Tuesday, April 21, 2009
When I first read this, I was confused about the encounters between the narrator and his mother with the border patrol –it was not that I didn’t know what was happening, but rather that the encounter simply ‘didn’t make sense to me’ in that kind of mind-puzzling way. The first encounter with the old border patrol guard, for example, confused me for quite some time; I found myself saying “didn’t he just ask them what their citizenship was the first time…and he’s asking them again?” Then, I figured that it must just be border ‘protocol’, and that the guard was simply doing his job by asking the family to “declare their citizenship” (139). But, after some (hopefully) careful reading, I noted that one of the guards asked if the family was from the “Canadian side or American side” (138). While initially this question made sense to me, upon further thought it struck me: “Aren’t Native Americans native to America?” What I mean is that, ‘doesn’t that mean that they do not, technically, have a ‘side’? My thought process was rewarded by the mother, who said that they came from “Blackfoot side” (every time she was asked, she gave the same answer: “Blackfoot”). Maybe it was pride; after all, even the narrator suggests that “it would have been easier if my mother had just said ‘Canadian’ and been done with it, but I could see she wasn’t going to do that” (137).
Even the woman who said she empathized with the family – “I can understand how you feel about having to tell us your citizenship” (138)—threw me for a loop; did she really understand or what she just saying that to coax the ‘Canadian or American’ answer from the mother? What also got me quite upset, even flummoxed, was that when the narrator told the woman (Stella) that they were “Blackfoot and Canadian”, she said that “that didn’t count because I was a minor…and that if [my] mother didn’t declare her citizenship, we would have to go back to where we came from”. Two issues: one, I think that anyone, especially a child, who says where they come from should be respected; and two, “where we came from” as an expression seems unfair simply because, I still believe(d), that Native Americans were native to this whole continent.
I still have trouble distinguishing myself with the use of hyphenation: am I ‘American’, ‘Asian-American’, ‘Filipino-American’, or even your ‘”typical” American’ male”? I think that in the mother’s answer of the question “what side are you on” with an answer that isn’t really a ‘side’, shows simultaneous pride and respect: pride in her culture and respect of her tradition.
According to a 1990 Census, “there are 32,234 Blackfoot Indians comprising 1.7 percent of the current Indian population” . While it is a small number compared to the 11 million ‘overseas Filipinos’ alone who live outside the Philippines, I can still understand natural inclination of the mother to say that she is “Blackfoot”, and not ‘Canadian’ or ‘American’. If the American continent is her home country, then of course she would need a more distinguishing identifier – that, to me, seems mere common sense. We make borders every day in our lives, whether we notice them or not: from the places we choose to live to the people we choose to spend time with, and even the foods we decide to try (or not try), we create imaginary borders and borderlines. We seem to restrict ourselves from freedom by seemingly pigeonholing ourselves within our own homelands; Americans, I believe, are notorious in choosing ‘fads’ and ‘trends’ that exclude even the closest of friends and family. I do believe, however, that there still is a question, similar to that which the border guard asked: we do need to pick a side. However, rather than choosing ‘Canadian’ or ‘American’, maybe King wants us to decide whether we should keep up our borders (imaginary and real), or embrace those cultures which make us different, as well as unite us in our humanity.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
I see parallels in this, my faith, with Gilbert's story. Her analogy at the end of the book, about the acorn and the oak tree of herself, is so beautiful and so true (in every sense of the word true). I can identify with that: in my moments of difficulty, I have always pictured myself in the future, the place and time and circumstance that I want to make happen, that I was working towards. That future me always made me smile and kept me going, I never doubted it. I've been back in college for 7 years now, and the day dream I have never gotten tired of was picturing myself walking across the stage at graduation. The daydream changed from walking across with my 4 year old son, to now walking with my 9 year old son and the baby, or by myself. The audience members cheering for me has changed, expanded, gotten louder.
I also identify with the moments of solitude she wrestles with in the book. I have always embraced solitude and silence, I am comfortable being alone with myself and my thoughts. but there are some things that are hard to face, for example giving my daughter up for adoption. Some people say "Only God can judge me", but I disagree, Only I can judge me. And I do, but I will never, no matter what the conviction, hand down a life sentence. I have faith in myself that nothing I can/will do is that unforgiveable; it's a matter of allowing that judgement, living with it, coming to terms with your decisions/mistakes, and then forgiving yourself. It's a process and a journey, just like everything else in life.
On a side note Devin, my baby boy, is also 6 months old today. So the story she tells about the baby girl's 6 month old ceremony with Ketut was also very touching to me. I can def. understand the the Balian belief behind this ritual. There's some kind of saying that a new baby still smells like God, the idea being that they have just come from Heaven and they are still very much heavenly. New babies are indifferent, removed from life, their eyes don't focus, they don't often respond to people or stimulus around them. For a baby with hiccups, scaring them to get rid of the hiccups is not an option - babies just don't get scared like that. But around 6 months is when they begin to smile, laugh, coo, watch, listen, and all this new attention and activity is directed at you, at the people and the things going on around them. So I can definitely understand the joy of feeling like your baby is finally joining you in life, in humanity. And for my children, I don't wish for a protected life of constant happiness. Bad things, hard times, sorrow, and pain are necessary to creating character and making us better people, and that's where Fate comes in. What I want for my children, what I want to teach them, is to have faith in themselves, in their Free Will and to put their actions (the living of their life, if you will) behind that faith.
But by hearing this comment on ESPN of all the channels that I could be watching, especially as I am trying to write a blog on homelands, made me start thinking. How exactly do we define our homelands? We have seen in our readings, especially with Salman Rushdie, that our homelands are oftentimes imaginary. That we have ideas of what our homelands were and we hold on to those perfect ideas and use them to define our homelands. But then we also have heard throughout our class discussions that alot of people define their homelands not by anything physical, but by the connections they have made with other people- namely their families. Their homelands can be constantly changing, but as long as they have that one constant of their family, the person feels at home. Then we have read some books like Potiki where the homeland is a tangible piece of land. The people have physical things that make their homeland, and even though they manage to rebuild their lives after those physical aspects are destroyed- it is certainly centered around physical things defining their homelands.
But looking at all of these different aspects that define one's homeland- there is a constant thread. That thread is a reliance on the past to define who we are today. The people in Potiki are steeped in tradition and are constantly looking into the past to define what they do in the present to respond to otuside forces. People in class have made their imaginary homelands in the connections that they have with their families, but those connections are based on Rushdie's idea of just snapshots of the past that we piece together to create an ideal. Even if we have a physical homeland that we can think of, when we think of that homeland it is always something in the past that we are thinking about. We define our present lives by what has already happened. Does that mean that we are not completely here in the present? I think to a certain degree, yes- it means that we are not fully present in the present. If we are constantly thinking about how we are defined, and what our connections are to other people- then we are stuck in the past.
