A breast cancer survivor shares her experiences with the BRCA gene.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Of Books and Boobs

Now that I’m at home and having to be “calm and quiet,” I’m getting back into my reading routine. Plowing through books is what got me through my last recovery, so I decided to do the same this time. In case you’re wondering, I've read:

* Julia Child’s autobiography (interesting, but she tried to make her husband sound more outstanding than he was).
* "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver (which explains the downside of high-fructose corn syrup & soy products and the upside of eating locally grown food).
* "Three Cups of Tea” (about a guy I’d never marry since his idea of saving money was to live in his car).
* “A Thousand Splendid Suns” (the reason I lecture younger women not to take their rights for granted).
* F. Scott Fitzgerald's "This Side of Paradise" (enjoyable now that there's no English teacher quizzing me).
* "Blue Shoe” by Anne Lamotte (a realistic portrait of living out your faith).

But, there are two I'd like to provide a book review, since they struck me more emotionally.

The first is the national best-seller, “Eat, Pray, Love.”

It’s about a young, rich, successful blonde from New York City who leaves her husband and decides to find herself and God. So, with a hefty book advance, she decides to find herself and God in Italy, India and Bali. If she had only stopped with Italy, where she writes about food.

Her book goes rapidly downhill when she trots over to India to search for God while having servants from the lower castes take care of her every need. You can’t help but note that everyone else at the Ashram is a wealthy Westerner with loads of freedom and time on their hands. It's interesting that the author didn’t look for God in the slums of Calcutta...

Once she finds God and the meaning of life, her last leg of her personal journey takes her to Bali, to “find balance”. (Well, that’s a shocker.) She recovers balance by having yet more low-wage servants in an economically deprived country take care of her garden and cook for her while she reads and eats and hangs out all day….kind of like I’m doing now without the book advance.

And, then, she engages in a frenetic, nonstop sexual union with an adoring Brazilian who tells her how beautiful she is and how perfect her body is. (Yet another similarity to my life...)

So, when my friend, Laura, handed me “The Hidden Life” about a well-to-do homemaker named Betty Skinner, who suffered a nervous breakdown and spent time reading and praying and meditating to regain her life…well, I was a little suspicious and very cynical.

“Here we go again,” I thought to myself in my hospital room. “A Christian version of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’.” But since Laura went out of her way to get me this book, and since she has more depth than practically anyone I know, I decided to read it. Plus, when someone gives you a book, they’re going to ask you if you’ve read it and you can't lie.

I know this because not too long ago, my friend, Anne, went to a fundraiser featuring a celebrity author and shoved everyone standing in line out of the way so she could secure the last autograph copy of the book for me.

However, I let my mom read it first, and then forgot about it until Anne asked what I thought about the book, and I could tell she was seriously disappointed that I had not read it.

So, here I was again, faced with another book a friend gave me, and I couldn't let another friend down.

It started out like a nice, Christian-y kind of book, which I loathe, even though I’m a Christian. (But just because you’re a Christian doesn’t mean you have to be subjected to cutesy, Christian-y writing for the rest of your life…there are other ways believers can sacrifice.) Anyway, it started getting on my nerves, but I kept plugging at it…mainly to not disappoint Laura, but also because I was stuck alone in the hospital room with nothing else to read and I was bored.

And then, after a few chapters, I was captivated. What made this book so completely different than what I expected is that it perfectly explained how our journey with God—including all the pain and suffering—is what ultimately leads us to our authentic self, and a life of purpose and meaning.

For example --

“A tremendous paradox will be revealed to us…by embracing suffering and allowing it to do its work of breaking through the protective walls we have constructed around our hearts, we become more vulnerable and honest. This moves us to a deeper understanding of our shared brokenness, opening us to compassion and changing our focus from ourselves to the needs and hurts of others...”

“The more we submit to and participate in the mystery of this purifying work, we experience the sense that everything –even our darkest pain – is held in Divine love…”

“Our unique expression is crucial to God’s design for the healing of the world...”

Written by a clinical psychologist who was mentored by Betty Skinner, the book gives a spiritual perspective from both the author and Skinner’s personal journal about the process of transformation. A wonderful example the book cites is a flying trapeze.

To choose life, we have to let go of old ways. We must be willing to let go of the bar we’re clinging to—what’s safe and known, but not necessarily what’s best for our lives—in order to grab onto the next bar. But between the bars, there’s “a never-never land of empty air” where you’re vulnerable and not in control –and don’t even understand—and this is where most of us lose courage. “So we live out our lives clinging to the same old bar.”

All to say, it was a powerful and moving book which has made me think a lot about my current fears about cancer and my future and everything else in the world I obsess about. And all fear does is drain me of my vitality and the ability to love others fully because I’m so caught up in myself.

I plan to use this time of physical recovery to reflect & journal and apply some of these book’s concepts to my life.

Maybe after I finish this reflective time, I will be a kinder and gentler person…and I won’t write nasty things about books like “Eat, Pray, Love.” Then, again, I’m seeking transformation…not perfection.