“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.”
-Cheryl Strayed, from Wild–
If you have not yet already read Wild by Cheryl Strayed, please do so immediately. It’s beautiful. It’s exciting. It’s empowering. It’s a book you won’t want to put down. The excerpt I share with you above comes early in the book and resonated with me so deeply. Below I share with you an entry from my journal written a few years ago that was reminded to me again as I read Wild.
My path for myself looks a lot like the comfortable road, all smoothly paved. But that path is an idea I go to when I begin to doubt. While I don’t doubt that You won’t be with me on the unpaved path, it still scares me. I see disorganization and chaos. But these past few days where I have met You in this quietness, I am learning to find rest in my doubt. And I am beginning to see the beauty that will follow when I don’t succumb to this doubt of mine.
There are some books that inspire you to imagine you are capable of achieving goals you quickly reject because of what the odds may look like on the surface. Wild is one of these books. Cheryl Strayed, thank you for sharing your story. It is sometimes hard to live the phrase “let it be.” I love school. I love learning. Which is why I went on to graduate school. But now with no more deadlines for research papers, no more “formal” school, allowing things to just be is something I struggle with daily. As mentioned previously in my last post, my thesis sought to explore the connection between gaining a deeper understanding into the practice of female genital mutilation/cutting and my own personal narrative. So, I invite you again to read a portion of my thesis below.
I have learned that I am less optimistic than I often portray myself to be. I am filled with doubt: doubt of myself, doubt of others, and at times, doubt of the goodness in humanity. But, I have also noticed a pattern in my moments of doubt. Each pivotal moment in my life occurred when I had chosen the opportunity that was causing me the greatest amount of doubt, when I had chosen the unpaved path: When I decided to be baptized for a second time, when I decided to live and study in Barcelona, Spain knowing that I had never flown on a plane and that my Spanish speaking ability was far from proficient, when I decided to switch my undergraduate major, when I decided to volunteer in an inner-city community, when I decided to organize a clothing bank for children who were required to wear school uniforms but were unable to afford them, when I decided to participate in group therapy with incarcerated male sex offenders, and yes, even when I decided to attend Saybrook University to pursue a graduate degree in Human Science. These events share the common theme of doubt, a theme that, from experience I have learned to revere. All the good and the bad, the achievements and the struggles, the successes and the disappointments within these stories have, over time, revealed to me my own situatedness —the way in which I saw reality influenced by my context. In each of these decisions I chose to leave the security of “home,” both literally and figuratively. This process allowed me to recognize all the constraints placed on me by my home, community, and culture. For the first time, I began to embrace doubt in a way that encouraged curiosity and empowered me to challenge my personal assumptions and perceptions, which until then had been taken for granted. In the midst of uncertainty, my stories brought awareness to my situatedness in relation to all voices.
Cheryl Strayed, you share on sadly the last page of the book (I didn’t want your story to come to an end!) that everything the trail taught you and everything you couldn’t yet know was somehow already contained within you. While you sat on the white bench eating your ice cream cone, everything unknown to you then, I sit behind my computer writing this blog post, everything unknown to me now. You write, “Everything except the fact that I didn’t have to know. That it was enough to trust that what I’d done was true. To understand its meaning without yet being able to say precisely what it was…” In those last lines on your last page, you have put into words what I have felt but didn’t know how to convey after completing my master’s program. I don’t have to know what comes next. I don’t have to be able to precisely say how my graduate school program became so meaningful in my life and contributed to the breadth of my understanding of who I am. I simply can “let it be.”