In Eat, Pray, Love there is a great example of this. When Liz is describing all the different professions and jobs that Richard from Texas has had, she is stuck in the past. She is defining a person by what they have done, not who they are at the current moment. He was an oilman; he was a big-rig driver; he was a junkie; he was a hippie farmer- but she fails to say what he is NOW. True she does explain what he does later, but that is not how she defines him. It is all of the old actions that Richard has done that define who he is at that moment. It is all of the life experiences, all the different things that he has done, and all the places that he has lived that make him what he is today. I feel like many people in our class are exactly like that. They are defined by their past- and the present is so interwoven in that past that it is almost impossible to extricate the two. Now that has some interesting repercussions on our views of the future. I know that a lot of people in this class are trying to figure out what they will be doing after they graduate. They are struggling with the transitions and how they will make it on their own. I believe that a bunch of the anguish that people are feeling for this looking into the future is because they are so used to being defined by their past. They are afraid of the change, the uncertainty, the transition. But that is because up to this point, they have defined themselves only by things that have happened in the past. Now they must look to the future and instead of just intertwining the past with the present, they must use those two and also have some sort of vision of their future and how they WANT to define themselves. Not how they are currently defined, even though that will play an important role in their self-definition later on in life. It is scary because of the amount of leeway that there is in this process and the looking to the future when we are all used to just looking to the past.
Four years ago, I was an incoming freshman at
Now that I am a senior, I am faced with a mix of emotion as I think about leaving. I find myself already missing things, although they are still right in front of me. Although it may seem insane or overly emotional, as I drive through
Saying goodbye is difficult. However, I am reassured that although I will be leaving the physical place of Loyola, I am leaving with a wealth of knowledge and skills, long-lasting friendships, and priceless memories. I’ve learned that home is a constantly changing place, and each place has shaped who I am, and will shape who I am continually. I think that as human beings we are extremely adaptable, but uncomfortable with change.
Gilbert recalls her Guru saying that “Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it” (268). I have tried to consciously shape who I am today and who I aspire to become, in search of happiness. I am going to take these identities with me, what I’ve learned, and the happiness I’ve experienced at each physical place. I love Loyola. I love
This semester I discovered the power an author possesses to connect his or her reader with their aspect of homeland through art and literature. Despite cultural, ethnic, linguistic, social, and political differences that may be present between homelands, I have recognized parts of humanity and myself through the stories of each author. These authors have granted their international audiences access to their international senses of home. I think I love the English language because it is increasingly universal, along with art. Art—be it music, writing, painting, etc—is a way to express ourselves, our ideas, and our philosophies in a universally human way. I will bring who I have become with me in my next endeavor: living abroad in
I will be doing more than teaching in
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Something that often crosses my mind in regard to my experiences in the classroom is the fact that I will have only spent a limited amount of time with the kids; I will not know them after the semester ends, yet I have come to know them now in their first grade year. Thinking about this class in relation to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love, I wonder what some of these kids I have come to know will choose for themselves in their own lives. Will they go the conventional, expected route, or will they seek something different? Will they do both? I feel as though this experience at St. Mary’s has been a glimpse into the developing lives of a first grade class.
Gilbert talks about the individual’s inherent possession of the divine and everything within. And if this is true, and if everyone of us are left alone with ourselves all the time, what will we choose for our own lives? We have talked a lot about the adolescence’s participation in the process of making his or her home in the world, of becoming in adult. As we have seen, there are no clear thresholds. Gilbert’s journey reflects this process, and she is in her early thirties. Liz ultimately finds an inner peace that was present within her all along. This results in her realization that everything around her reflects this inner peace once it has been recognized from within. She dared to search for the answers to her questions. There was emptiness within her life, and rather than ignoring her feelings, she pursued them. She was a self-proclaimed spiritual seeker.
If all the answers are inside of us waiting to be unlocked, what then is the role of education and schooling? Observing and participating in the classroom has reminded me that it is about realizing this. The young first graders at St. Mary’s are cultivating an intellectual lifestyle that will lead them to want to pursue the answers to their questions. When they too look for something to believe in, they will seek out whatever may be right for them. Once you get to know the kids individually, this becomes apparent; they have unique personalities even for their young age, or maybe particularly because of their young age. “People follow different paths, straight or crooked, according to their temperament, depending on which they consider best, or most appropriate-and all reach You, just as rivers enter the ocean” (206). While God may be the answer for some, it is not for others. You to me may also mean yourself. I think this quote works in this use as well, and still follows Gilbert’s point. While I do not believe Gilbert is claiming that everyone ought to run off and travel the world for their entire lives without any permanent “real” life to tie you down, her points may expose a more important side of life. So whether Isaiah becomes a lawyer, Jade a teacher, or Mariah a doctor, it doesn’t matter because they will end up doing whatever is right for them. If they are able to find an inner peace as the one Gilbert finds, they will be lucky. Everyone’s path will be different, this is certain, but it is also important to recognize the possibility to maintain both a conventional as well as individual path, an antevasin-like existence.
Throughout the semester, we have dealt with loss, immersion, survival, continuity, globalization, strength, culture, internal and external forces, labels, humor, the past and the present, and much more. Each novel offered a unique commentary on very real issues we must deal with or not deal with. Regardless, they are present. The opportunity to do service-learning has only aided in the digestion and contemplation of such topics, topics we are always grappling with.
As I read about the value that the Balinese put on “the grid” of physical proximity and home, my mind wandered to the people I serve at the Franciscan Center. Many of them have no consistent place to sleep. In the past they have had homes, but poor health, unemployment and underemployment, addictions, mental illness, and material poverty have led to their displacement. These individuals live a life unfathomable by Balinese standards. The staff asked Gilbert where she was going and where she had been every time she passed through the hotel. “I can almost imaging that they keep tiny maps in the desk drawer of all their loved ones, with markings indicating where everyone is at every given moment, just to make sure the entire beehive is accounted for at all times,” she says (234). I wonder what the guests at the Franciscan Center would tell me if I asked them where they had come from or where they planned to go. I wonder whether many of them would even have an answer that I could plot on a map. Life on the streets of Baltimore city can feel tedious and aimless, as many of them have told me. One can easily spend most of a day traveling to the meal program, and the rest of the day searching for a decent place to sleep. Without a job, there are unaccounted-for hours of killing time that defy the Balinese system of purposeful movements within the social grid. This winter I participated in Baltimore City’s Homeless Census, which aims to count this elusive population so that the government can track them every few years. The project involves volunteers registering people staying at shelters all over the city and then combing the streets all night long, searching alleys for individuals who have no other refuge from the cold. We plotted the locations of the people we found on photocopied street maps with small dots, each marking a human life. Like concerned Balinese friends, we sought to locate each individual within grid. The Homeless Census is necessary, however, because thousands of Baltimore residents go unmarked from day to day. Many have no mailing address, no driver’s license, no birth certificate (my first week at the Franciscan Center, I found in the corner of a stairwell a full shoebox labeled “Unclaimed Birth Certificates”), making them much like the ghost the Gilbert was in the eyes of the Balinese. These individuals live among us, but they exist outside of our social, political, and economic grid.
