Next week will likely be blogless, as I am shifting into my one heavily academic travel read for the year. I’m very excited for it, but it’s a tome. For those of you who depend on my posts for your sustenance, please try to hold on. I believe in you.
This week’s read was not exactly what I expected, but I loved it anyhow.
This is How I Save My Life is a health-focused memoir primarily set in India. Amy Sher, with late-stage lyme disease, is barely living, overwhelmed by her disease (and all of its horrid symptoms) and trying to manage her disease (and the associated costs). Learning of a radical stem cell treatment in India, she and her parents decide to go out to Delhi and see if this treatment will work when all others don’t.
God, the above sounds like gently-used marketing copy. I’m sorry.
In sum, it’s not a travel book as much as a health memoir that happens to include some travel.
I loved it. Part of it is because Sher writes to simply and charmingly that you just love and cheer for her the whole way. The other part is that I have a yet-to-be-diagnosed health condition that has also taken up a lot of my time, has involved many doctors (who can’t figure it out), haggling with insurance, and is highly unpleasant for both my husband and myself when it flares up. (Fortunately, it is nowhere near as bad as Sher’s condition, which sounded completely debilitating.)
So reading along with Sher’s journey gave me hope. And perspective.
But we’re not here to talk about that.
We’re here to talk about writing and, specifically, travel writing.
Except there isn’t too much of that in this book. There’s some, sure, but it’s like tertiary to the rest of the book. Yes, she gets out in India, yes, she does things and connects with its people, but her life (and thus this book) is focused on her illness and getting well.
She has an ease with words, as you’ll see in the quotes below. Her voice and word choice is simple, inviting, and warm. She’s not displaying a vocabulary that could be isolating to some readers, instead she’s inviting them along, asking them to share her journey through her verbal accessibility.
That doesn’t only come across in her language, but in her approach to storytelling, what she’s willing to share, how authentic she’s willing to be.
Which I 100% appreciate. If she had written it any other way, it probably would have brought down the value (not financial, but emotional and social) of the book.
I also appreciate that she’s not all woo-woo. This radical treatment she goes after, the religiosity that one finds in India, the hippieness of it all… she’s skeptical. She fights with it. She’s never out rubbing olive-scented organic essential oils on her hips for its healing ways trying or trying to heal her illness with positive thinking and patchouli. (Thought she does reference her behaviors as a classic Virgo a time or two, which made me cringe.)
For what it is, it’s near perfect. And I only say near perfect because nothing is actually perfect.
Some quotes for your reading pleasure:
“The intensity of my symptoms has ebbed and flowed, altered by slight relief from treatments and sometimes inflamed by them. They have risen and fallen as tides, knocking me over and stealing my breath, or sometimes, in their gentle mercy, lapping against me with only mediocre force. But always their presence is an undertow; a more subdued reminder that it is never safe to take my eyes off the unsteady shore, off my defenseless body.”
“I only set my mind on a singular mission: to go get the cure in India so I could come home and get on with the rest of my life. This was Life or Death, not Eat, Pray, Love. There would be no epic spiritual crisis to endure, no humorous travel tales to tell, and there was zero chance of falling madly in love.”
“The truth is that I haven’t been fine with anything for a long, long time–my life, my body, or especially my legs. These legs that are supposed to keep me up have only dragged me down. Their message: you have no hope to stand on.“
“What I realized in that moment is that there are many things we do for love. We will forgo our lives to help another person go on. We will sit by and watch the demise of another’s lovely body, anchoring ourselves into happier memories just to survive it. We will tell ourselves that one day, soon, everything will be fine!, even though we know it probably won’t be. But there are many things, because of love, we just cannot do.”
“I often look around and wonder what it would be like to feel healthy again. I never realized, until I was without it, that health is not a state of being or a goal to be attained, but rather a distinct feeling. Chronic illness does not delete who you are, it covers up who you are. It lays upon you hundreds of pounds of useless weight, crushing something deep inside.”
“What if there are a hundred opportunities to save your life every single day? And none of them look like the cure, but actually are essential fragments of it. What if everything taht came before now did not seem like healing, but was a tiny step toward it? And what if today, when I can’t change any of my circumstances, I can save a little piece of myself WITH THIS INFLATABLE CHOCOLATE CAKE?”
“What I love about travel is how you can and will do things you’d never do at home. There is a freedom of some sort that cannot be captured in your typical environment. Something about being away from home makes the not-normally-okay somehow okay. The rules of home fade across borders, perhaps because no one is keeping score–not even me.”
“I have become attached to this city now–its kind souls, the simplicity of life here, and the spark of myself that I feel walking through the streets, even in the face of some very harsh realities. I might even go as far as to say I’ll miss everything here–well, everything except the overzealous honking of endless horns.”
“The truth is, I am also afraid to go home. I am afraid because going home means having to embrace the complexities of life one again. Here, my home is my tiny hospital room, my food is already chosen, my friends are built-in, and my life is self-contained in this neighborhood. There are no big questions about life to answer, no grand plans to be made, and no expectations to rise to.”
“Out alone in dusty Delhi, I feel fear and freedom simultaneously. This mystical land has pushed me to the brink of insanity, but has also carried me into the depths of a love I’ve never known. It has been both everything I despise and exactly what I have needed. Without India’s insistence that I survive it, I am stagnant, safe, like a boat hugging the shores and wasting my sails.”
“I have been afraid of so many things. I’m afraid I’ll never really be well (and that it’s not up to me anyway). I am afraid that I will be totally well (that it’s all up to me). I am afraid of trusting myself. I am afraid of making mistakes. I’m afraid of people being upset with me. I am afraid to relax. I’m afraid of my own truth. I am afraid of living in a world that feels too big and scary to protect me.”