well, my wedding ring fell off in the river.”

I’ll spare you the details of my response, but needless to say, I was upset. A lot upset, especially since he seemed so damn calm, having already done his panicking hours earlier when he first realized it was gone. After we got off the phone, I tried not to think about it too much, but the memory of it was like a sore tooth or a hangnail — I tried to avoid it, yet kept coming back to worry at it, over and over again.

Finally, it sunk in that what really hurt was not the ring itself — that is just a hunk of gold, one which can be replaced. No matter that the price of said metal has doubled since we bought it a year ago, that’s still only money. No, what hurt the most was the concept of the ring, and what it represents. It is such a small thing (or too big, in this case), and yet it stands for so much. That particular hunk of metal is symbolic of the vows I entered into last October, of the promises I made and the life we are creating together. Along with our wedding video (which disappeared when my hard drive was wiped earlier in the year), our children will never be able to see the ring that I originally gave their father on our wedding day. That is what shook me most of all.

And yet, in the end, it is still just a piece of metal, albeit one with a whole heap of emotions and significance piled on top of it. Although it is lost, what it symbolized still remains. And I’d do well to remember that it could have been my husband that fell into the river that day. So in the end, a ring is a small, ultimately replaceable, yet still very tragic thing to lose.

So even with all the talking I’ve done about reassessing the true value of my possessions, in the end it is just that: talk. I am definitely not above putting disproportionate weight on material things. Really, deep down I think few people can ever be. But it’s nice to have small reminders like that every once in a while, so that when the big things (like house fires) come around, you are better prepared to deal with their impact.

Ironically enough, earlier that day I had written an email on this very subject to the director of the Sputnik documentary I worked on a couple years ago. He had a house fire back in February, which destroyed many irreplaceable artifacts of a long and very productive film career. He sent me the video of a talk he gave at TED a few weeks after the fire, which was entitled “On Losing Everything.” I responded with a story about my parents’ house, and how it made me realize what really mattered in life, etc etc.

Then, just a few hours after writing that email, I was devastated by the loss of my husband’s ring. Not my husband himself, not even anything irreplaceable, and definitely not everything I owned or had worked on for the past thirty years.

Isn’t it funny how quickly we lose perspective, no matter how hard-won it may have been?


Yesterday afternoon, I ventured out of Santa Cruz and through the stifling heat of the Valley to pick my mother up from the airport. As I was waiting in the arrivals hall, surrounded by people of every race, age, and credo, it hit me: meeting someone at the airport is one of life’s universal Good Feelings. No matter how high the price of gas, all these people had come to the airport to greet their loved ones, whether they be returning home or visiting from far away.

Unlike the departures lounge, where you invariably see people crying and clinging to each other, the arrivals area is always filled with smiles and cries of joy. As I was waiting, I saw one young woman run past the ropeline, jumping up and down as she greeted her loved ones, who both hugged her and gave her identical pats on the cheek, as if to reacquaint themselves with the contours of her face. Another wealthy older couple was so overjoyed to see their friends emerge from the customs area that the man actually let out what could only be termed as a yodel, causing all heads to momentarily turn away from their close perusal of the oncoming faces.

The longer I stood there, and the more happy reunions that I witnessed, the more impatient I became for my own. I could feel the same thing happening all around me, people’s bodies straining towards the TV monitors, hoping for an early glimpse of their arrivees, searching through the crowd for that one precious face, the walk they know so well, the slight mannerisms they have forgotten over the course of a long separation.

Finally, I saw the object of my own search on the TV monitor, recognizing her purse and shirt even before her head came into the camera’s range. Knowing where the camera was, and knowing that I would be watching for her, she looked up and waved as she walked underneath it. I responded with a huge grin and an instinctual wave of my own, knowing full well how stupid I looked, waving at the screen. I didn’t care — she was here, less than twenty feet away!

I wound my way through the crowd pressed against the ropeline, straining to the top of my toes to see her the moment she emerged from the hallway. Emerge she did, and once more I battled my way through stands of waiting people and suitcases to greet her with a big hug, laughter, and excited chatter about the flight.

Just like everyone else in there, I was thrilled by the entire experience. Sure, with the price of gas these days, we probably could’ve arranged a shuttle for a similar price. But as MasterCard says — there are some moments that truly are priceless. And picking up a loved one at the airport is one of them.

Yesterday afternoon, I arrived home after a day of errands, unpacked the grocery bags, looked around our newly cleaned house, and breathed a deep sigh of contentment.