The single theme that has surprised me most from both from my service-learning experience and our readings for this course is the inherent connectedness of people to homelands. I tend to think of people as individuals who have their own experiences and destinies, but this course has presented me with a series of testaments to the connection that exists between individuals and their homelands, both spiritual and physical. We have seen numerous characters try to leave their homelands, only to find that they are a necessary part of them; others have struggled to keep their rootedness culturally or geographically. People are not merely individuals, but richly connected beings who thrive in their particular natural environments. This phenomenon gives me a key to having compassion for the guests at the Franciscan Center. Many of them look deeply weary or sad, and others have emotional and mental illnesses that cloud their spirits. Living outside of the social grid, marginalized from the homelands of physical shelter, family, and spiritual nourishment, these individuals experience trauma much deeper that mere physical hunger or exposure. Mukherjee, Rushdie, Gilbert, Wendt, Achebe, and others suggest that the human need for homeland runs deep, and that the disturbance of these homelands can wreck havoc on the individual.
It would proably be easier to explain my state of mind first, while reading the story so that when it is applied to the text it will make more sense. I got home on Wednesday night, at about midnight. My mother trudged downstairs to greet me and then crawled back into bed leaving me to talk with my sister. My sister is really my cousin, but she lived with me while I was growing up until she was eighteen and moved back with her mother so we are as close as siblings get; plus she looks and acts more like me than anybody in my family, or perrhaps I look and act like her either way. This is the first time I have seen her in my house in four years, and the next morning was the first time she, my brother and I have all been together at home since I was twelve or thirteem I can't remember.
Saturday my brother came in to wake me up, quite rudely actually as I was a bit underthe weather both from a cold and from my friday night escapade but it was the wildest thing to feel like I was young again. My whole family was back inthe house, my grandmother, my father, mother, brother, and sister and I all together, and I don't think I have ever felt so nostalgic in my life as when I walked downstairs to breakfast (lunch by this point).
I did the rounds, visited my friends, called who needed to be called so i wouldn't be burned at the stake for coming home and 'ignoring' somebody and te more I thought about it the more I realized that this place, this house, these people ALL of it had changed with time. My memories didn't match up anymore. My sister is 27 now, my brother is 23, we aren't kids anymore. Our house needs a face lift in most areas and has gotten one in others. The carpets I laid on are gone, or old. None of the couches I slept on when I stayed home from school sick are there. Yet it still feels like home.
I have come to the conclusion, from my experience home that I need to draw a very very vague distinction between feeling comfort and being at home. When I am at home, it reminds me of a time when I had a real home, when I lived in a real home, when my family was all home. It is quite possible, and more likely than not probable that home for me is more of a time and a place than either one separated. I know I had balance then, and I suppose for some time I will find out if I need to go back, or if I can reinstate that balance somewhere else. Comfort, comfort is feeling balanced or content for a time. I'm not saying one cannot be at home anywhere, I am just saying that especially after what Gilbert had to go thorugh to achieve balance that 1) it is not easy to come by and 2)when you really find it, you can in fact carry that feeling of home with you (ideally anyway)
About Liz, "I was the administrator of my own rescue" Continuing in the complete abstraction of the idea of a home, I think Liz's idea of balance , her spiritual journey, and her journeyto discover a connection tih God all bring her inside herself. Maybe balance, maybe complete self control, awareness, and fulfillment are the qualities of home, and finding those qualities in ones self is teh way to be able to carry a hhome with you. Feeiling at home, and being at home are certainly different things and I think Gilbert's idea of balance is the way in which someone can feel at home no matter where they are. This is significant to me, personally because I do tihnk that a homeland, in all thjat we have read and I have experienced to some degree is an ieal that lives in the past.
For a moment I was stunned; had the good father recently read Eat, Pray, Love? Clearly this was too good to be true, as his statement echoed profoundly of Liz Gilbert’s own musings while she meditated in India and Indonesia. However, I have long since been aware of those precious moments when your mind goes blank and the only thing you are aware of are the words that someone is speaking or the actions someone is taking that scream to you, “You’ve been thinking about this recently, haven’t you? Well here’s your answer!” That the Sunday Mass was one of those moments was confirmed for me when, as my mum drove me down to Loyola on Monday, the NPR radio station blurted out, “What makes America different from other countries is that ethnicities are generally tolerated, but what’s important is the allegiance to the country.” (Taken from an interview on the topic of British Muslims).
What I take from this comes in two parts. The first is simple: no matter what, the home you make for yourself in your own body is absolutely critical and directly influences the home you make in the world. Gilbert demonstrates that, thousands of miles away from “home,” she nevertheless found home in the house of her friend Wayan and in the arms of her lover Felipe. I’m not saying that you need to bring yourself to the level of turiya to achieve this inner “contentedness,” but in the end the goal is the same. The second part is that I finally realized and accepted completely that my faith is a truly integral part of my home. Those beliefs and values that my parents instilled in me and introduced me to make of more of my being than I previously cared to admit, and whether that makes me a by-product of our increasingly secular society or not is something I don’t need to worry about.
Being comfortable with yourself and what you’ve done goes a long way to letting you actually come home. Gilbert’s meditation on the rooftop under the Indian sky on her divorce is a perfect example of the sort of peace that can be achieved by letting go of worries and troubles: “Let your intention be freedom from useless suffering. Then, let go.” And after that moment when Liz realized that she was truly free was when she truly was home. Because no matter how much pleasure she indulged in, no matter how many times she meditated, until she let go of that particular worry, just as she had with David, she could not truly be home in herself. What many scornfully refer to as “baggage” is much more serious and undeserving of such mockery. Those things that block us from accepting ourselves and accepting freedom are those truly worthy of attention. Once those have been dealt with we are much better equipped to deal with the problems of finding a home in a world where one man takes land from another with nary an apology or recompense.
This quote really stuck out to me while I was reading because it made me think about the huge transition that Liz making, not just with her travels, but with her entire life. While you’re reading about her months in Italy, India and Indonesia you forget that Liz had a home and a family and that after the last leg of her trip in Bali she will be returning to her normal life. The problem is, she doesn’t have a “normal life” to return to. When Liz’s trip is over and she presumably returns to the US she will be starting over. She is free to find a new house, a new hometown, new friends, etc. She doesn’t have to (and definitely shouldn’t) return to the same life she had in New York. This can be a liberating, but also terrifying experience. How do you go about creating a new life? What do you base it on?
In Liz’s case, I think she is fully aware of the personal changes that she has undergone in each step of her trip. I think that Liz, to use the words of the nun from South Africa that she met at the Ashram, realizes that her “interior closets” are being rearrange constantly in her journey of self-discovery. But Liz isn’t just returning to her old life as a changed woman. She is faced with the task of constructing a new life around what she has learned on her journey; she is taking her rearranged interior closets and remodeling her life around them. She can’t return to the “home” she created with her husband or with David now that she is a new person. Liz is finally growing up and discovering who she is as an individual and this realization really necessitates the creation of a new life, of a personal homeland.
