Guilty Pleasures

April 28, 2007

Last night I read Dorothy’s comments about the first section of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. Gilbert’s text and Dorothy’s comments about Puritan guilt and our inability to easily accept the gift of leisure paralleled my experience yesterday. (I won’t quote the post here, but suggest that you read it).

I had a vacation day yesterday, and regrettably it was one of those afternoon-long outlet shopping days for my wife. Typically I slog along with her for hours, bored, feeling like the day is wasted, hoping and praying for a book outlet around the next corner. Although I dread the experience I always feel guilty if I don’t follow along like a loyal puppy, nodding and smiling at the selections, carrying the bags, and providing stimulating conversation between stores.

Yesterday was different. I brought a book along and read in the car- it was a rather cold, drizzly day in the midwest. I felt guilty the whole time. She said it was fine. She said she preferred it because she always feels rushed knowing that I am just standing there waiting. I still spent much of the time distracted, not only by all the people walking past the car, but by the guilt that I didn’t deserve this time alone- that I should be doing something else.

(Digression alert) I should have parked in a corner of the lot- it is too enjoyable watching the diverse shoppers coping with their colorful bags and bored children. The fragile, elderly couple, bundled up in their sweaters and covered with rainwear heading out with a tentative, measured gait- returning after the trek with a little more pain in their eyes. They are quickly passed by two young men, acting oblivious to the cold and rain in their khaki shorts and now damp tshirts. New white sneakers, strollers, umbrellas, hats, husbands angry about something but eating cheesecake, too-young couples holding hands, piercings and tatoos, screaming kids, and smiles. I love people.

Back to my point – I’m distracted and guilty about being there reading- then I run across a passage in Nada that is different, but parallels what I am feeling.

“All the happiness I enjoyed during this time seemed somehow diminished by my obsession with reciprocating her consideration. Until then no one I loved had shown me so much affection, and I felt gnawed by the need to give her something more than my company, the need felt by all people who are not very attractive to make material payment for what is, to them, extraordinary: someone’s interest and affection.”

I marked the passage and then late in the evening I read Dorothy’s post. Why is it so difficult at times to accept gifts, complements, and even leisure time? Why can’t we accept that we are deserving beings? I wonder if this adds to our stress levels and all those illnesses associated with stress. Personally, I’m going to try to rid myself of those guilty feelings and just be grateful… and spend more time reading in parking lots.


4 Responses to “Guilty Pleasures”

  1. Dorothy W. Says:

    “Why can’t we accept that we are deserving beings?” That’s really an important question, isn’t it? We (or at least I) really don’t think we’re deserving beings. To learn how to just relax and accept the good things that come our way is such a hard lesson, but I think a great one to learn.

  2. Dark Orpheus Says:

    Maybe we stopped believing in Grace – and we have been taught nothing comes for free – that all goodness and kindness that comes to us are transactional. We have to earn it. It totally warped our ideas of more important stuff, as though love has to be “earned” – when it is the one thing in the world that cannot be willed. And recognising we are selfish, we cannot bring ourselves to accept love when it does arrive on its own.

  3. Even the phrase “guilty pleasures” says it all, doesn’t it? I love the question, “Why can’t we accept that we are deserving beings?”, too. I always call that unexpected time I get to read (like in the carpool line at school) “stolen”…but what is it stolen from? Should I be doing my taxes while I wait in line for my kids? I’m trying to relax and just enjoy it when I get that time!

    Thanks for the reminder!

  4. Matt Says:

    I can relate completely to your feeling guilty. It’s the type of thing I might do with my wife and then feel bad about afterward. In fact I often find myself wondering if I should be doing something “productive” instead of sitting around reading. But I think one solution, along with ridding ourself of unnecessary guilt, is to find balance.

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