Overview: Like many of the books I read, I discovered this one through Ryan Holiday’s monthly email for book recommendations. At first when I saw it on his list I overlooked it as something that I wouldn’t enjoy, but after some further thinking and research I ended up picking it up and reading it and thoroughly enjoying it. In her book, Cheryl Strayed takes questions from readers and answers them the best she can, using reason and her own life experiences to relate to the people asking her questions. The questions asked take on all sorts of different flavors and intensity, hitting on all of the most difficult subjects of our lives. She gives great insight and seems to have the mind of someone who has handled a lot and done a lot of thinking along the way. She seems like that voice in your head that you wish you could consult at all times, I highly recommend this book to everyone. I haven’t read the chicken soup books for teenagers since I was a teenager, but I would consider this to be one of those books on steroids.
Lesson: There are a lot of lessons to be found in this book, as a lesson is basically presented in every single question that she answers. The overarching lesson within each story is that life isn’t always an easy thing to navigate, and there is never going to be one right path where you get out at the end without any scars.
Important Passages (Per Sean):
Inexplicable sorrows await all of us. That was her essential point. Life isn’t some narcissistic game you play online. It all matters— every sin, every regret, every affliction
With great patience, and eloquence, she assures her readers that within the chaos of our shame and disappointment and rage there is meaning, and within that meaning is the possibility of rescue.
She understands that attention is the first and final act of love, and that the ultimate dwindling resource in the human arrangement isn’t cheap oil or potable water or even common sense, but mercy.
The people who squawk the loudest about such things have almost never had to get over anything . Or at least not anything that was genuinely, mind-fuckingly, soul-crushingly life altering.
I had not lived a sheltered life. I’d had my share of hardships and sorrows. I thought I knew how the world worked, but this I could not believe. I thought that if it was known that bad things were happening to children, those bad things would be stopped. But that is not the sort of society we live in, I realized. There is no such society.
We are all entitled to our opinions and religious beliefs, but we are not entitled to make shit up and then use the shit we made up to oppress other people.
Accounting for what happened in our childhoods and why and who our parents are and how they succeeded and failed us is the work we all do when we do the work of becoming whole, grown-up people. That reckoning is especially fraught when a parent has failed a child and so I advise you to (a) do everything in your power to thwart a fail between your child and his or her father, and (b) keep yourself from failing, should the father of your child persist in doing so.
Not because you’re obligated to the man— you owe him nothing— but because you’re obligated to your child.
That’s fine because what I remember about the study most vividly is really just one thing : that it’s devastating for a child to hear one parent speak ill of the other. In fact, so much so that the researchers found it was less psychologically damaging if a parent said directly to the child You are a worthless piece of shit than it was for a parent to say Your mother/ father is a worthless piece of shit.
Your behavior and words will deeply impact your child’s life— both how he or she feels about his or her father and also how he or she feels about him or herself.
It’s what most of us have to give a few times over the course of our lives: to love with a mindfully clear sense of purpose, even when it feels outrageous to do so. Even when you’d rather put on your steel-toed boots and scream.
Trust yourself. It’s Sugar’s golden rule. Trusting yourself means living out what you already know to be true.
The unifying theme is resilience and faith. The unifying theme is being a warrior and a motherfucker. It is not fragility. It’s strength . It’s nerve. And “if your Nerve, deny you—,” as Emily Dickinson wrote, “go above your Nerve.” Writing is hard for every last one of us— straight white men included. Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig.
The story of human intimacy is one of constantly allowing ourselves to see those we love most deeply in a new, more fractured light. Look hard. Risk that.
Of this I am absolutely sure: Do not reach the era of child-rearing and real jobs with a guitar case full of crushing regret for all the things you wished you’d done in your youth. I know too many people who didn’t do those things. They all end up mingy, addled, shrink -wrapped versions of the people they intended to be.
But compassion isn’t about solutions. It’s about giving all the love that you’ve got.
People die because they want who they want. They do all kinds of crazy, stupid, sweet, tender, amazing, self-destructive things. You aren’t going to make anyone “see the light and realize that what they’re doing is wrong.” You just aren’t.
My whole view of the world has gone dim. People are capable of the most astonishing and selfish acts. I used to focus on pursuing real joy and delight in my life, and sharing that joy, too. But now it feels like that light has gone out forever.
Acceptance has everything to do with simplicity, with sitting in the ordinary place, with bearing witness to the plain facts of our life, with not just starting at the essential, but ending up there.
I have breathed my way through so many people who 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.
You have to pay your own electric bill. You have to be kind. You have to give it all you got . You have to find people who love you truly and love them back with the same truth. But that’s all.
But I do know that we are here, all of us— beasts and monsters and beauties and wallflowers alike— to do the best we can. And every last one of us can do better than give up.
Something ugly happened to you and you didn’t let it make you ugly.
I feel stuck. I want to leave , but I’m also terrified of hurting my husband, who has been so good to me and who I consider my best friend.
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.
No matter what unjust, sad, sucky things have befallen you. Self-pity is a dead-end road. You make the choice to drive down it. It’s up to you to decide to stay parked there or to turn around and drive out.
You don’t have a right to the cards you believe you should have been dealt. You have an obligation to play the hell out of the ones you’re holding.
I believe there is something bigger than our individual selves that we can touch when we live our lives with integrity, compassion, and love.
He manipulates them with kindness as easily as he manipulates them with terror, and when he does that, things are fine for a week, then get bad again.
It’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do. And you’re going to bawl your head off doing it. But I promise you it will be okay. Your tears will be born of grief, but also of relief. You will be better for them. They will make you harder, softer, cleaner, dirtier. Free.
The narratives we create in order to justify our actions and choices become in so many ways who we are. They are the things we say back to ourselves to explain our complicated lives.
I’d give it all back in a snap, but the fact is, my grief taught me things. It showed me shades and hues I couldn’t have otherwise seen. It required me to suffer. It compelled me to reach.
Don’t stay when you know you should go or go when you know you should stay. Don’t fight when you should hold steady or hold steady when you should fight. Don’t focus on the short-term fun instead of the long-term fallout. Don’t surrender all your joy for an idea you used to have about yourself that isn’t true anymore . Don’t seek joy at all costs. I know it’s hard to know what to do when you have a conflicting set of emotions and desires, but it’s not as hard as we pretend it is. Saying it’s hard is ultimately a justification to do whatever seems like the easiest thing to do— have the affair, stay at that horrible job, end a friendship over a slight, keep loving someone who treats you terribly. I 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.
Art isn’t anecdote. It’s the consciousness we bring to bear on our lives. For what happened in the story to transcend the limits of the personal, it must be driven by the engine of what the story means.
No matter what happens when it comes to your marriage or your work life or your geographical location, there is no being torn when it comes to your daughter unless you choose to rip the fabric yourself.
When it comes to our children, we do not have the luxury of despair. If we rise, they will rise with us every time, no matter how many times we’ve fallen before.