A few days ago, I shared my impressions of two books I’ve recently read, Educated by Tara Westover and Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. Both books are marvelous; both are about strength, determination, and becoming.
Educated is a memoir, and Tiny Beautiful Things is a compilation of advice columns–sort sort of. Strayed’s letters are more like what our writing group calls “pieces,” thoughtful and unique ones. Tonight I’m focusing on the letters to and from Sugar. Regardless of the topic, Strayed doesn’t candy coat her responses or pull any punches. And yet…and yet, no one who reads them could dispute her genuine concern and compassion for her advice seekers.
Cheryl Strayed is a writer, not a therapist, and says she’s “totally unqualified for this gig.” Don’t believe it. Strayed knows the power of story, and in most of her messages, she includes a story about herself or someone she knows. And the writing is soooo good! In one column, she quotes Italian writer Carlo Levi who said, “The future has an ancient heart,” and while I was pondering what that meant, Strayed wrote, “…that who we become is born of what we most primitively are; that we both know and cannot possibly know what it is we’ve yet to make manifest in our lives.”
Every page is filled with sound advice written in a no-nonsense manner that forces the reader to sit up and take notice. There’s humor. But mostly there’s support and insight. Of all the chapters, the most heartrending is “The Obliterated Place.” Like many (most) of the columns, it can (and should be) read again and again. The most encouraging is “The Other End of the Pool,” a must-read for parents struggling to help their children launch.
Both books inspired and enlightened me. Educated reminded me of the reality of a transitional person, someone who breaks the cycle of negative behavior and/or harmful practices that get passed from generation to generation. One person who says, “No more,” and walks away from a background of abuse, drugs, and poverty can change the future of an entire family. Education and encouragement can help, and so can a strong sense of self and the determination to keep walking toward the light.
Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things reminded me of the prevalence of human suffering and the part we can play in easing one another’s burdens. “Nobody will protect you from your suffering,” Strayed says. “Do the work. Keep the faith. Be true blue.”