Much to my surprise, I am discovering a deep satisfaction in providing for myself, my house, and most of all, my loved ones. A well-stocked fridge, a clean floor (even if I wasn’t the one who cleaned it!), new clothes for myself and my husband, a new hairstyle on my head and red polish on my toes… at that moment, I was the picture of a happy housewife. Who would’ve thought?

Since quitting my job, it has been an almost daily struggle to find new ways of defining myself. Am I a caretaker? A gardener/landscaper? A homemaker? Or perhaps “just” a wife and daughter, devoting myself to all the myriad duties those roles entail? As I have increasingly come to define myself in relation to others, my biggest struggle has been to avoid losing my own identity. In other words, where do I fit into my own life?

My therapist keeps telling me that I have made by far the harder decision in choosing not to work during this difficult time in my life. She’s right — in some ways, it would be a lot easier to have to get up and go to the office every day, without thinking about how best to use my time, without even having the possibility of letting my grief drag me back down under the covers. Some days, I do let myself succumb to that temptation, writing it off to a mental health day. But those times are few and far between. Most of the time, I succeed in getting myself out of bed and filling my daytime hours with productive activity.

Strangely enough, I am finding that I am happiest when I devote that activity to taking care of others. Last night, standing in my kitchen and surveying my housewife’s handiwork, I felt a greater fulfillment than at just about any other time in my life. Even three years ago, I would have scoffed at these small measures of achievement. But now, today, they feel immensely good.

Turns out I’m not alone. I’ve been reading The Geography of Bliss, by Eric Weiner, picking it up either in between novels or before bed. Last night I found out that in a survey of happiness amongst various professions, the ones with the highest level of career satisfaction were not those who made a ton of money, but rather those who devoted themselves to serving others, i.e. firemen, nurses, doctors, etc.

So go figure. After pursuing a career in academia for almost ten years, then working as an administrative specialist (aka secretary) for two more, turns out that the greatest happiness was to be found right in my own home. True, I’m not making any money, and that new haircut put quite a dent in my savings. But I am spending my days making life more productive and fulfilling for the people I love — doing the grocery shopping so my husband doesn’t have to, taking care of my dad for a full day so that his regular caretakers (both paid and familial) can have the day off, etc.

I realize that none of this will pay my bills, or put food on the table. I know that I am very, very lucky to afford to be a housewife at all. But it does allow me to walk in my front door and feel as though I have accomplished a great deal with my day, even if I’ll never get a paycheck for my efforts.

Eventually, my world and my career will expand once again. For right now though, you can just call me Susie.

I started yesterday morning with a call from a friend asking if my parents were being evacuated. What? From where? Huh?

Turned out that the gigantic wildfire ravishing the hills above Santa Cruz was heading directly southwards towards my parents’ small town at a tremendous rate, aided by high winds and a mild winter. Fan-bloody-tastic. So before I’d even finished making my breakfast and pouring my coffee, I was tipped straight into full red alert mode, which lasted all day until I could collapse on the couch last night, exhausted from a day of nerves, frenetic cleaning, and scouring the TV and internet for any useful information as to the fire’s exact location.

Having just gotten through my grandmother’s birthday (and the anniversary of her fall) the day before, I was already feeling like a big raw slab of tenderized meat. Nonetheless, before this new development I was still looking forward to my own birthday this weekend, and to spending time with friends and family on our brand new, beautiful patio. But no. Last year my grandmother was in the hospital for my birthday, now my parents’ house is being threatened by 30-foot flames. Can’t I just have a normal freaking birthday for once? Apparently not.

Instead, I spent the second to last day of my 28th year on this planet frantically cleaning the house and snapping at my husband whenever he approached. I kept forgetting what I was doing and heading off to do something entirely different, then five minutes later, remembering my original task and going back to finish it… before getting distracted by something else. It was an excruciatingly helpless feeling, because of course we couldn’t get anywhere near their house to help even if we tried. Logically I realized that it made sense for us to stay at home, where we could provide them with information from the outside world. But inside, every part of me was screaming, “Your parents’ house is less than 3 miles from the fire and you’re not there???? What is wrong with you?”

During one of my more frenzied moments, my husband looked at me and said simply, “You know they’re going to be fine, right?” At the time, this pissed me off to no end — I don’t need rationality, man! I need to freak out! But after a little more thought, I saw that he was of course right. In my panic, I had lost sight of what really mattered: my family. Period. The good news is they live across a valley from direction of the fire, and could see any approaching flames well before they presented an immediate physical danger. What I was really worried about was the house, how much effort it would be to rebuild, to salvage everything and to start over again. But really, does that stuff truly matter in comparison to the lives and physical well-being of my loved ones?

