I haven't seen the movie, Eat Pray Love. I just read the book. After I read it I put it on a friend's desk and asked if she'd get more from it than I did. The book is a travelogue of Italy, India and Indonesia, and Elizabeth Gilbert's romp through the three countries in such a way as to find herself after her marriage went bad. To be sure, there were moments of mmm, and moments of aaaugh, and moments when I absolutely empathized with Elizabeth Gilbert. And there were moments when I reminded myself that 15 million American don't have work, and that half of those haven't had work for half a year. They aren't running around the world finding themselves and having Julia Roberts play them in the reality show. They are simply searching for survival.
Synchronicity. Alignment. The ways that all of our stuff makes sense. It doesn't make sense to write a book or watch a film about this search for self even as so many search for survival. Last week, unemployment rates were again released and we learned that, at 9.5 percent, our country's ability to employ has not improved. More importantly, the unemployment rate for African Americans exceeds 16 percent, and that, too, is something that somehow coexists with this fabulous movie romp through self-discovery. I'm not annoyed (too much) at Elizabeth Gilbert or Julia Roberts, though they ought to break off a little piece of their profits for those who can't romp as wildly as they do. I am concerned that the timing of the release of their movie has a bit of smug self-satisfaction to it. Will I go see it? Possibly. Without seeing it, but with reading the book, the entire enterprise strikes me as discordant, absent synchronicity.
So if I am mad at Liz and Julia, what about Michelle Obama, our stunning First Lady who took herself to Spain a week or so ago. The pundits say that she was wrong and out of touch and tone deaf to our nation's economic crisis. One of her best translators, Liz sweet from the Chicago Times says that the vacation was a way of allowing First Lady Obama to connect with friends who'd lost a parent. I say if I have to do discordance, I'll accept the First Lady's. Don't get me wrong. If I were making up a White House schedule, I would have passed on the Spain trip. At the same time, who knows what happens in that house and how the First Mom decides to parse her time. I want to give her hugs, not criticism, for all the work she does, and for all the work she really could do but is not allowed to. The Spain trip is not an Eat Pray Love thing, not even slightly. And the tone and tenor of some of the objections to Mrs. Obama's trip frankly reek of racial resentment.
Abbey Lincoln once wore a dress also worn by Marilyn Monroe. When she grew into herself she burned it. She died this week, a woman whose fierce voice searched for synchronicity, for authenticity, for that which is real. She died on August 14, a voice until her waning years, an inspiration even at the invocation of her name. Abbey Lincoln was described by some fool critic as a "professional Negro" as if there is something wrong with that. The description came after she used her voice and raised her voice to speak of freedom. Imagine this woman, transforming herself form a Marilyn Monroe imitating ingénue into a tool and an instrument for peace and justice. She, too, was searching for synchronicity, for alignment. One might argue that she found it and embraced it, embracing it for all of us.
I had the phenomenal pleasure of hearing Abbey Lincoln sing a bunch of times, but most recently when she graced an Indianapolis stage in the mid-1990s. I was the guest of a woman whose organization had engaged me to speak, and she was rather insistent that I' enjoy Ms. Lincoln's performance. Beyond enjoying it, the moment took my breath away. I can clearly remember her wrapping herself around a microphone to sing, "The world is falling down, hold my hand". Powerful.
We do not need to hit three continents to find the synchronicity that is necessary. All we need to do is to remember who we are and whose we are. I wish Abbey Lincoln on Elizabeth Gilbert. I wish Abbey Lincoln, born Anna Maria Woolridge, on each and every one of us.
Dr. Julianne Malveaux is a noted economist and president of Bennett College for Women.