You know you’re getting older when you actively seek out a memoir in the self-help section.
You know you’re getting wiser when it hits you in the gut like the truth you weren’t ready to hear.
Like a good friend, Cheryl Strayed, New York Times best-selling author, offers Tiny Beautiful Things—a soul-bearing question and response collection that is vulnerable and deeply human. I was first exposed to Strayed’s wisdom as “Sugar”, when she was the formerly anonymous advice columnist from The Rumpus. Steve Almond, previously the voice behind Sugar, calls Cheryl Strayed’s approach in Tiny Beautiful Things “a lesson in radical empathy.”
Empathy hardly skims the surface of what Sugar proffers : a warm “word-hug” of unconditional love with the goal of mutual understanding and compassion of our shared human condition.
This book is a refreshing glimmer of hope for the future of America and the greater world, and a lesson in radical love that is so needed as we go forward in 2018.
Before I get back to the book, let me give you a little background on how this book came about. The lessons came from the column. The Rumpus originated because of a man named Stephen Elliot and a desire to foster a literary community of friends online. Steve Almond agreed to write an advice column called, “Dear Sugar Butt”, then changed to “Dear Sugar.” Sugar was an invented persona of a “irreverent and brutally honest woman” that Almond took on wholeheartedly. After years as Sugar, he decided to hand the job over to Cheryl Strayed who he knew because he admired her novel Torch. She actually sent him his only fan mail while he was Sugar. He told her there was one caveat: there would be no compensation.
As a full time mother and established writer, actually becoming an anonymous advice columnist was insane to say the least. But as all you passionate women in business know, you do something when it feels right…and this felt right. But being the girl-boss entrepreneur she was, Strayed became Sugar, and Sugar became for a lot of people— the peace that settled from the ashes of suffering. The way they rebuilt themselves after. What is discovered from her work is nothing short of tear-jerking. Love, the reason for Sugar. Love, our reason for life. As Steve Almond puts it, “she offers what we wish every mother would: enough compassion to make us feel safe within our broken need, and enough wisdom to hold onto hope.”
As I sat mesmerized by Oprah Winfrey’s recent and eloquent Golden Globe speech (in glasses- so vogue) I couldn’t help but think of this amazing book. Oprah stated, “What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.” Strayed embodies this to the fullest, a trusted confidant who challenges us to be our most authentic selves. People write-in, baring their soul about love, loss of love, loneliness, betrayal, childbearing and rearing, the fear of failing, the lack of productivity and drive, all things that are shared experiences.
What we lack is peripheral vision. We are so stuck in our own little view of our own little world that we don’t recognize that there are 7.4 billion people going through this journey together and that we can benefit from communicating. In this book, Strayed offers a safe space to embrace our fears collectively, simply because someone else has felt them before. It makes us feel less crazy, more connected, and more grounded. Human connection and interaction is the solution to division because they lead to understanding and empathy.
In Tiny Beautiful Things, Strayed teaches us to practice gratitude. She taught me to practice forgiveness even if it fills me with rage. She writes, “breath in gratitude and out forgiveness.” I’ve never been one to hold onto to resentment, but Strayed offers an understanding that our critical selves can miss entirely. Sometimes all we need is a little perspective.
For the meaning of life seekers and dreamers—this one’s for you.