She’s lived. She’s learned. She’s been there. Cheryl Strayed has a gift that’s helped thousands upon thousands take control of their lives.
Before Wild, the bestselling memoir of her solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in the wake of her mother’s death and her own painful divorce, Cheryl Strayed made a name for herself as an Internet phenomenon known as “Dear Sugar,” the advice columnist on The Rumpus website. From her very first column she demonstrated a deeply personal approach: She would share stories from her own life as a way to connect to those in need of help. And her skill at articulating these experiences as if she was speaking to each reader individually struck a major chord, as did her gentle and wise advice on a range of subjects, including miscarriage, infidelity, divorce, poverty and addiction.
Strayed’s favorite letters and columns are now available in the remarkable collection Tiny Beautiful Things. Read it and be prepared to bawl your eyes out…right before you smile knowingly with renewed strength and understanding.
Here’s an excerpt from the book that really helped me out. It’s part of Strayed’s response to a letter from a 22-year-old “Seeking Wisdom” who asks what Strayed would tell her 20-something self if she could talk to her now.
Dear Seeking Wisdom,
“…Your assumptions about the lives of others are in direct relation to your naïve pomposity. Many people you believe to be rich are not rich. Many people you think have it easy worked hard for what they got. Many people who seem to be gliding right along have suffered and are suffering. Many people who appear to you to be old and stupidly saddled down with kids and cars and houses were once every bit as hip and pompous as you.
When you meet a man in the doorway of a Mexican restaurant who later kisses you while explaining that this kiss doesn’t ‘mean anything’ because, much as he likes you, he is not interested in having a relationship with you or anyone right now, just laugh and kiss him back. Your daughter will have his sense of humor. Your son will have his eyes.
The useless days will add up to something. The shitty waitressing jobs. The hours writing in your journal. The long meandering walks. The hours reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people’s diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether you should shave under your arms or not. These things are your becoming.
One Christmas at the very beginning of your twenties when your mother gives you a warm coat that she saved for months to buy, don’t look at her skeptically after she tells you she thought the coat was perfect for you. Don’t hold it up and say it’s longer than you like your coats to be and too puffy and possibly even too warm. Your mother will be dead by spring. That coat will be the last gift she gave you. You will regret the small thing you didn’t say for the rest of your life.
Say thank you.”