It's hard to go. It's scary and lonely...and half the time you'll be wondering why the hell you're in Cincinnati or Austin or North Dakota or Mongolia or wherever your melodious little finger-plucking heinie takes you. There will be boondoggles and discombobulated days, freaked-out nights and metaphorical flat tires. But it will be soul-smashingly beautiful... It will open up your life.
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Don't do what you know on a gut level to be the wrong thing to doI don't think there's a single dumbass thing I've done in my adult life that I didn't know was a dumbass thing to do while I was doing it. Even when I justified it to myself""as I did every damn time""the truest part of me knew I was doing the wrong thing. Always. As the years pass, I'm learning how to better trust my gut and not do the wrong thing, but every so often I get a harsh reminder that I've still got work to do.
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When someone you love truly dies, you have to find them over and over again in the world, and I think you do that on a very psychic, unconscious level, and I think in some ways I was calling out to that spirit of my mother when I saw the fox. It doesn't surprise me it's in animals that I find my mother.
Each night the black sky and the bright stars were my stunning companions; occasionally Id see their beauty and solemnity so plainly that I'd realize in a piercing way that my mother was right. That someday I WOULD be grateful and that in fact I was grateful now, that I felt something growing in me that was strong and real.
I think being a woman alone enhanced the impulse in others to be generous. What we're told is that to be a woman alone is to be in a dangerous situation. The message is that people are gong to prey on you and do bad things to you. That may be true in some cases, but what I experienced was the other case.
It hadn't occurred to me that my mother would die. Until she was dying, the thought had never entered my mind. She was monolithic and insurmountable, the keeper of my life. She would grow old and still work in the garden. This image was fixed in my mind, like one of the memories from her childhood that I made her explain so intricately that I remembered it as if it were mine. She would be old and beautiful like the black-and-white photo of Georgia O'Keeffe I'd once sent her. I held fast to this image for the first couple of weeks after we left the Mayo Clinic, and then, once she was admitted to the hospice wing of the hospital in Duluth, that image unfurled, gave way to the others, more modest and true. I imagined my mother in October; I wrote the scene in my mind. And then the one of my mother in August and another in May. Each day that passed, another month peeled away.
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(I)t was Lady who saved my mother's life. Lady, who made it possible for her not only to walk away from my father, but also to keep going. Horses were my mother's religion. It was them she wanted to be with all those Sundays as a child, when she'd been made to put on dresses to go to mass.
I was a terrible believer in things, but I was also a terrible nonbeliever in things. I was as searching as I was skeptical. I didn't know where to put my faith, or if there was such a place, or even what the word faith meant, in all of it's complexity. Everything seemed to be possibly potent and possibly fake.
I hope when people ask what you're going to do with your English degree and/or creative writing degree you'll say: 'Continue my bookish examination of the contradictions and complexities of human motivation and desire;' or maybe just: 'Carry it with me, as I do everything that matters.' And then smile very serenely until they say, 'Oh.
It's hard to go. It's scary and lonely... and half the time you'll be wondering why the hell you're in Cincinnati or Austin or North Dakota or Mongolia or wherever your melodious little finger-plucking heinie takes you. There will be boondoggles and discombobulated days, freaked-out nights and metaphorical flat tires. But it will be soul-smashingly beautiful... It will open up your life.
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Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked.
I happen to believe that America is dying of loneliness, that we, as a people, have bought into the false dream of convenience, and turned away from a deep engagement with our internal lives-those fountains of inconvenient feeling-and toward the frantic enticements of what our friends in the Greed Business call the Free Market. We're hurtling through time and space and information faster and faster, seeking that network connection. But at the same time we're falling away from our families and our neighbors and ourselves. We ego-surf and update our status and brush up on which celebrities are ruining themselves, and how. But the cure won't stick.
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But as you are surely aware, forgiveness doesn't mean you let the forgiven stomp all over you once again. Forgiveness means you've found a way forward that acknowledges harm done and hurt caused without letting either your anger or your pain rule your life or define your relationship with the one who did you wrong.
I lay down in the mother ash dirt among the crocuses and told her it was okay. That I'd surrendered. That since she died, everything had changed. Things she couldn't have imagined and wouldn't have guessed. My words came out low and steadfast. I was so sad it felt as if someone were choking me, and yet it seemed my whole life depended on my getting those words out. She would always be my mother, I told her, but I had to go. She wasn't there for me in that flowerbed anymore anyway, I explained. I'd put her somewhere else. The only place I could reach her. In me.