This same idea really applies to all of us as college students. Our time at Loyola has changed each of us. I know that I felt the changes that college had sparked in me within the first few weeks of college. I remember returning home for Thanksgiving break freshman year and seeing my family and friends after only being away for a few months. Everything was different. My family noticed changes in me almost immediately. “You seem more mature!” my Mom would say to me. Well I don’t know how true that was but I really was a different person: neater, more talkative, more goal-oriented and noticeably self-sufficient. In the three years that I’ve spent at Loyola, these same traits have developed in me, and become a part of my character. Just as many other people have said throughout the semester, Loyola became a home for me. My time here has already changed my identity completely. Sure, I brought a little bit of home with me to college (through pictures, music, decorations, food, etc) but more importantly I’ve realized that I’ve brought so much of college back home with me. It has become part of my life. My tastes in food, music, movies, and books have been completely transformed. I’ve developed a new and much more personal relationship with God than I left home with 3 years ago. I feel like my life is headed in an entirely different direction than I saw myself going when I graduated high school. And in a way, as Liz’s Yoga friends in the novel pointed out, it is hard for me to notice how much I’ve changed until I return home and remember the person I used to be.
But looking ahead to my college graduation next spring, and hearing about the plans of this year’s graduating seniors, it’s easy to see that we are all in the same boat that Liz is in at the end of her journey. After graduation, we don’t really have “normal lives” to return to. We can always visit our parents, maybe even live with them for a while but it’s still time for us to start our own life and create new homelands for ourselves. Even though it’s intimidating we have to choose a lifestyle, a job or career, and a place to live. We will meet new people, and decide what place family and friends will have in our developing life. After graduation we join the “real world” and we have the task of defining what the “real world” is for us. Who we are in college has a huge bearing on who we become after we graduate and on the type of life we pursue. My college career has certainly changed who I am, and often made me question my life without providing me with any answers. I don’t fully know myself, nor to I expect to by the end of next year, but what I have learned and experienced while in college is already steering me toward the life I will create for myself after graduation. And the questions that college has left unanswered for me will undoubtedly guide me on my path through life.
Throughout this course we have dealt with the relationship between change and homelands, among other things. I think that most of the characters that we’ve met this semester have had to deal with change. Either they have undergone personal change or they have had to face irreparable changes to their physical homelands. Their “interior closets” have been rearranged and it is then up to them to choose or create a new homeland for themselves. Sometimes characters’ reactions in the face of change are not favorable, as with Okonkwo who commits suicide because he is incapable of adapting to his changing homeland. And in some cases, like with Jasmine, the idea of creating a new identity and homeland becomes an escape. Gilbert’s book really crystallizes the idea of embracing and cultivating change in the name of creating or discovering an interior homeland. In the face of change the characters we’ve encountered have had to reevaluate their idea of homelands and I believe that, like these characters, our class has made each of us re-examine our notions of homelands and our place in them. I know that this course has made me rethink my personal ideas on home, family, faith, and racial/cultural identity–something that I really wasn’t expecting. This class was a pleasant surprise and a very enriching experience for me.
Darling…of course she’s fucking with you…It’s a way of life here for people to try to get the most money they can out of visitors. It’s how everyone survives (Gilbert 320).
Liz learns a very unsettling lesson about human nature, immediately following her greatest karmic triumph. She manages to pull together $18,000 using her extended network of friends, to help out Wayan, seemingly bringing her journey full circle. She has finally healed enough that she can begin to repay those who have helped her. However, Wayan attempting to milk her for more money threatens to sour the experience for Liz.
Charity is something I have always struggled with. My father always taught me not to give money to panhandlers. He has managed halfway houses and in his experience addicts do not begin the steps to a real recovery until they hit a true “rock bottom.” My giving them money not only gives them money to feed their habit in the short run, but also delays them hitting bottom. Still, I’m often conflicted, and having no backbone I often give. Either way I suppose I win. If I give money I feel good. If I don’t give, I can feel wiser than those who do, and comfort myself knowing that I’m truly helping that bum achieve moral virtue down the road, something that the others don’t realize.
Of course I’ve heard Ayn Rand’s theories that there can be no true charity since people derive enjoyment from helping others. The first time I suppose I really had to confront my motivations for philanthropy came on my trip to South Dakota between my junior and senior years of high school.
If I was ever idealistic, I suppose it was tarnished by a Christian service trip, something that was meant to make my Jesuit classmates and me more loving, committed to justice, open to growth and so forth. We had done soup kitchens and the works, but we were all really pumped to be helping some legit poor people this time. Yep, these were the Sioux. As much as the Native Americans got the shaft in our country, they were about as close as you can get to real poverty without going to a third world country (after all, you can’t really be poor in America just lazy right?). We drove to Eagle Butte where we’d be building houses for Habitat for Humanity. We were positively giddy to see trailers with no plumbing and hear about 80% unemployment rates on the reservation. This charity was the big time alright.
Our first job was painting the house for Gerry, the head of Habitat. Our next was putting a deck on the side of Ted-his-assistant’s house. Then we laid down some linoleum in Gerry’s kitchen. By the third night, my friend Nick and I went on a tirade in group reflection. We’d come however many thousand miles to do odd jobs for the people in town who least needed it. Other families didn’t have running water, did Ted need a deck (fyi, he made some side money selling pot out of his house)? The teachers who led us had no real control over what work we were assigned and tried to calm us down as best they could. I’m not entirely sure the other members of our group caught onto just how much we were being used, but most joined us on our rant.
Eventually, we resigned ourselves to the fact that we had to go through with whatever work we were given. At least the trip fulfilled our forty hours of obligatory-volunteering to graduate. In retrospect I think what had made Nick and I angriest was a sense of entitlement. I had felt entitled to those warm fuzzies I saw on my classmates’ faces, the ones who had gone to Jamaica and gotten to hoist smiling orphans on their shoulders. Where was my orphan-high?!
Granted, I really did want to help those 80% unemployed, but honestly, what difference would I have made? The main anger came from being robbed of that experience.
When we got back to school I had it out with Father Joe on the issue. He explained that the reason we worked on the houses of Gerry and Ted was because Sioux were poor at organizing their labor. They had failed to line up enough real work for us and what we did was busy work. Father Joe reminded me that what makes poverty self-perpetuating is the inability for the people to manage the resources that do come their way. We hadn’t been used, just mismanaged (and Father Joe saw to it that the group next year did have real work lined up for them).
