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*Warning: some well-deserved strong language ahead!
I found Cheryl Strayed in 2020, practically by accident.
I began writing for Elephant Journal three years before that, and I remember that I exhausted every avenue with the heartbreak of leaving my girls’ mother. I needed inspiration and so I did what so many have done before me when they, too, were in need of inspiration—I googled “best book of essays on heartbreak.”
Now, I had no intention of plagiarizing anyone else’s work. But as a writer, the hope is always that someone else’s stories will create a domino effect where you begin to remember your own history, which then stimulates your own ideas. This happens to me a lot, and if you spoke to anyone who I have dated in the past, they would totally vouch for the fact that oftentimes when they are telling me something, I am somewhere in the stratosphere 500 miles from where the conversation began. It’s an occupational hazard.
So, when my google search populated, one of the first books that showed up was Tiny Beautiful Things. The book was comprised of letters Cheryl Strayed received as the advice columnist for “Dear Sugar” on the Rumpus website. I hit the sample button on Audible and, at first listen, it sounded like something I might like. Well, that was the understatement of the year.
I don’t know if I can properly explain what it did to me to hear her voice as she spoke to people in the most loving and empathetic tones, telling the deepest and most private stories from her own life. At least two or three times a day, as I listened to the audiobook, tears would stream down my cheeks. I didn’t even know who this woman was, but never had I heard so much love and compassion in my life. Sometimes even hearing her use the term of endearment “Sweetpea” was enough to start the waterworks. I’m not sure that’s something I can properly explain, but suffice it to say, it touched me on quite a personal level.
I think if there is a God and she has a message for us, she probably sent Cheryl Strayed as the messenger. A little lofty of a sentiment maybe, but that is truly how this book made me feel.
So, I hope these 10 quotes help you when you need to feel a little love and caring, and a little less alone, Sweetpea:
1. “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.”
2. “You don’t have a right to the cards you believe you should have been dealt with. You have an obligation to play the hell out of the ones you’re holding and, my dear one, you and I have been granted a mighty generous one.”
3. “Nobody’s going to do your life for you. You have to do it yourself, whether you’re rich or poor, out of money or raking it in, the beneficiary of ridiculous fortune or terrible injustice. And you have to do it no matter what is true. No matter what is hard. No matter what unjust, sad, sucky things befall 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.”
4. “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.”
5. “Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.”
6. “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.”
7. “And the fuck is yours too, WTF. That question does not apply ‘to everything every day.’ If it does, you’re wasting your life. If it does, you’re a lazy coward and you are not a lazy coward. Ask better questions, sweet pea. The fuck is your life. Answer it.”
8. “Run toward the darkness, sweet peas, and shine.”
9. “Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.”
10. “Don’t lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don’t have a career. You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith. Be true blue. You are a writer because you write. Keep writing and quit your bitching. Your book has a birthday. You don’t know what it is yet.”