Feighan: Ten years later, book spurs action, acceptance

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

I was five months pregnant with my daughter when the cover of a book in a Minneapolis airport caught my attention nine years ago.

Prayer beads, flowers and pasta noodles spelled out the words “Eat Pray Love.” Written by a then fairly unknown author named Elizabeth Gilbert, it was a post-divorce memoir about a woman finding herself, her faith and new love as she traveled through Italy, India and Indonesia over one year.

It took months before I actually opened the book, but when I did, I desperately needed it. Faced with a challenging pregnancy after early genetic tests came back abnormal, I was alone at home and confined to bed rest at the end of my third trimester. I needed something to ease my anxiety. I needed to rein in the whirling “what ifs” in my head.

Sitting on my sofa reading page after page about meditation in India, amazing food in Italy, and eventually new love in Bali, I started highlighting passages. Gilbert wrote about faith, love and accepting the unknown.

“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,’” she wrote.

This year marks 10 years since “Eat Pray Love” was published, selling more than 10 million copies worldwide and spurring its fans to make their own bold choices.

To celebrate the milestone, Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, this week released “Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It: Life Journeys Inspired by the Bestselling Memoir” ($16), a collection of essays by fans of the book that chronicles what Gilbert’s beloved memoir pushed them to do. One is about a woman who fights anorexia and addiction. Others are about self-discovery, healing and new adventures.

In the introduction, Gilbert – who will actually be at Warren’s Renaissance Unity church on Sunday, speaking about creative living – admits she still isn’t entirely sure why “Eat Pray Love” became a “tsunami,” as she describes it. It spent more than 200 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list.

Gilbert says she’s heard stories from many fans about how the book affected them, but two have always stayed with her.

After reading the book, one woman in Atlanta left an abusive relationship, literally walking away from her life and starting anew. Another man started reading the book as a joke, but eventually read it all. It pushed him to stop fighting a contentious divorce and make peace with his former spouse.

“...At the heart they were the same story, the story of a person finally realizing, My life doesn’t have to look like this anymore,” writes Gilbert in “Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It.”

Everyone has a different “it” – however you define it – in their lives. For me, reading “Eat Pray Love” helped me realize that even if my life (a life that I liked) wouldn’t be the same once my daughter was born – and even if my husband and I faced the daunting challenge of raising a child with special needs – that it would be OK. I was not in charge.

More than ever, I had to pre-accept the terms of the universe, which is what we all do as parents when we have a child.

Today, my daughter is a rambunctious, determined 8-year-old. She was born with a rare genetic condition called Cornelia de Lange Syndrome that makes life challenging, but when she came into the world on a blustery, bright late October day in 2007, I was at peace.

I cried tears of joy when I heard her tiny cry in the delivery room. And I knew that no matter what that I – or rather we – would be OK. “Eat Pray Love” helped me do it.


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