Nearly a year ago, I saw on social media that in honor of the upcoming 10th anniversary of my favorite author's book, Eat Pray Love, an anthology would be published entitled "Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It." As the title suggested, the anthology would be a collection of essays written by readers who were inspired by Liz Gilbert's personal journey to Italy, India, and Indonesia to make changes in their own life and embark on their own journeys.
For someone who not-so-secretly longs to be published one day, this opportunity was made for me. I didn't have to make up a story of how the book impacted me- because I already had one! Eat Pray Love had long been one of my favorite books, because it guided me through an insanely adventurous, tumultuous and world-shattering time in my life. With little time left before the submission deadline, I got right to work word-vomiting my story onto the page. I honestly didn't spend much time on it- the story was already there, I just needed to get it on the page, so to speak. I struggled to fit my journey into the small word count I was given, but upon it's completion I sent a desperate email to one of my in-laws who works for a book publisher, asking her if she would do me a solid and read through it and send me some constructive criticism.
She did, sent it back with some amazingly helpful suggestions on how I could improve and better translate my tale, and then I immediately chickened out. I never submitted my story. As I read through her comments, I was sick to my stomach. If sending such an emotional and vulnerable story from my past to someone whom I loved and trusted entirely left me with this much anxiety, I didn't think I could bear the rejection I would inevitably face when some anonymous stranger decided that my writing just wasn't good enough.
I continued to follow Elizabeth Gilbert on social media, read her latest book, Big Magic, about the creative process, and never forgot about the anthology and what could have been.
I felt regret and shame that I had been so cowardly as to not even bother sharing my own written piece and it was then that the proverbial light-bulb turned on above my head and I made the realization- this is why I always come back to blogging. There is something comfortable and safe about blogging. I come, I write, I get my catharsis, and I don't risk being vulnerable and sharing honest and heartfelt emotion that is hard for me to put out into the world. There is little emotional risk in sharing my child's milestones, and my reading challenge progress. I'm not saying this is a good, or bad thing. It is what it is, but I think it's worth it for me to step back and evaluate how I ever expect to be published if I can't even allow myself to write something real, and of value, for fear that I'll be rejected. Rejection comes with the territory of being a writer (not that I would know, but so I've heard). I need to get over this fear, do the brave thing, and send in the story that I think is good, even if someone else doesn't.
I'm not there yet, but in the spirit of baby steps toward courageous writing, I wanted to share what I wrote nearly a year ago today and be confident in my story, even if someone else doesn't appreciate it the same way.
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I am a full-fledged bookworm. Every night my husband asks me if I care to join him as he goes to visit family or hit up local live music, and every Friday night, I decline. There is nothing in the world that soothes me quite like the comfort of my fluffy couch pillows, a lint-covered fleece blanket and the well-worn pages of a previously loved book. Because reading is a pretty frequent occurrence in my life, if you asked me the last time I read To Kill a Mockingbird, I could give you a ballpark guess on the year. If you asked me the last time I escaped into the magical world of Harry Potter, chances are I’d have better odds recalling what I ate for breakfast 37 days ago. If you asked me when I first read Eat Pray Love, however, I could tell you with absolute certainty when I journeyed with Liz to Italy, India and Indonesia in the book that would stay with me for years.
My junior year of college was a year filled with emotional turbulence. I began, and then ended, a long-distance relationship with my first real boyfriend (I was a late bloomer). It was the first time I held a “grown up” position as an intern with an HIV/AIDS resource center. It was the first time I lived abroad.
For four months, I was an exchange student at Uganda Christian University. It was the most challenging, tumultuous and significant four months of my life. I lived in a town surrounded by the most abject poverty my naive, college mind had ever taken in. Children rifled through the garbage in our dining hall scrounging for handfuls of uneaten rice. When I walked into town, the locals looked me up and down, with eyes filled with curiosity, judgment and sometimes, even, resentment. What I saw left me stunned, sick, and emotionally raw. Every day I went to bed feeling drained and overwhelmed by my reality, and yet I had the distinct conviction that I was doing something of utter importance. I needed to bare witness to the heart-wrenching global wealth disparity. I needed to make known the government corruption that was plaguing people’s lives. I needed to escape the comfort of my cushy, affluent life and immerse myself in the plight of my Ugandan brothers and sisters. Living in Uganda for four months was the little travel bug that bit me. Wanderlust flooded my brain and I realized that I was destined to be a globetrotter.
