I’ve been reading Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail, and I’m just about done. I heard Cheryl speak at a conference at the beginning of the month and decided to check the book out of the library the next week. The loss of her mother and subsequent deterioration of her marriage and destruction of herself led to her decision to find herself and answers to questions about herself while hiking 11,000 miles over 100 days. Aren’t we all searching for our truth in some way? I may not need to hike along the west coast to find mine, but reading Cheryl’s story in her own voice reminded me of how important it is to be able to tell my own story, in my voice. To have a me for me before being a she for someone else – to strip away all associations, affiliations, obligations and distractions and focus solely on who I am by myself. How much can my body and mind handle? What’s my limit?
The book reminded me of a former life goal of mine: A few years ago, I looked into what it would take to become an Outdoors Woman in my home state of New York. I was convinced it was something this former Girl Scout should pursue, but I didn’t. I finished graduate school and got a higher-paying job instead. Reading the book has reignited that spark to revisit the outdoors, though. I should be able to pitch tent and camp by myself for a few nights with confidence. I’ve shared this with Mr, and of course, he thinks it’s something we should do together. I agree, and yet I have the burning desire to do this alone… first.
First of all, it’s my goal. I want to do it on my own – for me. Not every activity or event is meant to be shared. It’s so important to keep something for myself. Women don’t do that very well. I don’t think it’s because we’re particularly generous that we give so much of ourselves away. Dare I say we’re a bit reckless and irresponsible with ourselves? I’ll be his woman. I’ll be her assistant. I’ll be their mother. I’ll be her confidante. I’ll be his right hand. We push and peg ourselves into so many positions contingent on someone else’s existence and expectations that when we get lost in them and they let us down, we’re devastated. Meanwhile, men don’t do this in this way. Why is that? Men have their poker nights, their sport-watching, their time and space completely unencumbered by the burden of disruption caused by relation to other people for moments, days, hours, years on end if they’d like. They pursue their goals, and we help them while putting our own on hold. I’m not about that life.
And I’d love to go camping with Mr. We talk about it all the time; however, the reality is that Mr has chosen to be an entrepreneur and is building his business. He currently works 12 hours per day, 6 days per week. He is also a student working toward his bachelor’s degree, and he is a father. When is Mr going camping in the foreseeable future? He’s not. At best, Mr and I can enjoy a day trip until he either strikes it rich or we’re much older. So I know when Mr asks to be a part of my dreams and goals, it’s a tall, ambitious order that goes deep into the future. To ask me to put my dreams on hold so that we can share them together in some unknown, unseen, far off future is unfair and absurd, but Mr is not exempt from unfairness and absurdity. None of us are.
Throughout her story, Cheryl reflects on the many things her mother taught her, showed her, said to her, left her with before dying from cancer at age 45. That, in turn, led me to think about the teachings and lessons from my mother. I hold a few of the many nuggets of wisdom close to my heart: Prayer works. Love and fear God. Family matters. Be a good friend. Smile more. Wake up early and get stuff done. Enjoy education, and love learning. Most of all though, I remember sitting in the passenger seat of my mother’s car driving not so far from our house and she said, “When you have a house, make sure there’s a room in there just for you. Make space for yourself. Don’t give that space up.”
Most of her life, my mother didn’t have a room to herself. She grew up the baby of seven children in rural Jamaica. I am not sure of the dimensions, but in the ’50s in rural Jamaica, my mother’s childhood home was not much. I’m sure “meager accommodations” is a fair summation of the place, and I’m quite convinced that my mother could not have possibly had her own room. Then she went to school, where she had roommates. Then she lived as a young woman with her best friend and another friend. She took in her niece. Then she got married. Her mother and sister soon moved in. I was born. Space became a sanctuary for my mom – one she sought and craved – for most of my life. If I learned nothing else from my mom, I learned to fear the Lord and keep my personal space sacred lest I lose it and spend the rest of my life trying to reclaim and rest in it again.
When I met Mr he lived alone. Now Mr’s living situation is a challenge for him and, consequently, our relationship. He doesn’t have space. He knows it’s a problem. When I make the 5-hour journey to New York, we rarely sleep under the same roof, or in the same bed, for lack of space. I stay with my family or friends. We look forward to living under the same roof as man and wife, in what will most likely be the opposite of any spacious living quarters. When we talk about what we look forward to most in marriage, it is often something along the lines of “waking up together” or “going to bed together.” We both want to be together – in each others’ physical presence – very much. But I’ll still carve out my space, no doubt, in meditative moments, quiet devotion to God early in the morning before Mr likes to be awake, on running trails, on my bicycle, in lanes of the public pool doing laps. I’m looking forward to it in a way – my shared, domesticated life in our home balancing my free, individual existence in the wild.
Every woman should have a wild space, and any woman who hasn’t gone on some journey, alone, into a wild place of her own volition should do it before it’s too late. That’s just my opinion, though. Do what you feel.