A woman solo hiked the PCT. This is her engaging rite-of-passage memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. I could hardly put the book down, strong was my desire to gobble up every trail and survival detail. I love hiking, along with exploring the backcountry on horses, and primitive camping. While my own two feet have traversed sections of both the PCT and the AT (Appalachian Trail), I can only, thus far, live vicariously through those who have actually “thru-hiked.” Cheryl Strayed didn’t exactly hike through, having started in the Mojave Desert in California and finished at the Bridge of the Gods connecting Oregon to Washington, but she covered 1,100 miles on her weary, blistered, nail-less toes, having started out ill-prepared and untrained. That’s nothing to scoff at, by any stretch. That’s gutsy.
**potential spoilers below**
The writing is sharp and the storytelling vivid. I trekked into the pages assuming I could relate to the author as I, too, lost both my parents. I know what it’s like when your family unit sort of disintegrates due to grief; when the strong root is dug up, or the anchor is hoisted leaving you feeling adrift. Yet, I couldn’t grasp the author’s perspective on a number of levels. From her form of recklessness and promiscuity, to feeling a life force—though the size of a grain of rice—recognizing she was pregnant, and then using “I got an abortion” and “learned how to make dehydrated tuna flakes” in the same sentence. I couldn’t comprehend why her editors kept in the dalliance with “rad” man, as it had nothing to do with the story and certainly didn’t move it along. I didn’t understand why she unreasonably obliterated a solid marriage to a great guy, or how she expressed pain. And the incident with her mom’s horse, Lady: horrid. Choices, choices!
Still, her descriptions of nature when compared to her state of being proved starkly eloquent. When she hadn’t seen another human for weeks. When silence was tremendous. When she expressed that she was nothing to pebbles, leaves, and branches, yet they were everything to her. “Everything but me seems utterly certain of itself. The sky didn’t wonder where it was.”
When she did have encounters with other characters, they were interesting. Clyde’s words moved me while he said he didn’t believe in reincarnation when Cheryl had asked him. He said, “I believe we’re here once and what we do matters.”
And Cheryl’s mom having cancer that consumed her before she reached 50. I understood the tragedy of it. And the painful truths that came also from the mom’s mouth, about how she never got to conduct her own life—to be in the driver’s seat. She always did what someone else wanted her to do. The most uncomfortable sentiment, “I’ve always been someone’s daughter or mother or wife. I’ve never just been me.” Sorrowful authenticity is a killer.
So, you see, Wild was a weighty, ugly-beautiful book. Hard to rate. It’s like life, you take the good with the bad—which I suppose is the theme of this chronicle. Although I’m a different-thinking person from that of the author, with a contrasting belief system and grief display, and I didn’t quite see in my mind a “healing” take place, I admire Strayed who “strayed” and wrote for us a compelling memoir to digest.
A problematic social issue, a unit called to respond.
A man struggles to right his wrong.
“If I had said ‘no’ instead of ‘yes’ when they asked me to do this thing, then maybe I would have turned out a hero instead of what I’ve become.
We were trained, hired with the promise of a good wage, to take care of a problem, to get things under control. As a man, I needed to succeed for myself, for my family living in a cycle of poverty in the sertão, the backlands. The earnings proved excellent, and far outweighed the promises made by the controlling peasant guerrillas. But the other part of it… If I knew then what I know now…
I can’t live with myself…
I can’t live.
If I could take it back. Everything I’ve done--
Ach, who could do such things? And if one could, then who would forgive such things?”
This is the story of one man's dark path to redemption.
