I’ve felt loss, but I’ve never felt loss in the way that Cheryl Strayed has. I was introduced to Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found by my photography tutor six years ago, when I was 20. It had similarities to my mum's story; both Cheryl and my mum had lost their mother's in their early twenties. I was making a photographic series about my mum's experience of loss, and Wild became part of my research, then part of my inspiration, until it became one of my favourite books of all time.
Wild is about a journey of self-discovery, one which anyone can embark on. It is relatable to everybody and anybody who has felt a sense of distinct emptiness, lack of direction, or depression. Strayed was heartbroken, lost, and without a sense of self after losing her mother. She wanted to feel in control of her broken life, but she also wanted to escape it. She embarks on the journey on the Pacific Crest Trail completely alone, with nobody to fall back on but herself. It is this magical sense of self-dependency that I long for, and something that Strayed inspires through her story. Wild teaches you that no matter how lost a person can feel, there is always light. No matter how many awful days full of despair, there is hope. Strayed’s writing makes me feel as though I can accomplish anything and everything. It makes me realise that we must help ourselves, we must pull ourselves out of the darkness, and if Strayed can, so can we.
There is something innately wonderful in that this story is about a woman walking the entire Pacific Crest Trail alone, despite the fear of something bad happening. As Strayed writes, the worst thing had already happened to her, so it didn’t matter anymore. People thought she was crazy walking alone, camping alone in the darkness. We (women) often live our nights walking in the dark in fear, taught in school to hold our keys in our hands through our fingers- we dream of a world we can walk in the darkness and listen to our music and not feel scared.
Strayed walks in the darkness despite what the world tells her. And perhaps she is only fearless because she feels broken, but her fearlessness is inspiring. Why shouldn’t she walk alone? Her story gives us hope. Her story makes us believe that we can accomplish the impossible. She never thought she could do it, heal her broken heart, or walk the entire trail, but she did. I’m sure she never believed she would write a book about it, but she did. Now she inspires so many people with her story. I feel changed since reading Wild around six years ago now. And I won’t tire of reading it again and again.
There is nothing more beautiful than pulling yourself out of the darkness- alone. Strayed teaches us that it is no easy journey, it’s full of self-doubt, tears, emptiness, loneliness, but eventually it is full of self-discovery, of finding an innate self of sense- something that Strayed discovers amongst nature, the most powerful force on our planet. I, too, found my sense of self in nature, but this sense of self has to be continually nurtured. Although Strayed gives us hope that there is light, the darkness can try and pull us back in again, and it is up to us to stop it enveloping us completely.
By Bianca Forte