This won’t be a post about all the things I’m loving after all, because I of course had too much to say about each of them.
I’ve just finished Committed: A Love Story, by Elizabeth Gilbert.
Gilbert is the author of EAT, PRAY, LOVE, which I loved both as a travel/spiritual memoir and as a Julia Roberts film. If you’ve heard the book is intensely self-indulgent, perhaps with the words me-me-me thrown in, then I feel compelled to point out that it is a memoir, which by its very definition is kind of one person’s take on the world, their place in it, and what any given thing means to them. I find her writing voice so charming I want to drink it with red velvet cupcakes on the side. Only occasionally do I wonder if it’s quite exhausting to think so deeply about everything around you, and then I realize I don’t need to wonder. It’s pretty much my vocation as well. Similarly it wasn’t until very near the end of this book that I wanted to shake her the tiniest bit and ask if she ever just went with the flow already. (Fortunately, her husband-to-be did this instead, and I was back to the drinking and the cupcakes).
Elizabeth Gilbert has, in her own words, an extremely Greek view of life, otherwise known in my circles – which are decidedly Hebrew (see book for details) – as secular. Though she is very spiritual, her religion is best defined by the line in the first memoir and its film, “God dwells within me, as me.” I only say that to give you fair warning in case you only want to read about marriage from a person with your worldview.
Technically, Gilbert and I have a different worldview. Yet, I loved almost every moment of this journey with her. The journey is this: Having survived, but barely, a heart-wrenching divorce and its aftermath, Gilbert has fallen in love but completely renounced the institution of marriage, only to find that she will have to marry the man she loves in order to live in the United States with him, which she very much wants to do. So while immigration does its thing, she does hers. She studies marriage and thinks about it and talks of almost nothing else for ten months, trying to come to peace with it – why we do it, how we can possibly keep it together, and whether or not women are doomed to be lost within it.
I dare you to read the book and not find yourself somewhere inside it. Even if you are single and wish to remain so, you’re in there. This was my favorite part. Maybe it will entice you.
With all respect to the Buddha and to the early Christian celibates, I sometimes wonder if all this teaching about nonattachment and the spiritual importance of monastic solitude might be denying us something quite vital. Maybe all that renunciation of intimacy denies us the opportunity to ever experience that very earthbound, domesticated, dirt-under-the-fingernails gift of difficult, long-term, daily forgiveness…
Maybe creating a big enough space within your consciousness to hold and accept someone’s contradictions – someone’s idiocies, even – is a kind of divine act. Perhaps transcendence can be found not only on solitary mountaintops or in monastic settings, but also at your own kitchen table in the daily acceptance of your partner’s most tiresome, irritating faults…
These paragraphs, and other beautiful paragraphs around them, remind me of my favorite theory, which perhaps describes my religion, that God is not really in you or in me, but in this little space in between.
I’m convinced just about anyone could find something of value in this honest, mostly objective, yet wholly personal look at marriage. It’s a book that makes you ask yourself questions like, Why did I or Why do I want to and can that desire sustain the thing I’ve built or hope to build? It celebrates contradictions and absurdities like our unshakeable belief that marriage can probably work even if we’ve failed at it before or the way we want to be wholly individual and nonconformist yet we want to be these things very near another human who’s chosen us.
It celebrates the wives and the aunties, the Hebrew and the Greek. It recognizes all of it, the history, the philosophy, the inexplicable. In the end, Gilbert finds a way to come to peace with marriage and the life she’s found, and through her delicious wording and variety of perspectives, I think any person, married or single, could read it and come to peace with their own.