Life began harshly for Cheryl Strayed, yet it was she who designed her own redemptive ordeal. Early childhood with a brutal father followed by loss of a loving and deeply loved mother knocked her loose from her bearings. She came to believe that a 1,607 mile solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail from southern California to Oregon, would reset and redeem her life. WILD is her story of pain, grit, and heroic will; it made me root for her all the way and feel the triumph of her eventual victory.
There’s a vast literature of suffering yet I’ve never believed that in and of itself it has any inherent value. Those who inflict suffering on others are an existential curse. Those who inflict it on themselves are in dire need of help. Most suffering produces only misery and ends in death, yet somewhere within it flows a current of redemption. Cheryl Strayed found that current and rode it to triumph.
Most religions are built on the promise of redemption, if not in this world, then in the next. They offer hope in the face of hopelessness, which may also be a Darwinian ploy to keep misery from triggering immediate suicide. Hope against hope may have kept alive galley slaves chained to their oars, offered solace to Nazi death camp prisoners, be in the minds of all who know only agony at the edge of survival.
The trial and triumph that urged Cheryl Strayed to stake everything on one desperate chance, from which she emerged whole and splendid, makes me sure that the bit of genetic code that generates dreams of glory is both a cruel chimera and a great gift.