In early 2012 I read Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed. It was especially poignant for me at the time, since Cheryl chronicles her mother's illness and death, which launches her into the most difficult period of her life and inspires her to walk the Pacific Crest Trail. The period of time when I read the book coincided with the loss of my own Mother in June 2012.
So many times I found myself smiling, nodding, and sobbing along with this story. Cheryl touched upon the desperation of being stripped of your loved one, the shock at the way cancer robs you, and grief the way no one had for me so far, or since:
"...I felt myself splitting in two. There was the woman I was before my mom died and the one I was now, my old life sitting on the surface of me like a bruise. The real me was beneath that, pulsing under all the things I used to think I knew."
Cheryl is a fantastic writer. She used to write the Dear Sugar column for the Rumpus. Vulture just posted excerpts from some of her best columns if you're interested in getting into them. Some of them (like Tiny Beautiful Things) take my breath away every single time. Excellent pieces to go back to when you need some grounding.
This afternoon I was in the checkout line at the grocery store and there was an small, frail elderly woman - probably over 75 years old - in line in front of me. Her total was just over $7 and she was trying to write a check, which for whatever bureaucratic or store process-driven reason wasn't working and they wouldn't accept. She was about to leave without her food. I couldn't even tell you what she had, but it was one small bag and one of the items on the screen was chicken thighs.
I tapped her on the shoulder and said, "Don't worry, I've got it." She seemed surprised because she just stood there for a moment, like she didn't understand what was going on. It must happen so rarely, because the cashier was also completely perplexed. "So, do you want me to just add yours to her bill, or...?"
"Yes. Please just keep scanning and I'll pay for all of it at the end."
I don't want or need accolades; I did it because it was The Right Fucking Thing to do. We could all be doing this. We should be. Looking out for each other, watching for the less fortunate among us. Everything I was buying was a luxury - as in, I didn't really need it - and it occurs to me that even when we feel we're living on a limited budget, perhaps compared to how we lived last year or in our last job or in our last city, we still have Plenty.
I'm trying, all the time, very hard, to be the woman my mother raised.
"Travel. See the world", she said to me. "That experience, it's one thing no one can take away from you." Okay, Ma. Let's see what we did.
New Cities 2014: Baton Rouge, Marrakech, Tinghir, Erg Chebbi, Sevilla, Cordoba, Birmingham
Stay tuned for the wanderings of 2015. It's going to be a doozy.