Relationships

Happy 10th Birthday, 'Eat, Pray, Love'!

A big shout-out to the book that inspired my three big midlife changes

The wildly popular memoir "Eat, Pray, Love," by Elizabeth Gilbert, is 10! I read it when it first appeared back in 2006, on its way to captivating 10 million readers, but I wish I had learned its lessons sooner.

As a sophomore in high school, my three greatest wishes all came true: My father bought me a horse; I published my first article; and I was dating the impossibly cute older guy. I might have checked off everything on my bucket list, if I'd known there was such a thing.

What I didn't know was that getting everything you want most in life, at roughly the same time, at that age, was only about getting. And what you get, you can lose.

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I lost the guy within weeks, my tender heart closing. Then the friendly neighborhood stable closed, scattering my new horsey friends. Finally, instead of getting published again quickly, a flurry of rejections told me that first article was a fluke.

Over the next 20 years, I'd try but mostly fail to re-create having all three golden life loves, all at once. I'd get the boy back, lose him again, repeat, repeat—until he returned to stay. I wrote, first scraping by with nominal freelance gigs, then dull corporate writing jobs that helped pay the mortgage. When I could, I'd ride and compete, but then stable fees were replaced by infertility treatments.

It wasn't until I read "Eat, Pray, Love" in my mid-40s, in mid-marriage and midlife, that I understood, like Gilbert, that not having it all—all at once—could be a good thing. I had to figure out how to get my three wishes in some kind of crazy quilt overlap. Gilbert's journey—different from mine—opened something in me that wasn't so different.

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I read "EPL" the way I do all books, gobbling story, marking passages and words I love—Italian words I could have learned from my grandparents, had I bothered: tifoso, albergo, and her and my favorite, attraversiamo.

Write. I filled out applications for a graduate writing degree, worried how I'd pay back $23,000 in loans and whether, with two young sons, I could leave home for a 12-day stretch twice a year. Could I really chase the writing life and still work bill-paying jobs?

Ride. With kids needing college funds, there was no way to finance equestrian dreams. That part of my life I'd stashed away in boxes stuffed with show ribbons and photos, in a dusty recess where every once-young rider keeps her horse-loving heart. But I had to get back to a stable, somehow.

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Love. My Romeo and I were in a rut, and I was unhappy, yearning to reignite. I had an inkling that addressing writer unrest and horse hunger, I might also rediscover what once pulled us, two opposites, together.

Still, I hesitated. Grad school or not? Talk to my husband or simmer in silence? Find horses again, or always wonder? Risk, or stay safe? The 45-year-old me was comfortable on the sidewalk, risk-taking done vicariously in the pages of books by authors whose journeys took them from the deceptive comfort of small, safe lives, to the core of their being, where they'd been needing to live all along.

While I waffled, I consulted the ultimate authority, Mom, who said, "Try!" adding, "You won't know until you cross the street."

Aattraversiamo. Meaning: cross the street.

Finally, I stepped off the curb.

I went to school, reshaped a writing life, carving chunks of time for creative work that meant something; I found other ways to pay bills. Write.

I found a way back to horses, not as a rider, but an observer, a lover of the art of equines. I roamed the grounds of horse shows, visited stables, resurrected my equestrian journalism contacts, said yes when friends invited me to meet their new horses. I noticed more urgently the smells and sounds of equestrian life: the crunch of horse teeth on hay, the cadence of the canter stride striking dirt, the slow, sure clomp of footfalls on barn floors, the flick of the brush across a horse's flank. It came back to me like a song, like a chant. Ride.

Oh, and love? I can only speak for myself, but I'm convinced that my being gone to a far-away campus 50 days over two years, and once again being a happy horseperson, delivered a needed jolt. We just passed our 28th wedding anniversary. Love.

I haven't reread "Eat, Pray, Love," though I periodically thumb pages. It rests in its alphabetical spot on a bookshelf in my new home office where I write, sometimes about horses, and where every evening, my husband says hello with a kiss. A visitor would not notice the book, except maybe green sticky note rising from page 72, marking my favorite word: Attraversiamo. Let's cross the street.

   
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