I empathize with Liz. She was almost robbed of the experience of getting those very karmic fuzzies, seeing Wayan and her children in a good house. Eventually, by standing her ground she does curb Wayan and get her in a house (after all, she still does seem like a nice girl, one who has just been overwhelmed by money, money that she has no experience with or context to relate to). As cliché a way as it is to tie things together, I suppose in both of our cases it should have been the thought that counted. The rewarding buzz felt from doing a good deed I suppose shouldn’t be looked down upon. Probably no one would ever be helped if it wasn’t for the feeling their benefactors get from doing righteous deeds.
I apologize for such a dark ending to our homeland blogs. As for a thing that has surprised me about homelands readings, I think it has been the ability the authors have to make me empathize with these far-away peoples. Virtually all of them have had some pretty rough existences, but without any real ability to help them (and subsequently reap Ayn Rand’s benefits) I can only relate to them. I really see it as a credit to the authors that they have been so successful in helping me relate to characters I have little in common with culturally. The readings and discussions have been an exercise in connection to these cultures.
I used to consider myself faithful. I prayed before I went to sleep, went to church every Sunday, had a strong relationship with God, and was unwavering in my beliefs. However, coming to college has changed all this—ironic I know considering our Jesuit campus with the cathedral smack in the heart of it. I wouldn’t say I am faithless, but over the last three years I have found that when I once looked to God and found answers, I now find questions: unending questions that never seem to subside but only multiply as I begin to question the questions.
I think it is for this reason that I have managed to envy one of the fifth graders in Mrs. M’s class at St. Mary’s. Her name is Monica, and she is by far the most boisterous and self righteous ten year old I know; which is evidently how she acquired the nick-name Princess Moni. She stands around four feet high, with chubby cheeks, brown skin, honey eyes, and a smile that could knock anyone to their knees. Her laugh is priceless and the energy she emits into the room is flawless, but what catches me off guard every week is none of the characteristics previously stated. I am jealous of Monica because of her ability to begin each morning singing and saying a personal prayer just after announcements. It is the same prayer each week, with maybe one or two names added or removed depending on their need of God’s help and blessing. She says, “I would like to thank God for my mom and my dad, my baby brother and sister, for Mrs. M, Mrs. Alyssa and St. Mary’s. And I would also like to ask God to help all the people homeless on the streets and anybody in need of food and love. Help us take care of each other. Amen.”
After contemplating my jealousy, I realized I am not envious of her ability to sing (although I wish I could hit notes as high as she can), or her ability to pray, because I could formulate a pretty decent prayer. I was jealous however, of her belief in her prayer. Her whole heart was in the words that she spoke—her whole being, which is more than I can say for the majority of conversations I hold through out the day. I couldn’t help but think of Monica while reading the questions and theories Gilbert posed through out her novel. Three in particular stood out to me. The first was the impossible question of “how should we find peace within ourselves?” (251). It was incredibly frustrating watching a fifth grader have more peace and confidence within herself than I did at twenty years old. Like Gilbert, the many years, heartaches, and let downs that I have faced in the last ten years have left me to question not only my faith while simultaneously and earnestly needing it, but also to question myself. But Princess Monica didn’t question herself, and I wondered how? I immediately thought back to the seemingly class favorite quote: “Faith is walking face-first and full-speed into the dark.” (175) In this sense, faith is not necessarily knowing the answers, but trusting enough to walk anyway.
Yet this only led me to question why Monica was able to have such faith while Gilbert and I had only transcended into darkness as years went on. That is when I stumbled upon the wise words of Felipe: “It’s still two human beings trying to get along, so it’s going to be complicated. And love is always complicated. But humans must try to love each other, darling. We must get our hearts broken sometimes. This is a good sign, having a broken heart. It means we have tried for something” (277). After reading this quote, I found the answer I was looking for: I realized my faith really hadn’t been lost in college, it had just been transformed. In my new homeland at Loyola I found that I have enhanced my faith in people, and I strongly believe that in nurturing this faith, I will in turn find God again. I believe this is the motif within all of the novels we have read this semester: homeland in fact is an eternal peace with oneself, the ability to adapt, and the relationships we build with people. Gilbert takes this to the next level believing that in finding purity within each of these we will in turn find spirituality within our bodily homeland, and maintain the delicate balances of life. But like Monica says each morning, it can only begin by taking care of each other.
Tonight my mother undertook a major surgery. Having a medical-malpractice-caused rare blood type, my mother’s surgery became much more complicated for my family. Over 500 miles away I can see my father’s face as he waits patiently in the waiting room—pacing back-and-forth. My sister has informed me that the procedure, an estimated hour and half, was conducted over five and half hours, due to some unexpected complications. Thankfully my mother is alright. She knew nothing of the complications, or of the extended length of her procedure. (In fact, she probably won’t retain much of anything till tomorrow.) Speaking with my sister afterwards, we both found ourselves sympathizing with my father, who did not leave the waiting room for a mere second. Like my mother, who couldn’t eat before her surgery, he also didn’t eat all day. He was by her side the moment she woke up, still nervous, refusing to let go of her hand. It is in times like these that I am reminded of the simple pleasures; the moments that we tend to take for granted. We cannot predict things like “complications.” I don’t want to have any regrets.
Gilbert’s novel is more than a travel memoir—a collection of fabulously exotic tales. Through her quest she develops her own self-identity, but she also uncovers some philosophically insightful advice for her readers. Gilbert examines the inner “workings” of humanity. In particular, I enjoyed her opinion on the purpose for seeking rituals and religion:
“We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don’t have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down” (187). Throughout Gilbert’s time in India she seems to do just this, create a “safe resting place” for the emotions of her past and the fear of her future. It is during these feelings of extreme “joy or trauma” that Gilbert seems to pray the most and, isn’t this when we all pray the most? I also connected with her view of karma. Gilbert writes,
“The karmic philosophy appeals to me on a metamorphic level because even in one lifetime it’s obvious how often we must repeat our same mistakes, banging out heads against the same old additions and compulsions, generating the same old miserable and often catastrophic consequences, until we can finally say stop and fix it” (262).
I sympathize with Gilbert in her karmic philosophy, or should I say, karmic behavior. It is human nature to be habitual and thus, caught-up in the same routines and “repeat our same mistakes.” Although Gilbert resents her attachment to male bonding, she finds herself returning to men (or more accurately to love) as an “old addition.” The question Gilbert seeks and we all should ask is, what drives this addiction? Is it our fears of something in the future? Is it a desire to return to a familiar and comfortable past? Time is not a linear path. Whether we like it or not, it seems to constantly shape our present.
I have never been a fan of travel. I enjoy going on vacations for weeks at a time, but only in the company of those who I feel most close to, most secure with. I only like to leave my home if I am bringing a piece of it with me. I have never had any desire to live in another state, let alone another country…until now. Reading the first part of the novel that takes place in Italy filled me with a desire not only to live in another country, experience another culture, language, place, but to do so alone. I have always felt the need to be surrounded by my family, loved ones, and friends which I know is a perfectly natural instinct, but I have never considered the benefits and power of doing something completely on your own. The thought of traveling alone as certainly never crossed my mind, I can hardly imagine going to a restaurant alone, not to mention a restaurant in another county. This novel changed that. Seeing how the narrator was able to truly find herself and her home by leaving her home offered me a perspective and a possibility that I have never considered before.
