“There’s no way to know what makes one thing happen and not another. What leads to what. What destroys what. What causes what to flourish or die or take another course.”— Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed
Wild is without a doubt my favorite memoir. I love its grittiness, its recklessness. I love that it doesn’t give simple explanations for complex truths.
Sometimes people die. Sometimes our marriages end in divorce. Sometimes it’s our fault. Sometimes the road not taken is the road that would lead you home. Sometimes home is the open road. Sometimes home is nowhere. Sometimes it’s a place deep inside you: dark and irrevocable and mysterious.
Cheryl Strayed writes unapologetically about the worst (and arguably the best) time in her life. After losing her mother less than a month after her lung cancer diagnosis, she becomes unmoored. Her mother was her anchor. Her marriage ends and her life as it exists doesn’t give her the space she needs to grieve.
Having no clear path forward, she forges one herself. This may sound corny, but sometimes you have to have a clean break to let the light in. She decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, alone. 1,100 miles from the Mojave Desert to the Bridge of the Gods into Washington State. She had never hiked before. We can probably alter the idiom “Go big or go home in Cheryl’s case to “Go big to go home,” home being the place where you can finally breathe free.
Wild was Oprah’s first pick for Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 and spent 52 weeks on the NPR Hardcover Nonfiction Bestseller List. In 2014, through her production company Pacific Standard, Reese Witherspoon produced the film adaptation of Wild with Jean-Marc Vallée as the director and Nick Horby, the novelist, as the screenwriter. Her mother was played by Academy Award-winning actress Laura Dern. Both Witherspoon and Dern received Oscar nominations for their roles in the film.
Since Cheryl Strayed is one of the most quotable writers on the planet, I feel like it’s only appropriate to end with a (longer) quote of hers that’s imprinted itself indelibly on my soul.
“What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I’d done something I shouldn’t have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I’d done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn’t do anything differently than I had done? What if I’d actually wanted to fuck every one of those men? What if heroin taught me something? What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?”— Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed
God, those last two sentences just speak to me: What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was? Our culture has such an unhealthy obsession with redemption narratives, redemption arcs. Like we’re all a bunch of derelicts needing to be scolded into submission. Submission is just a word that means you’ve relinquished your power to someone else. And no one else can guard your power like you can. Own it.
I’m such a liar, saying I was going to end on that quote. Oh well. This is my blog and I’ll do what I like. Wild is available to purchase wherever books are sold.
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