At the conclusion of my study abroad program, my group had the opportunity to spend a week in Kigali, Rwanda learning about the genocide that had occurred only 15 years prior. If my four months in Uganda didn’t serve to leave me a shattered mess of a person, my week in Rwanda surely did. It was a 14-hour trip on red, pothole-filled roads, followed by a lot of downtime in between visits to museums and meetings with genocide survivors. Many of my fellow students used this time to work through what they had witnessed together; some retreated into solitude to pray and meditate on the tough questions they had for God. I, quite selfishly, wanted nothing to do with either. I wanted to escape and not think about one of humanity’s darkest hours. A friend lent me her copy of Eat Pray Love, I buried myself into the flattened pillow of my bottom bunk and I began to read.
I delighted in imagining four months filled with nothing but carbs. My mouth watered imagining the flavor of asparagus drizzled in olive oil, prosciutto with a side of red wine, and pizza. Oh, the pizza. For a modest, Christian girl who had sustained herself on nothing but rice and beans for four months, Italy was a close to porn as I would ever get.
I then followed Liz to India. While Italy was a feast for the senses, it was in India that Liz confronted her ambiguous faith and her relationship baggage. As she wrestled with the darkness within her, it was only as she grew closer to God that she was able to let her issues go. I, too, was in a place of crisis in regard to my faith. How could I not be surrounded by the ugliness of human nature? How could I truly believe in a just God when for four months, I inhabited a country who only decades earlier had suffered under one of the worst dictators in human history? As Liz slowly and painfully made her way toward spiritual enlightenment, I also reached a place of peace. On my twenty-first birthday, a day usually categorized by belligerence and mischief, I stood in front of a congregation of Rwandan genocide survivors and recited Isaiah 40:31. I confessed to the women and children sitting in the pews (as few men had survived the massacre 15 years prior) that my heart broke for their families. I confessed that I had trouble reconciling how this had happened to them, how the world had stood by and did nothing as lives were destroyed. Then I told them of how I had opened up my Bible to this verse and God had reminded me that though Rwanda’s history was tragic and haunting, it would not be what defined them as a people. For days I heard testimonies from children whose parents had been murdered in front of their eyes, but I also gained something else: a better understanding of the resiliency of the human spirit. And so, on April 26, 2009 at the ripe age of 21, I recited for the Church, “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Hope. Hope and perseverance was what defined Rwanda, and I left “The Land of a Thousand Hills” enlightened.
By the time Liz had made her way to Bali, I had embraced my fate as an independent, world-saving, humanitarian citizen of the world. I would live in mudhuts feeding malnourished African orphans. I would save girls trafficked into prostitution. I would need no man, no children. My sacrificial, saintly life would be all I would need to be happy. Imagine my shock when I read on as Liz abandoned her journey of self discovery to hook up with a Brazilian heartthrob. (Okay, maybe that’s not exactly what happened, but that was how I perceived it at the time). I felt betrayed. Here I was about to embark upon a lifetime of service and world-saving, and my soul sister was leaving me high and dry for a man! At its conclusion, I closed the book and sat feeling disappointed and discouraged.
Eventually, I made my way back stateside, finished my final year of college and graduated on a perfect sunshiney, May afternoon. With diploma in hand, I headed to the economically devastated town of Wilmington, Ohio to begin a year of service with the AmeriCorps program. It didn’t matter that I had never stepped foot in this town or knew anyone there. The fact that I would be giving a year of my life to teaching families in need how to grow their own food was more than enough to fulfill me. Except that it wasn’t. Months into my term of service, I sat in my second-story, walk-up apartment and felt completely and utterly alone. The lone wolf facade that I had proudly adorned in Uganda was not nearly as well-fitting as I had hoped. I wanted a friend, a confidante, and when I was truly honest with myself, what I wanted more than anything, was love. I did the thing I never thought I would do, I prayed that God would introduce love in my life. For the first time in my life, my heart was open and I was ready to introduce myself to love. Two weeks later, that prayer was answered and I met the man who would become my husband.
It was during this time of loneliness and boredom that I decided to give Eat Pray Love a second chance. I revisited Italy like I was greeting an old friend. I felt peace in India as Liz meditated in her ashram. And once again, Liz traveled to Indonesia and fell in love. I sat up in my bed, tears streaming down my face as it finally sunk in- the enormity of what it meant for Liz to fall in love. Her journey was not meant to be a quest of the independent woman. Her journey was figuring out how to fall in love with herself. It was only when she was head over heels in love with herself that she was able to try her hand at a truly loving, functional relationship and there was no braver, more courageous thing she could have done.
Did Eat Pray Love make me fall in love? Well, not exactly. However, it was only after I had made myself the most vulnerable, abandoned the tough exterior and allowed myself to love that I understood what made Eat Pray Love so special in the first place. I am so thankful to Liz for sharing her journey, for sharing her life and for having the courage to fall in love again.