In all of the other novels we have read this semester there has been a focus on maintaining, holding on to, and fighting for your homeland. In “Things Fall Apart” we see a homeland changed, and are left with a desire for change not to have occurred, for there to be something done about the invasion. We then moved to Love and Longing in Bombay where we saw homelands being defined by different times, by old and new ideals, and the struggle between them. It made me question whether westernization is beneficial, or whether we lose something along the way, do we lose the stories, the mystery, the beauty as we modernize? Potiki showed the beauty of oral story telling and the power of tradition. We were able to see a people fighting for their homeland, fighting for the land, and were able to see the beauty in holding on to tradition. It was when reading this novel that I began to feel a twinge of jealousy. I found myself wishing that I had just one nationality or culture to connect with, to take pride in, to fight for, and my view of home and identity slowly changed as I tried to figure out where I fit as an American. As we moved to novels that more included America in the subject manner, and saw how cultures interacted and perceived America, I started to develop a different sense of home. I began to see that throughout all of these novels, what made home wasn’t necessarily the physical location, it wasn’t even necessarily the people or family…it was the individual. Home can be within yourself, and this is a concept I was unable to fully realize until reading “Eat Pray Love”. People all have different definitions on home because home is within yourself, and can be different for different people in different times in different nations. For some, home is a physical location, a building, for others home is their family and friends, something that they can carry in their hearts and with them, for others home is an entire location, a city or a country, for others home is tradition and culture, a connection to the past, and for others home is a security in their own identity.
I have always seen myself as a person who defined home mostly by their family and friends, and secondly by their state and country, but after reading “Eat Pray Love” it is my hope that I will be able to find a home in myself, that through my experiences I will be able to truly understand who I am after you take away my family, my friends, and my occupation as a student. When not defining myself by the people in my life, or what I am currently doing, who am I? What makes me…me?
Moreover, I thought very interesting to see how the relationship between the students and I evolved. I worked with several classes: there was one that was particularly troublesome to tell you the truth, but very nice when you knew how to talk to them. Actually, those students were young teenagers, between 13 and 14 years old. Every time I would arrive at 3.PM, there would be someone punished outside. At the beginning, some of the students really did not really care about me. So I decided to take the initiative to approach them and to dialogue with them. It proved really fruitful because I noticed that when I would be around, they would try to behave. For instance, there was this young girl, she was very quick-tempered. When she would talk to someone, she would scream, or if one of the male students did not do what she asked, she would become infuriated and would beat him for no reason. One day, I reasoned with her and asked her why she was doing that, why she could not ask something without screaming or without beating someone. And then I joked a little bit with her and told her ‘‘ you know when you get older you will make boys flee. Boys will not want to be with you if you keep screaming and beating people.’’ She has calmed down since. Well every time I come she tries to behave because she remembers our little discussion.
I don’t really see a lot of common points between Gilbert and I in line with my service-learning, except maybe the love of a language which is not Italian, but English. She travelled to Italy among other things because she was in love with the language, and I travelled to the USA because I love English. The love of the English language led me to Baltimore, then Loyola, then St Mary’s, and allowed me to have access to the homelands of different young students. I was able to know more about their families, what they like and don’t like, their aspirations, their cultural references…Like several characters we have studied such as Jasmine, the young couple in Wendt’s novel, the missionaries in ‘‘Things Fall Apart’’, Dollarman in ‘‘Potiki,’’ I have been an outsider and even an invader, in the sense that I was observing and entering the homelands of young St Mary’s students as a non-American citizen, as a foreigner. However, at the end, I can say that the students made me part of their homelands. I integrated their world, the same way Jasmine, and by extension Mukherjee ended up integrating the American society. I can definitely say that St Mary is now part of the mental homeland I have been constructing in my head since I left my geographical homeland, Guadeloupe two years ago.
I think it is quite clear why Chapter 57 was the most inspirational part of the book to me. The ways in which Liz described faith were remarkable and to me, spot on. “Devotion is diligence without assurance. Faith is a way of saying ‘yes, I pre-accept the terms of the universe and I embrace in advance what I am presently incapable of understanding.’ … If faith were rational, it wouldn’t be—by definition—faith. … Faith is walking face-first and full speed into the dark.” (157).
After reading the description of faith I realized that the trip Liz took was exactly what she needed. She needed to restore her faith in not only some force that she could find comfort in, but also in herself. Faith is what is mending Liz. Faith is the reason she can wake up and feel ok.
I think it is obvious that, for most people anyway, faith is what we too rely on for comfort and assurance. Faith is why we are willing to risk everything and try new things. Faith is the reason my family was able to move cross country just about every two years for the entire length of my Dad's naval career; we didn’t know what was in store for us, and of course it really sucked having to readjust and familiarize with a new place, but at the end of the day we were all ok with it because we knew things would work out. I am one of those people who doesn’t get easily stressed out or overwhelmed but when I do it feels like the world is crashing down and I will never recover. When I get like this I usually call the one person I know will make everything ok, my mom, and every time she tells me the same thing, “God will not give you more than you can handle”. I have finally learned that this is true, sometimes things take a turn for the worse but there really is always a silver lining and a way to recover. The further I read into Eat, Pray, Love, I realized Liz was beginning to know this too.
In general this semester I have learned that homelands vary from place to place and person to person. The readings selected for this semester have all had a relatively similar theme, all the characters in all the books were able to go on with their daily lives and problems because of their faith.
For Okonkwo and most of the characters at the beginning of our literary journey, the land and its culture were the key to their existence. Okonkwo could only perceive himself in terms of his village and the honor-standing he could achieve amongst its populous. For Khan in East, West and others in the midst of our written odyssey, it was people who became their idea of home, be it wife, family, or friends. For Gilbert, our lost woman intent on finding the home within herself, she must be removed from all those comforts so many others depend upon.
In a way, she’s just like a college student. If we were all at home, we would never find a way to become adults. It’s why humans, indeed most animals, move away from their birth parents and find another pack, herd, or family. Wolves roam away. Lions wander. Humans…we go to college (in some ways, just as bestial and barbaric a place). But it’s just a part of growing up.
Maybe Gilbert didn’t get such a period away from home; she got married, sealed inside a sort of false home. This, nothing else, was providing the unfulfilled feeling Gilbert suffered from at the beginning. Only by emptying herself of this emptiness (by filling herself with delicious foods, not a bad way to start if you ask me) did she feel complete enough to move on.
Being deprived of this period of growth- or thrown into it far too early by grief- creates lasting problems in life. Jasmine, for example, loses her whole world, her identity, and only many years later, after failed attempts to become a person defined by those around her, does Jasmine (or one of her other names, if you prefer) find something like a sense of self…even if it’s a self the reader cannot necessarily condone, just as Gilbert does in leaving her husband and former life behind.
