I'll never know, and neither will you, of the life you don't choose. We'll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn't carry us. There's nothing to do but salute it from the shore.
He was the most ordinary man in all the world, and yet in her memory he'd become luminous, like the prince in a fairy tale.
The healing power of even the most microscopic exchange with someone who knows in a flash precisely what you're talking about because she experienced that thing too cannot be overestimated.
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.
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.
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.
Transformation isn't a butterfly. It's the thing before you get to be a pretty bug flying away. It's huddling in the dark cocoon and then pushing your way out. It's the messy work of making sense of your fortunes and misfortunes, desires and doubts, hang-ups and sorrows, actions and accidents, mistakes and successes, so you can go on and become the person you must next become.
What’s important is that you make the leap. Jump high and hard with intention and heart. Pay no mind to the vision that the commission made up. It’s up to you to make your life. Take what you have and stack it up like a tower of teetering blocks. Build your dream around that.
Real change happens on the level of the gesture. It's one person doing one thing differently than he or she did before.
I'd read the section in my guidebook about the trail's history the winter before, but it wasn't until now—a couple of miles out of Burney Falls, as I walked in my flimsy sandals in the early evening heat—that the realization of what that story meant picked up force and hit me squarely in the chest: preposterous as it was, when Catherine Montgomery and Clinton Clarke and Warren Rogers and the hundreds of others who'd created the PCT had imagined the people who would walk that high trail that wound down the heights of our western mountains, they'd been imagining me. It didn't matter that everything from my cheap knockoff sandals to my high-tech-by-1995-standards boots and backpack would have been foreign to them, because what mattered was utterly timeless. It was the thing that compelled them to fight for the trail against all the odds, and it was the thing that drove me and every other long-distance hiker onward on the most miserable days. 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 only to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles for 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. That's what Montgomery knew, I supposed. And what Clarke knew and Rogers and what thousands of people who preceded and followed them knew. It was what I knew before I even really did, before I could have known how truly hard and glorious the PCT would be, how profoundly the trail would both shatter and shelter me.
This isn't a spotless life. There is much ahead, my immaculate little peach. And there is no way to say it other than to say it: marriage is indeed this horribly complex thing for which you appear to be ill prepared and about which you seem to be utterly naive. That's okay. A lot of people are. You can learn along the way. A good way to start would be to let fall your notions about perfect couples. It's really such an impossible thing to either perceive honestly in others or live up to when others believe it about us. It does nothing but box some people in and shut other people out, and it ultimately makes just about everyone feel like shit. A perfect couple is a wholly private thing. No one but the two people in the perfect relationship know for certain whether they're in one. Its only defining quality is that it's composed of two people who feel perfectly right about sharing their lives with each other, even during the hard times.
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.
I think it's neat you do what you want. Not enough chicks do that, if you ask me--just tell society and their expectations to go fuck themselves. If more women did that, we'd be better off.
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.
In the mornings, my pain was magnified by about a thousand. In the morning there weren’t only those sad facts about my life. Now there was also the additional fact that I was a pile of shit.
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.
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.
You will come to know things that can only be known with the wisdom of age and the grace of years. Most of those things will have to do with forgiveness.
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.
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.
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.
There was the woman I was before my mom died and the one I was now, my old life sitting on the surface of me like a bruise.
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.
I was twenty-two, the same age she was when she'd been pregnant with me. She was going to leave my life at the same moment that I came into hers, I thought. For some reason that sentence came fully formed into my head just then, temporarily blotting out the Fuck them prayer. I almost howled in agony. I almost choked to death on what I knew before I knew. I was going to live the rest of my life without my mother.
But now that she was dying, I knew everything. My mother was in me already. Not just the parts of her that I knew, but the parts of her that had come before me too.
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.
It was good. It was like something inordinately beautiful and out of this world. Like I’d found an actual planet that I didn’t know had been there all along. Planet Heroin. The place where there was no pain.
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.
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.