Just last week, my hubby and I were talking about how neither of us are very attached to our physical possessions. We decided that really, there is not a whole lot in our house that we couldn’t just walk away from if we had to. Strangely enough, my mom said the exact same thing when talking about what to bring if they were evacuated. She and my uncle both asked if I wanted them to bring my wedding dress, which I have stored in a closet at the house. I said, “Sure, but really, I don’t care that much! I care about you guys being safe!”

After looking at it this way, I realized that yes, I am still worried about their well-being. It’s natural to be concerned when a wildfire threatens your parents’ house and you can’t do a thing about it except pray for the wind to drop (which it did) and the fog to roll in (which it did). But as for their possessions, the things that make up the patterns of their every day lives — those things can be replaced. It’s a challenge to see it that way, sure, but it’s times like these that slap you in the face and make you realize all over again what is truly important. It seems that no matter how many times I learn that lesson, I always forget before too long.

Now that I’ve been duly reminded, however, I’d really like to be able to enjoy my birthday, thanks. This may be the one and only year that I am glad when they predict rain for my birthday weekend…

I am happy to report that I managed to survive my second Passover, all two seders of it. I was a little nervous at first, given that I am currently even less fit than usual for public consumption, but I made it through two days of almost constant human interaction without having a nervous breakdown and/or screaming at anyone. In my world, that is always a minor victory. This particular weekend, it was a triumph.

Instead of turning this into yet another ode to my own introversion, however, I want to talk about the external world for a change. Specifically, I would like to talk about my husband’s incredibly extroverted family. Normally at events such as these, all I can see is the sheer number of faces and voices, and it’s all I can do to keep myself breathing in and out while eating at the same time. Talking comes a distant third behind these two essential tasks.

Last night though, after the prayers were all said and the meal itself was begun, I stepped outside my own social anxiety for long enough to take a look at the people around me. These people make a fine art out of being family junkies. For them, the religious holiday is just another great reason to bring everyone together, and people come from all over the state (and out of it, in some cases!) to attend. For a fellow family junkie, even one with a totally different upbringing, it is quite frankly a beautiful thing to behold.

At one point, my husband and his cousins were reminiscing about Passovers gone by, and how they used to be the gang of little kids who ran around and made a ruckus during the meal. Now it is their kids who provide the entertainment, which last night included one of them coming in to show his daddy a toy leafblower — complete with sound effects! — in the midst of the Hagadah.

It hit me then that this is what Judaism is all about. That is how it’s been passed down through countless generations, through oppression and tyranny, across different continents and languages. Each generation brings its children together, just as they were brought together when they were children. Somehow, despite their general lack of attention, the kids manage to soak up the rituals that the adults are performing, and grow up to do the same for their children. I watched our little blond niece fearlessly reciting a portion of the Hebrew prayer next to her grandfather, and marveled at how effortlessly she has soaked up the rituals and traditions of her heritage.

Being slightly older than six, I am having a slightly harder time of it. As a former academic, it’s difficult for me to embrace something without fully understanding it. Thus I am still struggling to understand and embrace the traditions of my faith-in-law, and will probably continue to do so for a while to come. I don’t want to subscribe to these traditions blindly, but rather to feel them in my bones, the way many of the older people in that room so clearly did. These were not just words to them, but rather rituals binding them to their ancestors and to their absent loved ones. Their cheeks were dripping with tears as they sang, even as they laughed at the children’s continued antics and the cousins’ terrible jokes. In that dichotomy you could see everything that this holiday embodies: bittersweet memories of the past combined with beautiful lessons for the future.

Once I saw and understood this, I came a whole lot closer to understanding what the holiday was really about. So what if the passages we were reading didn’t make much sense, or if the songs we sang were super cheezy? In the end, it’s the underlying tradition that’s important, linking each generation to the next and ensuring that the faith — and the family — continues.

Plus, to my surprise, I am actually quite fond of gefilte fish and horseradish. Perhaps I am starting to become a little bit Jewish after all.

Or at least that’s what my mom called it this morning, and since she’s one of our resident religious experts around here, I’ll take it.

It’s Easter morning, and I am looking forward to spending the day with both my own parents and my husband’s. That may not seem like anything out of the ordinary for most people, but for me, it’s special. My husband is Jewish, and we have spent the past two years learning much about each other’s traditions. There have been some misunderstandings, mostly involving Christmas trees and cereal, but otherwise it has been a relatively smooth and educational process.

It helps a lot that neither of us is very doctrinaire with respect to our religion. Having been raised by two religious scholars, I have always been more concerned with spirituality itself rather than which particular form it takes. There were a few years in high school when I decided to become a regular church-goer, but that was more because the guys at the youth group were totally cute. But hey, it kept me away from partying and gave me a sense of belonging during an otherwise unfounded time in my life, so it wasn’t all bad. At least until I went to college, and then all bets were off. But that’s another story.

