I recently read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. This is my second reading of the book. I loved it when I read it a few years ago and loved it even more the second time around. I can relate to many of the ideas the author presents for many different reasons, even more so this time because of where I am in my life. There are two ideas that really jumped out at me, the first because of the topic and the second because I it got me thinking about myself.
A quick background for those unfamiliar with the book: After a heart-wrenching divorce, Gilbert decides to travel for a year, spending 4 months each in Italy, India and Indonesia. Her journey is not only one to different places, but one where she must look inside herself to find out who she is and what she wants from her life. Some readers do not care for the book, arguing that Gilbert is whining and trying to get sympathy for her lack of being able to “suck it up and move on.” I did not feel this way – I found her journey to be inspiring and probably something that more people can identify with than we realize. This is probably why it’s been a best-seller for many, many weeks, first as a hardcover edition and then again as a paperback, and now again weeks before the release of the movie.
While in Italy, Gilbert reveals an idea about planning. She is having a conversation with two friends regarding a box of books she sent from America to Italy before she left. The box never arrives in Italy and this is what they are discussing:
“The mystery of my missing box prompts a long discussion one night between me, my American friend Maria and her husband, Giulio. Maria thinks that in a civilized society one should be able to rely on such things as the post office delivering one’s mail in a prompt manner, but Giulio begs to differ. He submits that the post office belongs not to man, but to the fates, and that delivery of mail is not something anybody can guarantee. Maria, annoyed, says this is only further evidence of the Protestant-Catholic divide. This divide is best proven, she says, by the fact that Italians—including her own husband—can never make plans for the future, not even a week in advance. If you ask a Protestant from the American Midwest to commit to a dinner date the next week, that Protestant, believing that she is the captain of her own destiny, will say, ‘Thursday night works for me.’ But if you ask a Catholic from Calabria to make the same commitment, he will only shrug, turn his eyes to God, and ask, ‘How can any of us know whether we will be free for dinner next Thursday night, given that everything is in God’s hands and none of us can know our fate?’”
Strictly from a planning standpoint, I think this is an interesting idea. Being as we are who we are in this planning community, some assumptions can be made from the above excerpt:
1. All of us must be Protestants from the American Midwest.
2. None of us are Italian.
3. “Going postal” would refer to a group of people relying on fate to deliver our new planners.
Most of us who use planners do so to keep track of our appointments and to plan for the future in some form or another. The argument can be made that we indeed don’t know if any of us will be here for dinner next Thursday, but it doesn’t mean we can’t plan to be. Better to be prepared, I always say. And even if one follows the idea that life is determined by a higher power, that doesn’t mean that we can’t be organized while waiting to find out what those plans are. Though, I have to admit that sometimes I am intrigued by the idea of (gasp!) throwing out my planner and letting life take me where it will. That could be healthy. That could be fun. But that’s not me. (This is not to say that I’m not healthy or fun.) In life, one must prepare for some things, just because that’s the way things go. In the same vein, there are some things that we cannot plan for, try as we might. Again, it all comes back to balance, which is in essence the main purpose and goal for Gilbert’s book.
Idea number 2 from the book is finding out what one’s word is. Gilbert’s Italian friend mentions that she (Gilbert) and Rome have different words. “…Every city has a single word that defines it, that identifies most people who live there. If you could read people’s thoughts as they were passing you on the streets of any given place, you would discover that most of them are thinking the same thought. Whatever that majority thought might be—that is the word of the city. And if your personal word does not match the word of the city, then you really don’t belong there.”
Gilbert’s examples are that Rome’s word is Sex, the Vatican’s is Power, New York City’s is Achieve and Los Angeles’ is Succeed.
This leads to the question, What is my word? The obvious answer for me is organized. And as organized as I am, this doesn’t really complete the question. Yes, I’m organized. Yes, I love to organize and plan. But that doesn’t say what I’m after, which at this point in my life is what I’m more about. There is no one word to describe my idea, which is seeking serenity. For the last couple of years, I have been really looking at myself and my life and the one thing I seem to be constantly striving for is serenity. My grandmother is my role model in this area. She took everything in life with grace and acceptance, just rolled with the punches so to speak. And I wish I could be more like that. In life, you have choices. And you can fight the choices in front of you or you can choose the best one to get you where you need be and want to go. I tend to fight just about everything in order to keep things calm and sane for myself. But in the fighting, I only make things worse. It’s just my nature. But that’s what I want to change. I want to be able to roll with the punches gracefully, to accept what is and move on with it, to enjoy my life as it is and make the changes I need to make while enjoying every part of those changes, at least as best I can. I’ve made progress but there’s more to accomplish. There probably always will be. But this gives me something to strive for, for plan for.
So, my question to you is, What is your word?