Like Siddartha, who left behind all that he knew and loved, who left behind all that comforted him in order to gain insight, Cheryl Strayed walked into the wilderness with only an outlandishly heavy pack on her back, carrying everything she believed she would need to sustain her in between pit stops on the Pacific Coast Trail. She even left her old name behind and carried with her instead her new name: Strayed.
Wild is Strayed’s nonfiction account of her journey, as she made her way up California and through Oregon, seeking not only enlightenment but also solace. Without ever saying it explicitly, what Strayed needed was a respite from the unrelenting grief she felt over the loss her mother five years before her journey began.
And while there was no big revelatory moment in which Strayed realizes what losing her mother means to her, what there is is a serious of little deaths and drifting aways, as Strayed peals away the layers of her grief and builds a newer, thicker skin to cover her original skin, worn raw by her own attempts to medicate herself through self-loathing.
What Strayed did on her journey up the PCT was remarkable for anyone, let alone a young woman unarmed and alone. But what she has done with Wild is even more remarkable; indeed, she has shared a narrative in which we all see ourselves, laid bare and bleating. Out of Strayed’s hardships, she shows us our own footsteps forward. With her, we cross the bridge and find ourselves stronger for having traveled with her.
There was much that I personally identified with in this narrative, but I suspect that so many who read it, find that as well. Strayed captures with heartbreaking perfection what it is to lose your mother when all your life you felt your biggest job was to keep her alive, and what you learn in letting go of that overwhelming grief is how to mother yourself.
Strayed does not take it easy on her readers. She will make you cry. In fact, I did not simply weep silently into a tissues as I read; I sobbed. Loudly. I finished the book just this morning on a packed bus to New York and actually had to lock myself into the bathroom so that no one would hear me as I sobbed. She will also make you laugh. She will entertain you and teach you things. In the end, you will awe and relief at her survival. You will be changed.
Wild is a gift to us all. I hope you will read it.