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Each night the black sky and the bright stars were my stunning companions; occasionally I'd see their beauty and solemnity so plainly that I'd realize in a piercing way that my mother was right. That someday I would be grateful and that in fact I was grateful now, that I felt something growing in me that was strong and real.
Within forty minutes, the voice inside my head was screaming, WHAT HAVE I GOTTEN MYSELF INTO? I tried to ignore it, to hum as I hiked, though humming proved too difficult to do while also panting and moaning in agony and trying to remain hunched in that remotely upright position while also propelling myself forward when I felt like a building with legs.
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If, as a culture, we don't bear witness to grief, the burden of loss is placed entirely upon the bereaved, while the rest of us avert our eyes and wait for those in mourning to stop being sad, to let go, to move on, to cheer up. And if they don't - if they have loved too deeply, if they do wake each morning thinking, I cannot continue to live - well, then we pathologize their pain; we call their suffering a disease. We do not help them: we tell them that they need to get help.
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It had nothing to do with gear or footwear or the backpacking fads or philosophies of any particular era or even with getting from point A to point B. It had to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles with no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.
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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 the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked. Every time I heard a sound of unknown origin or felt something horrible cohering in my imagination, I pushed it away. I simply did not let myself become afraid. Fear begets fear. Power begets Power. I willed myself to beget power. And it wasn't long before I actually wasn't afraid.
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You go on by doing the best you can. You go on by being generous. You go on by being true. You go on by offering comfort to others who can't go on. You go on by allowing the unbearable days to pass and allowing the pleasure in other days. You go on by finding a channel for your love and another for your rage.
I was amazed that what I needed to survive could be carried on my back. And, most surprisingly of all, that I could carry it. That I could bear the unbearable. These realizations about my physical, material life couldn't help but spill over into the emotional and spiritual realm. That my complicated life could be made so simple was astounding. It had begun to occur to me that perhaps it was okay that I hadn't spent my days on the trail pondering the sorrows of my life, that perhaps by being forced to focus on my physical sufferings some of my emotional suffering would fade away. (93)
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I have breathed my way through so many people I felt wronged by; through so many situations I couldn't change. Sometimes while doing this I have breathed in acceptance and breathed out love. Sometimes I've breathed in gratitude and out forgiveness. Sometimes I haven't been able to muster anything beyond the breath itself, my mind forced blank with nothing but the desire to be free of sorrow and rage.
The only way you'll find out if you "have it in you" is to get to work and see if you do. The only way to override your "limitations, insecurities, jealousies, and ineptitude" is to produce. You have limitations. You are in some way inept. This is true of every writer, and it's especially true of writers who are twenty-six. You will feel insecure and jealous. How much power you give those feelings is entirely up to you.
I can't say when you'll get love or how you'll find it or even promise you that you will. I can only say you are worthy of it and that it's never too much to ask for it and that it's not crazy to fear you'll never have it again, even though your fears are probably wrong. Love is our essential nutrient. Without it, life has little meaning. It's the best thing we have to give and the most valuable thing we receive. It's worthy of all the hullabaloo.
You don't have to get a job that makes others feel comfortable about what they perceive as your success. You don't have to explain what your plan to do with your life. You don't have to justify your education by demonstrating its financial rewards. You don't have to maintain an impeccable credit score. Anyone who expects you to do any of those things has no sense of history of economics or science or the arts.
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As I clung to the chaparral that day, attempting to patch up my bleeding finger, terrified by every sound that the bull was coming back, I considered my options. There were only two and they were essentially the same. I could go back in the direction I had come from, or I could go forward in the direction I intended to go. The bull, I acknowledged grimly, could be in either direction, since I hadn't seen where he'd run once I closed my eyes. I could only choose between the bull that would take me back and the bull that would take me forward. And so I walked on.
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I got an abortion and learned how to make dehydrated tuna flakes and turkey jerky and took a refresher course on basic first aid and practiced using my water purifier in my kitchen sink. I had to change. I had to change was the thought that drove me in those months of planning. Not into a different person, but back to the person I used to be - strong and responsible, clear-eyed and driven, ethical and good. And the PCT would make me that way. There, I'd walk and think about my entire life. I'd find my strength again, far from everything that had made my life ridiculous.