My husband was raised with a much more defined sense of religious tradition, and he and his family still observe Shabbat dinner, Yom Kippur, Passover, etc. To his immense credit though, he has never asked that I participate in or observe any of the above, simply that I accompany him and be present with his family during their observance. I have done so happily, being the eternally curious creature that I am, and only occasionally do I feel like an outsider. (See my Hanukkah post for more on that topic.)

What is it that has allowed us to stay together despite what some may consider irreconcilable differences in faith? I am sure many people would find that to be a deal breaker. Indeed, my own dear husband has confessed that if he hadn’t mistakenly believed that I was Jewish (though no pretense of mine, I swear!) while we were getting to know each other, he would’ve thought twice about dating me. Good thing I deceived him, however unwittingly.

But that was two years ago, and much has passed under the bridge since then. We have stood by hospital beds on both sides of the family, spent Hanukkah and Christmas with each other, survived through his fasting on Yom Kippur while in Croatia (now that was a tough one!), and celebrated our marriage following his traditions… with a little nod to my own thrown in with a blessing from my dad, including a round of “Om shanti om” in acknowledgment of my Indian roots.

Frankly, the toughest conflict to overcome so far has been on Thanksgiving, which is the one holiday our families have in common. Otherwise, all our holidays are like today — we can all go to my family’s house, because for his, it is a Sunday like any other. And next month, I can spend both seder dinners with his family, because I am not obliged to be with my own.

The key here is family. That is the one thing all of our respective celebrations have in common, as we are both families junkies and basically view any holiday as an excuse to get a fix. We both hold family sacred above all else, which enables us to come together and celebrate no matter what the occasion. Christmas at your parents’ house? Sure! Passover at your aunt’s? Bring it on!

For both myself and my husband, religion equals family. So even though we were raised speaking different dialects, for us it is still the same language. True, we have some misinterpretations now and again, but for the most part we manage to communicate extremely well. Thus I am looking forward to spending Easter, or Spring Festival, or whatever you want to call it, with all of my family, new and old.

You know those times in your life when certain things start recurring over and over again, to the point where they become a trend? Pretty soon, the trend becomes a fad. Finally, you just have to throw up your hands and accept that your life is taking you in a new direction, completely of its own volition. Sound familiar?

This is definitely one of those times for me. Yesterday, I spent almost twelve hours as a caregiver, first to a five-year-old and later to an eighty-five-year-old. Strangely enough, their needs were very similar: some food, plenty of entertainment, good company, and a little bit of exercise — but not enough to tire them out. Best part was, I received an equal amount of joy from fulfilling each of their needs.

At eight-thirty yesterday morning, my new friend Anna came over. Anna is a total rockstar. She has a marked preference for the color pink, a fabulous sense of humor, really sharp eyesight, and a great haircut. Anna is also five and a half years old. Her mother, who is quickly becoming a very good friend of mine, was going on a photography excursion nearby and didn’t know if it would be as entertaining to Miss Anna as it would be to her. So I told her to drop Anna off to hang out with us for a while. We planted seeds, went for a walk, spotted myriad monarch butterflies, and laughed at the many different dogs we saw. I made her snacks, we played Chinese Checkers (or some version of it) — it was a blast.

After Anna and I parted ways, my hubby and I headed out to my parents’ house to watch my dad for the afternoon. Now, he may move a bit more slowly than my friend Anna, but my dad is every bit as entertaining and just as wise. He too has a really cool haircut (or lack of one), and a fondness for fruit juice, cheddar cheese, and cookies. We also tend to spend a lot of time watching butterflies and taking his walker for leisurely strolls around the grounds.

I am definitely sensing a trend here. Be they young or old, I am being cast in a caregiving role more and more often in my life. This may just be a traditional part of being a woman, of getting older and taking more responsibility for others in my life. Perhaps. But I think it is more likely some form of karma, a way of giving back after having had my every need taken care of for the first quarter-century of my life. I was able to do amazing things, like go to Cuba and move to London for a year, just because I wanted to. I have been given so much, and now it is my turn to be the giver. That is clearly the current trend in my life, and I am more than happy with it. I have no idea where this path is going to take me in the long run, but then, that is what I’ve learned about these things — you can’t question it, you just gotta run with it. So here we go.

These days, my life is all about therapy. When I am not actually at my parents’ house, I am busy trying to wrap my head around the recent and impending changes in my life. Thus everything I do becomes a form of therapy, and it happens in myriad different ways.