This said, each woman displays an incredible sort of courage by defying their home culture time after time; this entire course has been a series of displays, possibly intentional, possibly not, of how much hold a person’s home has upon them. Our concepts of “home” and the rules and laws that come with that “home” are a part of us, nearly unshakable, as we find in Sons for the Return Home.
Where Gilbert differs is in the restraint she shows. She does not go about blindly seeking or flailing wildly; she sets herself a path. India and then Indonesia give her a chance for a sense of self, a road down which to walk, a life in which to really, truly live. She plans, even describes the desire that fuels this: “I want God inside me.” And it is from within, after much searching without, that Gilbert finds home, finds her life “on the border.” She, more than any other character/author we’ve read, seems at peace with herself.
If only we all showed such a tendency; college would probably be a more orderly place with some inner peace thrown in. But maybe it is her years of life that give her such patience. Few of our classmates would be so self-controlled, strange as that description may be when applied to a woman who spends some time basically gorging in Italy.
One thing bothers me, though. Her faith, so hard bought, is almost intrinsic to college students. Mary pointed out an almost perfect quote:
“Faith is walking face-first and full speed into the dark.” (175)
I can find few sentences that better sum up college students. If you think about it, what are we doing? Learning about subjects which we hope will impact our life? We work and strive towards a goal that may never come? We continually make decisions here that make almost no sense: many of us drink into oblivion on a weekly basis. Some lose track of how many people they’ve been incredibly intimate with. Some sign up for internships a world away, in London, never knowing if they’ll even be able to come back (roommates for example), or Ireland, or wherever. What do we do all of these things on? It would seem like foolishness.
But we do them on faith, on faith that it will all work out, that our lives as we know them won’t be disrupted by a drunken mugging, or a nightmarish coupling, or a stranding on the other side of the planet. And so we leap forth from home on the faith that everything will be alright in the end. One could say that faith is a part of home; it is a way of leaving…
…and a way of finding our home, all in one, and, perhaps more importantly, most importantly, learning to love something, somewhere, and someone, all over again.
Sue, and British woman, owned the guesthouse we checked into that day. She gave us a locker and the key to our room (which was a hut with a mattress, fan and fly-net) and learned our names within five minutes. There is something so reassuring about someone saying your name when you have no idea where you are, a simple recognition easily taken advantage of in familiar settings. But even this interaction could not shake the nerves still weighing on my shoulders. The next afternoon, I checked my email, to find long messages from a few good friends and my mom. I didn’t open them. Just reading the subject line was enough to make me break down in tears. No one else was in the internet room except for sue, who read the newspaper behind her desk, her back facing me.
I knew I had to grab onto something near me, I had to give into my new surroundings. So I went to Sue, a woman I hardly knew. I tapped on her desk and broke down in tears. She hugged me and poured a cup of tea. She spoke of her daughters and how homesick they became when they traveled abroad. She said she couldn’t be there for them then, but somehow, being there for me at that moment made up for that. We don’t always get to select the people we’ve known the longest to be there for us when we need someone most. We have to make the most out of what’s in front of us, even if it is foreign. I realized that day that traveling, anywhere, is not about just seeing a place but connecting yourself to that place, realizing that if you open yourself up, you can be at home wherever you go. No matter how large and overwhelming the world gets, we have the opportunity to share the same ground.
The idea of having a place to store complicated feelings, and letting go of fear, regret, and blame, answered all of the questions that each post colonial author asked throughout the semester. We may not be able to control the world or our lives in a way that makes us feel comfortable, but we can choose which thoughts we live out and which battles we need to fight. The rest we can offer to the universe, and allow ourselves to be completely present. Gilbert writes, “Man is neither entirely a puppet of the gods, not is he entirely the captain of his own destiny, he is a little bit of both.” The balance between fate and free will may be a space to create a homeland, in both active living and careful surrendering. Gilbert’s insights remind me of the Serenity prayer: God grant me the serenity/ to accept the things I cannot change/courage to change the things I can/
and wisdom to know the difference.”
Gilbert’s idea of living on the border or “Antevasin” has been present all of the work we’ve read this semester. All of the characters are on the midst of societal or geographical change, trying to balance on a line of old world and new world, today and yesterday. Some have had the strength to confront the unknown and the constant changing, and others have not. In all cases, this process is never easy. As people, we are constantly strangled between our past and present homelands, and the foreboding idea of the future. Gilbert proved through prayer, meditation, and caring for the self, the homeland can only be attained from within. With this inner piece the individual can see the beauty lives throughout this chaos. Homeland is meant to be expanded and redefined, and is never constricted to one place. Through this expansion and open-mindedness, the world and the individual will grow.
Like Mary, I became (somewhat) jealous of Gilbert’s traveling: why couldn’t I, amidst all the chaos and confusion of my senior year of college, just simply go somewhere else? You know, ‘get away from it all’ just long enough to ‘find myself’? I picked the quote above because I think it blends together many of the main elements of both the novel and the course itself. First of all, as Gilbert suggests, the ‘perfection’ of the statement becomes evident in both cultures: a coming together of modern English language and Balinese thought in harmony. I know it’s probably cliché to say, but I do think that love finds a way to throw a wrench into your plans when you least expect it – chaos and confusion piled upon more piles, and in the midst of it all, love. For some people, like Gilbert, the solution to love, or even not loving, is to go three-thousand miles in the other direction, a complete one-eighty. Love in New York is hard (if you’ve ever been to one of the thousands of singles bars and/or clubs, you’d know what I mean), but I bet divorce is ten times as difficult. What do you do when the person or people you once love no longer share that emotion with you? (To thicken the theme…a little union and then disruption of the balance of marriage, symbolized by both the circular wedding ring and the removal of such an item from your hands)
All mushy stuff aside, the same can be said about the marriage of cultures. In our discussion with ‘homeland signifiers’, I am reminded of the “America” sub-discussion: i.e. America as our homelands/what is American?; thoughts of baseball, beach houses and the ‘American family with 2.2. kids come to mind, as well as Gilbert and Yudhi’s ‘American road trip’ across the Delaware-sized Bali (and their use of the words ‘dude’, ‘sweet’ and ‘[from your mother]’). I like the idea that [you] can have this (distinctly American idea of a) road trip in a place without roads (literally): it’s not where you have the road trip, but the experience you have wherever you are and with whomever you’re with. I think the same can be said for any journey, not limited to, but especially, that of ‘Liss’.
Throughout the course, we’ve gotten a chance to look into many different ‘homelands’, none of which are physically close to [my] current home of New York city. But, this course was a pleasant surprise in that regard: I didn’t know what to make of a course entitled “Post-Colonial Literature”, and I thought (please don’t hate me) that it could be ‘boring’, for lack of a better term. It was far from that, however, once I gave it a chance. Whether through blogs, service, or discussion, I found that we communicate with and interpret what ‘home’ means to us in different ways. I thank you all for being a wonderfully-surprising part of my [collegiate] life and thank you equally for allowing me to both share and see glimpses of where and what you call home.
