LET ME TRY TO GET THIS RIGHT.
I've been thinking for the last few weeks about something that happened to me recently when I was in France on book tour, and I've been trying to figure out if I can tell the story properly and appropriately, because it stuck with me in such a big way.
I did a public reading in Paris, and afterwards, when I was signing books, a gorgeous young woman with a face full of light and wit approached me. We chatted for a bit, and she asked me to sign her copy of EAT PRAY LOVE. Then she got very serious and asked if we could speak privately for a moment. She shared that, several years earlier, my book had carried her through an incredibly difficult time in her life. She had fallen into a grave depression, wasn't eating, couldn't sleep, had become haunted by despair. Then she said, with tears in her eyes, "I was even considering killing myself."
Of course I was horrified to hear this, and I took her by the hand and began to make the supportive sounds you make when someone has shared something so distressing. I said, "I am so sorry…and I am so glad you stayed with us and din't extinguish your beautiful life."
Then she said, with a kind of wry bewilderment: "But it was over a MAN!" Her eyes grew wide and amazed. She blinked away the tears, looking like someone who was just waking up from a bad dream. "Can you believe that? Can you believe I was actually considering killing myself over a MAN?!"
The way she said "over a MAN?!", she might as well have said, "over a BURRITO?!"
Like it was the height of comic absurdity.
And then she burst out laughing. Not a crazy-person laugh, not a bitter laugh, but a real and satisfying laugh — even an exhilarating laugh. It was delightful and contagious and it came out of nowhere. It seemed to surprise her as much as it surprised me. Then I started laughing, too.
Which is insane, because thirty seconds earlier, we had been talking about thoughts of suicide, and there is absolutely nothing funny about that subject (which is why I have debated sharing this story at all)…except that there was something so magnificent and sudden and divine in that moment of unexpected shared laughter. Because I have been there, too — in that same dark place she had been. For the same dumb reason.
And the absurdity was just so striking — that this young vibrant, intelligent, gorgeous person had truly considered throwing away her life and the world…over a MAN?
And that I had once done the same?
And that other people do the same?
That people can lose themselves so fully every day — over men, over women…?
That we would cast away our lives, our joy, our futures, our everything, our gifts, our light…over a mere PERSON?
You guys, we couldn't stop laughing. It was the strangest thing. We laughed and laughed, until we cried again.
It's like, in that moment, we saw our lives from some great distance, the way the gods might see us: Ridiculous and beautiful. Captivated by all the wrong stuff. All the deepest sorrows and loses of our hearts? Just silly. The pain we take so seriously? Just temporary. The power we give to others? Nonsense. When compared to the magnificent miracle of our own remarkable lives? Just absurd.
Please understand: It's not that — in that moment — we were carelessly dismissing or diminishing the notion of heartbreak and suffering. It was just that we saw it correctly, at last. In its true perspective.
"Don't give yourself away like that again," I said to her. "Not to anyone or anything."
"Don't worry," she said. "I won't."
"Promise me," I said.
We promised each other.
It was the best moment of my year so far.
I sincerely hope I told this story right.