All of our discussions concerning many of the core values inherent in the Jesuit tradition relate directly to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love. Specifically, the examen and the conscious, active search for a highest purpose challenge us all to discover and then cope with who we are. Furthermore, this discovery subsequently pushes us to seek out ways in which to cultivate our highest purposes whatever they may be, to live “who we are” once we discover who we are. Liz Gilbert’s life is a testament to this very spirit; and service, like Jesuit education, may help us to not only find our highest purpose, but to recognize and then implement it in our everyday lives.
The image of the acorn and the oak tree it will one day become, the oak tree it essentially has always been, is lovely. Perhaps Gilbert is right to suggest that we have always been the people we hope to become. Maybe we do not decide on a highest purpose so much as we desperately hope to discover it. It is rather charming to think of ourselves in such a way; though I believe we must cultivate our spirits, part of me believes-maybe more so- that it was always there, waiting to be fully recognized. Service and that which Jesuit education hopes to give its students may then lead us towards this discovery of ourselves, thus granting a peace that may only be found in real love and joy.
If I believe that my highest purpose for my own life is to always be kind and to remember that love is everything, service and the giving of myself to and for others is an outlet by which I may always be reminded. I suppose that one of the things which draws me most strongly to service is the aspect of community. I am not quite sure who said this or how the quote goes exactly, but the idea that one life touches all lives is rather beautiful.
I have taken great pleasure in the communities I participate in this semester, and I have easily related some of my experiences to Gilbert’s work as well. Her encounters in Italy particularly resonate with my own experiences in the nutrition classes at Cristo Rey. It ought to have “cooking” in the course title as well because it is the activity to which we devote most of our time. Cooking and eating together in class subtly, almost accidentally brings about a sense of community. Like humor and laughter-which there is plenty of in class- cooking and sharing a meal together is able to effectively permeate boundaries we often run into with language or culture. The Thanksgiving-birthday dinner Gilbert writes about from her time in Italy expresses this very truth. Though cooking is a great component to a given culture, it is free from the limitations of language and instead falls into the realm of the verbally inexpressible (similarly to the almost indistinguishable chants at Higher Achievement). Service has the potential to bring people together, even all kinds of different people, opening them up to new and often surprising experiences. Like when the spirit of our nutrition class was able to get the initially apprehensive Ms. Helen, who works in the kitchen, to come and taste our shrimp fried rice- of course, she loved it and would come back looking for more.
For service to be successful, Gilbert suggests that one must have acquired an understanding of his or her happiness, “only then are you free to serve and enjoy other people” (261). It is true that service may simultaneous lead to one’s own healing, but it must be approached in a sincere, unselfish manner if it is to truly help others as well. The global effort and demonstration of community in action is beautifully depicted in the story of Wayan and her girls. The need of this particular family served to effectively bring together loved ones, complete strangers even (“Tutti”). Laughter, joy, and service are all things that may be shared between individuals, different groups, or in solitude, but each has a unique way of making clear how essential it is that they do all.
Throughout her work, Gilbert suggests that it is more important to see with the heart than with the mind. This is precisely what service asks of us as well. In his discussion on sexuality, Father Linanne recently discussed service, its culture, and its culture in relationship to our overall culture. He suggests the importance of the aspect of Justice, admitting that it is often forgotten. Amidst his views on the hook-up culture, he made a connection between Kant’s second categorical imperative (that human beings ought to be recognized as an end in themselves rather than a means) with the tendency for students today to allow themselves to be used as well as their tendency to use one other. But service calls us to be naked, to be vulnerable in a different light. Service essentially allows us to be truly vulnerable. By participating in service, we are taking a chance, a leap of faith because we are giving, or ought to be giving, our very hearts.
Though it was kind of funny that Father Linanne referenced an early episode of ER towards the end of the discussion, his reason for doing so was extremely relevant and meaningful. He explained how a young doctor was given the opportunity to assist in an open-heart surgery early on in his career. With his hand deep within a patient’s exposed chest, griping a human heart, the doctor found himself in a position of great power. One does not often find themselves in a more physically vulnerable position than when his or her chest is wide open, heart quite literally exposed. The power this doctor possessed in this moment came from his potential to both heal as well as crush and destroy this heart, which rested literally in the palm of his hand. And while we are vulnerable in service, we must also recognize the position of power it will naturally places us in. This is a power that must not be taken lightly, and must rather be respected and attended to with great care.