Last weekend, I partook in some of the group- and shopping- types of therapy during a day full of girl time in the Bay Area. We went shopping for my friend’s wedding dress, which she found within ten minutes of walking into the first store we visited, thanks to being the über prepared girl we all know and love. She asked for The Dress by designer and style number, and walked out an hour later as the proud owner of a gorgeous wedding dress. Easy peasy.

The rest of the day was spent in the sunshine, walking, talking, eating, and drinking. And talking. We covered the entire gamut of subjects and emotions, and at one point I realized that the strange, tight sensation in my jaw was actually from laughing all day. It’s been a while since that has happened — usually it’s stress that makes my jaw tight. But in laughing, and especially by talking, I was able to work through a number of things that I’d been holding on to for quite some time. I tend to be fairly in touch with my emotions, but even I can only do so much processing on my own. The day was lovely and therapeutic, not to mention highly successful in terms of the mission we set out to accomplish. If only all days could be so good.

Today’s therapy, on the other hand, involved a whole bunch of poo. Or, more precisely, two bags of steer manure. About a month ago, I decided to reseed the bald portions of our lawn prior to having my friend’s rehearsal dinner here in June. I am finally done with the preliminary prep stages, and decided to lay out the seed today. Thinking it couldn’t possibly take that long, I waited until later in the afternoon to start.

Big mistake. I completely underestimated how long it would take me, so three hours later, I was still spreading my nice mixture of planting soil and steer manure all over the area I had put seed on. The sun was busy setting, and I was still dragging that last bag of $&@*! planting soil over to the lawn. “Just one more bucket full,” I kept thinking, which soon turned into, “OK just until the end of this bag,” and so on.

As I was working though, it occurred to me that quite frankly there was no where else I’d rather be. For the past couple of days, I’ve been totally frenetic, unable to either focus or relax for any length of time. But the repetitive physical motion of the digging and lifting, spreading and tamping, finally quieted down my mind, and for those three painful, dirty, sweaty hours, I was at peace. My back might never recover, but hey, it’s worth it.

Therapy comes in many forms. I do see my actual therapist every other week or so, but there’s a lot of processing to do in between visits. So every day, I have to decide what will be the best therapy for me on that day. Will it be shopping today? Will it be gardening until my arms are so sore I can’t even type? Running? Yoga? Perhaps I will just stay in bed and read a book — there’s plenty of that, too. It may sound selfish at first, but by taking care of myself, I become a better caregiver to my father and support to my family. And that, in the end, is the best therapy life has to offer.

I realized today that my “little” (aka 6’4″ and 200-odd pounds) brother has now been out of the military for three months. Since then we have spent a lot of time together, starting with walking me down the aisle at my wedding, cracking fart jokes all the way. Hey, at least I was laughing too hard to be nervous.

Next month, that same brother of mine officially enters his mid-20s. Despite his youth, he has seen far more of the ugly, violent side of this world than anyone should have to experience in their lifetime. Come to think of it, we have both been through a lot in the past few years. While he was off fighting battles in Iraq and Afghanistan, I was at home helping fight for our dad’s life. While the battles we fought were vastly different, in the end we each did what we had to do, and it has changed us both in myriad ways.

Now that we are getting to know each other as adults, it strikes me how much we are still the kids we have always been. We have always been pretty close, simply because we are the only people who can truly understand what it was like to grow up on the planet we came from. We spent our childhood traveling with our parents, and when we were at home in our isolated farmhouse in California, we didn’t have a TV. What’s more, our dad has always strongly resembled Santa Claus, which brought no end of attention and embarrassment to us in our school years. Our family, our travels, and our plain geekiness always set us apart from others, and as a result we grew closer to each other out of sheer necessity.

As adults, the bond we formed on Planet Primrose Lane is just as strong. To this day, we are equally as likely to make a crass joke or recount a line from the Simpsons as we are to discuss more serious matters like our dad, school, relationships, etc. No matter what the topic, our conversations tend to devolve into helpless laughter within a matter of minutes, with no one the wiser as to what exactly we’re talking about — least of all ourselves.

This morning, my brother and I went for a trail run in the woods. Both of our lives are in complete turmoil at the moment, as he transitions out of the military and back into school, and I transition out of work and into taking care of my family full-time. But for just that brief period of time, it was like he had never been gone at all, and everything was fine with our family and the world. It all just dropped away. For that short time, the only sounds to be heard were our feet splashing through the mud and the occasional echo of our loogies ringing out across the silence.

Sometimes, with the right person, the best therapy can be had by not talking at all.

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.

“Treat history as a springboard, not as an anchor.”

- General John G. Medaris

When I Wrote It

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