Yesterday evening, Cheryl Strayed spoke at the Latchis Theater in celebration of Brattleboro Area Hospice’s Fortieth Anniversary. Strayed is the author of the best-selling memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, the story of her 1995 solo hike of the PCT when she was twenty-seven years old. But like any good story, there’s more to it.
Five years before hoisting her pack, Cheryl’s mother died suddenly, leaving Cheryl unmoored from her marriage and drifting through the turbulent waters of promiscuity, heroin and grief. The real story of Wild is how Cheryl, an inexperienced hiker, walked 1,100 miles from California to Washington by putting one foot in front of another. It’s a story of redemption.
Last night, Cheryl said that initially, she thought she was honoring her mother by losing herself in grief. On the PCT, Cheryl realized that the best way to honor her mother was to become the best person she could be.
Changing the Story
I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story.~from Wild
Cheryl is the author of Torch, an award-winning novel about fallible, sympathetic, human characters facing up to illness, death and that persistent human question: What makes life meaningful?
As the advice columnist Dear Sugar, Cheryl applies her fearlessness to help others.
She says the letters she received seeking advice generally fell into two categories: letters from people who knew what they needed to do but were afraid to act, and letters from people who were truly lost. In both cases, Sugar encourages her correspondents to face their fear and do what’s hard and scary – and right.
This is good advice for all of us, and an especially fitting way to honor our local, volunteer hospice. For the past forty years, Brattleboro Area Hospice has been helping us come to terms with death.
It’s a truth generally avoided that we’re all going to die.
Because we don’t know when or how we’ll die – or what happens after we do – we’re all generally, and to varying degrees, afraid of death.
Fear makes us timid.
Fear encourages us to seek comfort, until we find ourselves stuck in front of the TV – with the doors locked.
Fear can turn life into an endurance test. Yet in the end, we’re still going to die.
We can’t change that, but we can change how we live with fear.
Into the Wilderness
I’ll be embracing fear next week as I head into the wilderness. This is the New Hampshire Wilderness, not the ironic wilderness of Orton, Vermont, where my novel, Into the Wilderness, takes place.
If you’re looking for an excuse to sit on the porch and read about Percy Mendell, a 64- year old Vermont bachelor facing loneliness and retirement, and Rose Mayer, a twice-widowed Jewish New Yorker exiled to Vermont for the summer, then this book is for you.
It’s out of print, meaning you can buy used first editions, for which I don’t earn any royalties; or you can buy the e-book for under five dollars, and I’ll get about two.
Meanwhile, I’ll be living outdoors, orienteering, rock-climbing, starting fires with sticks and learning general field craft during a 6-day Nature in Education course at Kroka Expeditions. I’ll be sure to report back, if I make it out alive.
Till next time, take risks. Live!