Monday, April 13, 2009
After reading the rest of Eat, Pray, Love and talking to my mom and my sister, Annie about it, I’m really jealous. I mean not only would I love to go spend a year roaming the world, but more importantly, I want to learn how to find balance, peace, gratitude, love of self, faith, happiness, etc. Every time I read about Gilbert’s many cathartic moments, I wanted to stop time and try to reach my own place of understanding. What hit me most was Gilbert’s explanation of her newfound faith in beads 57 and 58. She begins by emphasizing the unnatural existence of faith, saying, “In the search for God, you revert from what attracts you and swim towards that which is difficult. You abandon your comforting and familiar habits with the hope that something greater will be offered you in return for what you’ve given up” (175). Mankind, as rational, does not want to think that there is something we cannot ever understand. Reason and faith are not mutually exclusive, but there is an air of mystery that inevitably surrounds the concept of faith. Gilbert uses the word “swim” to indicate the vastness, the darkness, and the incomprehensibility of the divine. “In return for” one’s rejection of pure reason, what will they find? Will it be a permanent state of being? No. Gilbert continues, “Devotion is diligence without assurance. Faith is a way of saying, ‘Yes, I pre-accept the terms of the universe and I embrace in advance what I am presently incapable of understanding’” (175). “Diligence.” Diligence is a commitment. Commitment is a constant decision to do something. So in order to have faith, according to Gilbert, one must constantly make the decision to “swim towards that which is difficult,” the divine. “Embracing” one’s faith therefore connotes that one cannot have hesitations to the experience of faith regardless of fear.
“Faith is walking face-first and full-speed into the dark.” (175)
(I have mentioned this before I know, but regardless of what I said before, this is the immediate connection I made:) This summer I left to work and live at a seminary in Princeton, New Jersey for eleven weeks, aka the remainder of my summer, having no idea what I was getting myself into. All I knew was on this website for the program there were pictures of Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, etc. and it said, “Do these people inspire you?” My answer was yes, so I went. I fought with my parents, my sisters, my friends. No one wanted me to go because it meant I wouldn’t set foot in my home in Florida for six months, and for what? A bunch of people I didn’t know doing what? I didn’t know what I was doing, where I was going, what it would be like, or who I was going with. But I knew I had to go, and I knew if I didn’t go I would regret it. In some ways, this summer was the worst experience of my life. I cannot even tell you how many times I cried and wanted to go home. My faith, the thing I thought I would most strengthen, was pulled out from underneath me as I literally became ashamed to be associated with the same religion as some people I met. I have never felt so judged in my life. In other ways, this summer was the best experience of my life. I experienced pure gratitude for even the lowest points of my life thus far, learned more than I ever thought possible about every social justice issue under the sun, laughed a lot, got to know myself a lot better, learned how to love even when its really, really hard, and watched a bunch of high school students transform before my eyes.
One of my favorite and simultaneously least favorite people that I lived with was Jeff. He is hilarious, friendly, passionate, smart, kind, energetic, enthusiastic, talented beyond all belief, devout, I could go on and on. I love him. We got along fantastically right from the start. We both love to sing and dance and act like complete fools, which we often did. We would frequently act out Rent’s “Light My Candle” and Aladdin’s “A Whole New World” for whoever cared to watch. I could listen to Jeff talk about his faith for the rest of my life and be inspired by him for every second of it, but we are both so hard headed and so we would butt heads in a lot of situations. Those situations became more and more prevalent as the summer wore on and our energy dwindled. He was the person I meditated on during most of my morning yoga sessions; I realized that his insecurities caused him to talk over people sometimes in order that he be affirmed. I decided, when I honestly meant it, I would affirm him. I learned to love him better, but he caused some of the most challenging mornings of yoga.
At the end of the summer, we concluded our program in a three-day retreat with our spiritual director. Each of the fourteen of us planned a half an hour portion of the retreat in which we shared with each other something integral to our identity (ironically, my half an hour was yoga, Jewel, and hugs). Jeff’s half an hour was obviously exciting, based on his beautiful personality. He played his guitar on the beach and sang to us songs he had written; some had never before been heard. They were amazingly passionate. I loved every minute of standing on the beach, dancing in the darkness with these fourteen people who I had come to know and love over the past eleven weeks, listening to Jeff express himself so genuinely. As his mini-concert came to a close, he lined us up along the beach, facing the water, and said that we should end as we began, running full-speed into the darkness, into the unknown, but this time, instead of doing so alone, we would have each other. We stripped down into our bathing suits, joined hands, and sprinted full force into the freezing cold water. At that moment, I was overwhelmed with joy and love for Jeff.
Although I became frighteningly unsure of my religious beliefs this summer, I learned a lot about my spirituality. When Gilbert wrote, “I just want God. I want God inside me. I want God to play in my bloodstream the way sunlight amuses itself on water” (176). I thought of my struggle. It was moments like running into water with a bunch of crazies that showed me “God,” whatever that is. When I am in desolation, I want God. I want to feel the presence of the love and joy that I have been blessed to experience again and again in my life. Then Gilbert said, speaking about her prayers, “God already knows what I need” (176). God probably already knows what I need too then. I don’t exactly need religion to have a faith. I was putting way too much emphasis on the religion part and not realizing that I had the most spiritual eleven weeks of my life. I am longing for all the things Gilbert discovered on her journey because I gave up on my own journey. So I ask myself, “If I want transformation, but can’t even be bothered to articulate what, exactly, I’m aiming for, how will it ever occur?” (177)
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
While autobiographical, I think that you can also call this novel (for the most part) ‘honestly human’; if I were to assign to the novel a literary (sub) genre, I’d probably call it ‘human realism’ (or some new-fangled word like that). I can only imaging that, knowing the frantic state that (can be) New York City, her divorce proceedings were probably not the most joyous time in her life – the metaphor of the four-legged, through-heart-seeing, balanced person works well here, as divorce itself is, in a sense, the disruption and ending of the balance/harmony between two people.
One scene in particular that caught my eye –and seems to show human honestly – is the Italian soccer game in which Gilbert recounts the soccer fan screaming (for the most part) obscenities, which she translates back to English. While her English ‘translation’ was quite amusing, you really didn’t need a translation to figure out how this soccer (or football) fan was feeling; sports fans are brutally honest, especially in their home stadium – they’re not afraid to tell their rival team exactly how they’re feeling at that particular moment in the game.
While [I] may not necessarily agree with Gilbert’s methods of learning and self-discovery, I do like (quite a lot) the way her ‘stories’/’beads’ work; these seem to be those ‘little moments’ in her life that Gilbert felt were important enough to write down. They are moments of love and sadness –sometimes more of one than the other—but they are her own, and I believe (at least, I think I do) that there is nothing wrong with sharing the little moments that make up [her] life. These little moments carry the story – they are human.