I have just finished the first section, “Italy,” in Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, Eat, Pray, Love. I feel a connection between the main character, Liz, and my own life. She’s a published writer; I’m a want-to-be-published writer. She experienced depression before, during, and after her divorce; so did I. She is a seeker, searching for healing, faith devotion, and authentic love; me too! One of my favorite lines so far – and the lines that struck a chord of connection for me – comes at the end of the Italy section: “The easiest, most fundamentally human way to say it is that I have put on weight. I exist more than I did four months ago.”
In her travels, Liz Gilbert has just finished the first leg of her year long journey: four months in Italy, four months in India, four months in Indonesia. In Italy, she gained back weight lost in the years of divorce and depression, and then added a few more as she allowed herself the pleasures of eating, making friends, and learning to speak Italian.
I am like Liz. At the end of my four rounds of chemo, “…I have put on weight.” I too “… exist more than I did four months ago.”
And like Liz, I just finished the first leg of my own, year long journey. My healing has been different – and almost opposite of the emotional healing she found in Italy. My healing from breast cancer has been more like a tearing apart – more like a divorce as a surgeon tore out cancer cells and an oncologist has sought to destroy any that might have remained, hidden somewhere in my body.
During the past four months I have been more in problem-solving mode and less in deep search of my self. I learned that “chemo-brain” is real as I have been unable to focus on quiet things like writing and making deep connections. Even my prayers have been more like bursts of fireworks than basking in the quiet presence of my Higher Power. My brain has been like a squirrel on steroids, hopping from tree to tree in search of sustenance, more like the squirrels in my parents’ backyard, taking time to tease and torment dogs – other creatures of God to be sure, but creatures who appear to think so differently from the squirrel.
I have spent my squirrel-ier days hopping from task to task: lesson planning, grading, and learning about my students within bursts of hanging up their pictures and artwork. (Teaching really is the perfect job for the A.D.D. brain, as we are constantly required to flit from task to task.) Reading one book at a time, however, has been a greater struggle. So has the mountain of paperwork I’ve collected to turn into insurance. Yet, I’ve been able to play those crazy word games with friends, text message, keep up with politics, and post messages that reveal my liberalism and irritate my conservative friends. In that way, I’m like the squirrel, flitting and flying with possibility while incessantly claiming to my more grounded friends that they must be wrong and cannot see as clearly from their fenced in perspective.
It is in the quiet and white space of a Sunday afternoon that I know more deeply that my political posts and yipping will not bring us closer to a genuine understanding of each other’s perspectives. It’s like we are playing football politics right now. And it makes me sad. I sense that we have lost credibility with one another – that our minds might be permanently closed to the ideas represented by the “other side.”
Nonetheless, I’m grateful to be able to put this feeling into words. My mind and ability to focus are returning to me. Being able to sit quietly with this thought and challenge – gives me hope that a solution will arrive one day, walking up to open the door that, at present, stands closed between us.
Liz, from Eat, Pray, Love, will continue her healing, but now, I predict, in a spiritual way – as she learns more about a voice that speaks with her in her most despairing moments.
As my mind and focus return to me, I hope and pray in the coming weeks of radiation and physical healing from the chemo, that I too will be better able to hear that voice. The voice that speaks to me of love, healing, guidance, and goodness.