What are you reading?

Elena Cawley 

With so much troubling news and devastation that has hit our country and the world since the beginning of the pandemic, looking for and appreciating beauty and positivity can provide comfort. Coffee County has suffered too many heartbreaking losses lately, reflected on the pages of The Times, stories about mourning, vigils for children, young people and community leaders who died suddenly.

As hard it is for the community to deal with that sadness, the tragedies affect much greater the sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, spouses, brothers, sisters, and other close family members and friends of those who died.

While we will never forget our loved ones who perished, keeping their legacy alive, trying to help others in their memory, and living our lives in a way that’s meaningful and would make them proud would hopefully help lessen the pain.

When I’m sad, I find relief in talking to or reading about people who have battled issues and have found a way to overcome their struggles.

One of my favorite authors, Cheryl Strayed, inspires me to find beauty in simple activities and meaningful relationships.

Strayed suffered tremendous heartbreak. After the death of her mother, Strayed thought her life had no meaning and she lost desire to live and to seek happiness. In her book, “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail,” Strayed described the 1,100-mile hike she completed that helped her find meaning in life again.

You have probably read the book or seen the movie “Wild” (2014), but it’s worth talking about it again.

Strayed wrote, “My father left my life when I was six. My mother died when I was twenty-two. In the wake of her death, my stepfather morphed from the person I considered my dad into a man I only occasionally recognized. My two siblings scattered in their grief, in spite of my efforts to hold us together, until I gave up and scattered as well.”

The journey helped her reimagine the scattered pieces and understand that, while her mother is no longer physically here, her mother’s love will always give Strayed strength, support and meaning.

No encouragement is stronger than that coming from someone who has crossed the edge into desperation, plummeted into the depths of hopelessness and then crawled up to find purpose and peace.

In her book, “Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice of Love and Life from Dear Sugar,” Strayed published a collection of essays she wrote, responding to people who had suffered heartbreaks and reached out to her for guidance. The essays come from Strayed’s “Dear Sugar” advice column, which she wrote anonymously on The Rumpus, an online literary magazine.

In her column, titled The Obliterated Place, Strayed responds to a parent whose son was killed by a drunk driver, writing:

“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…Your boy is dead but he will continue to live within you…The kindest and most meaningful thing anyone ever says to me is: Your mother would be proud of you. Finding a way in my grief to become the woman who my mother raised me to be is the most important way I have honored my mother. It has been the greatest salve to my sorrow. The strange and painful truth is that I’m a better person because I lost my mom young.”

Strayed talks about “Wild” and “Tiny Beautiful Things” on Salon@615, available on nashvillepubliclibrary.org/salonat615. Salon@615 is a partnership between Nashville Public Library, Nashville Public Library Foundation, Parnassus Books, Humanities Tennessee, and BookPage magazine, nurturing and celebrating literature by presenting bestselling authors, according to the Nashville Public Library.

Strayed’s books are available on Libby app, free through the Manchester library.

I’d love to know what you’re reading. Let me know by emailing ecawley@manchestertimes.com.

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