Wouldn’t it be neat whenever we sense a need for renovation to do a flip? I’m not speaking in terms of real estate. Sometimes I think I’d like to trade any bad, static experiences in life for good, seeking a fresh perspective. A few words sweep into my mind for how to get there. “…be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” (Romans 12:2) and, “…in all things God works for the good of those who love him,” (Romans 8:28). The motivation of flipping negatives for positives rather than flipping out holds a more promising outcome, for sure. On the other hand, the ability to appreciate the good things is oft times amplified by having encountered the bad. Yin and yang, as many would say. #iamonlyhuman
The Unspeakable (Puma) is now in its second edition, a version with the same storyline but repackaged. Newly categorized under Christian Suspense, and International Mystery & Crime, if you have not yet read this book I invite you to do so – though it might keep you up at night.
When bad things happen to good people, what then?
When a furtive conflict is pitted between violent leftist guerrillas and a rightwing paramilitary group in Colombia, a North American woman mistakenly gets caught in the middle.
“I spent four months, one week and two days in a clandestine prison referred to as The Water Cave. Every day I stared hell in the face, and each day I wanted to die. I don’t want to share too much too quickly. To understand fully, you must join hands with me, fasten your heart to mine, and course through my book. Stumble over the incomprehensible human rights journey with me. I've pondered it to the brink of questionable sanity, and it's the only way to explain. I suppose I should consider myself lucky I survived at all—for many did not—yet, perplexingly so, that’s not the premise of this narrative.
He altered my life, marked me forever.
But it’s not how you might imagine.
This is a story involving Horacio Botello, my torturer known as Puma.”
The deeper the darkness, the deeper the awareness of grace.
From where has God brought you?
A writer, I often prefer stepping away from safely bubbled literature into something rawer, more tragic and real. Drawn to the psychological divergence of the night season, it's not quite the night season of temporary circumstances - but the powerful light near the end that beckons. Light appears brighter as you step from the shadows. Grasp that light tightly with newfound gratitude...I do every time.
There is a sacred purpose for everything, even literature bordering a darker side. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. What then? Within this framework, one can hear HIS voice distinctly calling, “Child, come home,” whispering, “child, be healed,” shouting, “Child, I forgive you.” This is the way, walk ye in it…
From where has God brought you?
The deeper the darkness, the deeper the awareness of Grace.
Jesus knew beforehand of Judas Iscariot’s betrayal, expected it, even waited for it, yet he still washes the man’s feet. Washing of feet was an act of servitude provided as an example to us of acceptance, of humility, of love, of forgiveness. I am both baffled and intrigued by the role of Judas – also, of how Christians view him. Most would say that Judas was possessed, for we are told the devil entered him, and lost forever. But Jesus, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, in a single moment would be betrayed by ALL, washes the feet of the one people blame the most for perfidy.
Iscariot, indeed, had a weakness for silver. The treasurer for the disciples, he pilfered along the way. Jesus knew this, yet kept him as overseer of the money bag. Why?
My thought is that somebody had to play the role of Judas. If not Judas, then somebody else had to fulfill the prophecy of the messiah, his torture, his death, his resurrection – salvation, the avenue intended for every soul’s ultimate deliverance unto God. Maybe there’s a wider spot of clemency for the one chosen to fulfill an ugly yet necessary role.
Many would say that Judas was beyond help, uncaring, unfeeling and consumed with sinful nature. Yet after realizing what he had done, that is, was paid to identify his master to the Roman soldiers via the Sanhedrin by poetically placing a kiss on his cheek, scripture (Matthew 27:5) says that he threw down the pieces of silver he received as payment for the dirty deed, and went out and hanged himself. Does that sound like somebody who was uncaring and unfeeling?
The end appears hopeless. Judas hung himself – an act of desperation. And after the body had fried in the hot Jerusalem sun, bloated from bacterial gases, it fell to the ground and erupted. It’s a messy, distorted picture. It appears like he got what he deserved and this was his entrance to hell.
But who would really know, except God, if Judas Iscariot, an unconditionally loved child of God, in his last remorseful breath, had cried out in his weakened constitution, “Forgive me. Forgive me.” In that private, desperate moment, between him and his maker, who could honestly say?
Forgiveness driven or regret driven…is there even a difference?