Years ago now, although in some ways it still seems like yesterday, I lost my marriage. I wrote about it in some of my first blog posts (see Into the Wilderness ). We all know what that kind of loss is like. I was raw or what I sometimes referred to as “skinless” at the time–ultra sensitive.
One Friday night in the midst of all this, I decided I simply had to make the ten-mile drive into town to rent a movie (I didn’t know about Netflix back then). But on the way, not far from my house, a little mom & pop neighborhood store called to me as I was passing it by. I turned the car around and went in. There in the entryway was a rack of DVDs, all on sale for two dollars each. Perusing the offerings I found one titled “Under the Tuscan Sun” starring Diane Lane that sounded interesting. So I bought it and headed for home.
This movie is based on a true story about a woman who loses her husband at the beginning of the film. She is devastated by that loss and is consequently trying to go on with her life but isn’t really sure how she’s going to do that. Diane Lane, playing the real-life Frances Mayes, was ME. I was intrigued.
Frances ends up buying a villa in Italy, in Tuscany, having followed messages and signs that guided her there. I watched as this brokenhearted woman slowly heals. The neglected, uninhabited, three hundred year-old house she buys, along with its land, become a metaphor of her own repair as she dives into the process of restoring it and bringing it back to life.
This film version of a real life was showing me the way. Over time Francis picked herself up and recreated a life—one made up of the pieces she found that were meaningful to her. I saw her awaken, building a relationship with self, possibly for the first time. Here was a real woman who had gone to the ends of the earth, alone, to find and make a life for herself, by herself.
I replayed the movie over and over again that weekend (and hundreds of times since). And I allowed this woman’s story, Frances Mayes’s real life, to pour into my own broken places and fill me up with strength and new purpose.
Importantly for me, Frances doesn’t find herself in a new love but, rather, finds new love after she has found her self.
Following her example, with Frances Mayes as my guide, I pulled up stakes, left my life in Utah where I had experienced so much pain and loss (see previous post Coming to New Mexico), and went to my own end of the earth, to Truchas, New Mexico, to find and build a life for myself.
I’m writing to you about this now because I just found a copy of her book, Under the Tuscan Sun, in an antique store in Las Vegas, New Mexico (amazingly I’d never sought it out before). So I’m currently reading it for the first time and I am almost shocked by how different the book is from the movie. In it, Frances is divorced, yes, but has already moved on to a new love and it is with this man, with Ed, that she takes the plunge and buys a SUMMER HOUSE in Italy—not a new full-time house. And she isn’t creating a life totally on her own, but with a partner (of course there’s nothing wrong with this, it’s just not the story Hollywood chose to present, the one I ate up with a spoon by the way—don’t even get me started on my trashy taste in all things Hollywood vrs. good literature—you may lose all respect for me).
But I’m glad I didn’t read the book until now, until I’d already birthed my own new life in this rough and tumbled old west town. Back when I found the movie on that sale rack, I needed to know that someone else had done it on her own, so that I could muster myself to do it on my own, believing I was following in the footsteps of Frances Mayes who had gone before me.
Today it is snowing, a much-needed spring snow, in this rugged village in the mountains of northern New Mexico that I now call home. I am reading the memoir of a woman who didn’t go to Italy on her own to heal a broken heart. And I see why I was presented with the Hollywood version of her story first: It was something I could believe in back when I didn’t know enough to believe in myself–when I didn’t know that I am, in fact, that woman (as so many of us are) who found it within herself to recreate a life, one with meaning and purpose, by herself and for herself.
Of course this takes nothing away from Frances and her own healing journey, the one that led her to Tuscany. In fact it is my hope to find my own way there soon and I will, once again, gratefully use Frances as my guide.
Love to you all,