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She tried to think of what to say to make it all better again, or at least the way it was before she'd made her confession, though she didn't regret having confessed. Perhaps that was what had been wrong with her all along. Now that the lie wasn't between them anymore, maybe she could love him again.
The kindest and most meaningful thing anyone ever said to me is: Your mother would be proud of you... The strange and painful truth is that I'm a better person because I lost my mom young. When you say you excperienced my writing as sacred, what you are touching is the divine place within me that is my mother. Sugar is the temple I build in my obliterated place. I'd give it all back in a snap, but the fact is, my grief taught me things... It required me to suffer. It compelled me to reach.
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What if you allowed your God to exist in he simple words of compassion others offer you?... What if the greatest beauty of the day is the shaft of sunlight through our window? What if the worst thing happened and you rose anyway? What if you trusted in the human scale? What if you listened harder to the story of the man on the cross who found a way to endure his suffering more than to the one about the impossible magic of the Messiah? Would you see the miracle in that?
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You don't have to get a job that makes others feel comfortable about what they perceive as your success. You don't have to explain what you plan to do with your life. You don't have to justif your education by demonstrating its financial rewards. You don't have to maintain an impeccable credit score. Anyone who expects you to do any of those things has no sense of history or economics or science or the arts. You have to pay your own electric bill. You have to be kind. You have to give it all you've got. You have to find people who love you truly and love them back with the same truth. But that's all.
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I suggest you forget about forgiveness for now and strive for acceptance instead. Accept that the man you love was unfaithful to you. Accept that the woman you once held in regard treated you with disrespect. Accept that their actions hurt you deeply. Accept that this experience taught you something you didn't want to know. Accept that sorrow and strife are a part of even a joyful life. Accept that it's going to take a long time for you to get that monster out of your chest. Accept that someday what pains you now will surely pain you less.
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In your twenties you're becoming who you're going to be and so you might as well not be an asshole. Also, because it's harder to be magnanimous when you're in your twenties, I think, and so that's why I'd like to remind you of it. You're generally less humble in that decade than you'll ever be and this lack of humility is oddly mixed with insecurity and uncertainty and fear. You will learn a lot about yourself if you stretch in the direction of goodness, of bigness, of kindness, of forgiveness, of emotional bravery.
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Go, even though you love him. Go, even though he is kind and faithful and dear to you. Go, even though he's your best friend and you're his. Go, even though you can't imagine your life without him. Go, even though he adores you and your leaving will devastate him. Go, even though your friends will be disappointed or surprised or pissed off or all three. Go, even though you once said you would stay. Go, even though you're afraid of being alone. Go, even though you're sure no one will ever love you as well as he does. Go, even though there is nowhere to go. Go, even though you don't know exactly why you can't stay. Go, because you want to. Because wanting to leave is enough.
At which point, at long last, there was the actual doing it, quickly followed by the grim realization of what it meant to do it, followed by the decision to quit doing it because doing it was absurd and pointless and ridiculously difficult and far more than I expected doing it would be and I was profoundly unprepared to do it.
This was once Mazama, I kept reminding myself. This was once a mountain that stood nearly 12, 000 feet tall and then had its heart removed. This was once a wasteland of lava and pumice and ash. This was once an empty bowl that took hundreds of years to fill. But hard as I tried, I couldn't see them in my mind's eye. Not the mountain or the wasteland or the empty bowl. They simply were not there anymore. There was only the stillness and the silence of that water: what a mountain and a wasteland and an empty bowl turned into after the healing process.
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It had been so silent in the wake of that commotion, a kind of potent silence that seemed to contain everything. The songs of the birds and the creak of the trees. The dying snow and the unseen gurgling water. The glimmering sun. The certain sky. The gun that didn't have a bullet in its chamber. And the mother. Always the mother. The one who would never come to me.
Each evening, I ached for the shelter of my tent, for the smallest sense that something was shielding me from the entire rest of the world, keeping me safe not from danger, but from vastness itself. I loved the dim, clammy dark of my tent, the cozy familiarity of the way I arranged my few belongings all around me each night.
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Small things such as this have saved me: how much I love my mother""even after all these years. How powerfully I carry her within me. My grief is tremendous but my love is bigger. So is yours. You are not grieving your son's death because his death was ugly and unfair. You're grieving it because you loved him truly. The beauty in that is greater than the bitterness of his death.