Wednesday, July 1, 2015

#WCW WomanCrushWednesday: Cheryl Strayed

No author has affected my life in the past few years as much as Cheryl Strayed has.
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I loved Strayed before I knew her name. is an online magazine whose advice column, Dear Sugar, was a favorite of mine because of its honest, humorous, and heartfelt offerings. The column was done anonymously, but a few years ago, it was revealed that Strayed was Sugar. Some of my favorite Sugar-given advice is, “Every last one of us can do better than give up”; “The only way out of a hole is to climb out”; and “Be brave enough to break your own heart”. Tiny Beautiful Things is a collection of her Dear Sugar columns and I highly recommend you read it.

A few years ago, when I finished the first chapter of her memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, I put the book down and with tears in my eyes, said out loud to no one, "If the rest of the book is like that, I cannot handle it." In the book, Strayed's mom dies of cancer and at the time, my mom was four years cancer-free. I didn't want to read about a mom, anyone's mom, dying of cancer. I did get through the book and it remains a favorite of mine. I'm a person who prefers not to feel emotions and that book made me feel so immensely that I should have thrown it across the room and instead, I embraced it. I embraced it so much that when a friend told me his mom didn't like Wild because Cheryl Strayed wasn't prepared for the hike she takes in the book, I actually told him to tell his mom to come say that to my face. No one says anything bad about Cheryl Strayed around me.

When my mom was rediagnosed with cancer in mid-2013, I could not look at my copy of Wild (sometimes just a glance at the book would make me tear up), but I frequently turned to Tiny Beautiful Things and a poster with Dear Sugar quotes I had on the wall above my computer. I can't say I always took to heart sayings like "The thing about rising is we have to continue upward. The thing about going beyond is we have to keep going", "The unifying theme is resilience and faith", and the above-mentioned "Every last one of us can do better than to give up", but I wanted to. As I'm sure many other people who've read Strayed's work can attest, Strayed makes you want to hope, makes you want to try. Some days, I would see "The only way out of a hole is to climb out" and think, "Maybe today, it's okay for me to stay in my hole, but tomorrow, I'll get started on climbing out of it."

My mom died in October 2014 and again, Strayed helped me, this time with her advice of "Let yourself be gutted. Let it open you. Start there." "Gutted" is the perfect word to describe how I felt when my mom died and one of the reasons I'm not curled up in a ball on the floor is Cheryl Strayed and her advice. For that, she's my WomanCrush.


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