An Open Thank You Note To Cheryl Strayed

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Your tiny book taught me how to love and live

Dear Cheryl,

If there are only two more words you read in this letter, let them be: Thank you.

I first learned of tiny beautiful things last summer. It came highly recommended by a mentor. Me in my late twenties and she in her early thirties, we often discussed how we teeter between dichotomous feelings of intimacy and isolation.

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-R.M. Drake

I bought it and started reading that evening. Expecting something like Wild, I approached the book with an intellectual lens, in search of a deep and lengthy literary arc. For obvious reasons, the short anecdotes were a letdown. Dismissive of the content, I refused to let my guard down. “These questions are annoying. These responses are annoying,” I thought with each page turn. I ultimately decided to pause on the book and wait for a better time. I believe that much like when people enter our lives, there is a “right” time for certain books—ones that matter— to enter our lives.

At that point, I instead opted for Saramago’s The History of the Siege of Lisbon. Talk about an opposite end of the spectrum. I think there’s one period in the entire first chapter.

Last December, for some inexplicable reason, I glided toward your unmistakable orange spine in my bookshelf, and sat down for my second attempt.

This time, I soaked in every word on every page. While there were some letters with which I couldn’t connect, and others whose contents I pray will never apply to me, there were ones that fluttered toward my chest and settled down at the core of my heart.

I got perspective. I found meaning. I felt emotion. It was clear to me that I would read many of these stories again and again as my life went on.

***

My dad tucked me in to bed every night of my childhood. When this ritual began, it consisted of his coming into my room, closing my window, and saying good night. Occasionally he would kiss the air near my cheek.

One evening when I was seven, I stopped him short of “good night.”

“I made a poem that we can say to each other every night,” I said.

Visibly taken aback by my disruption of the routine, he responded, “What is it?”

“I’ll say it then you repeat it,” I said with my last strain of confidence. I took a deep breath. Despite the fact that I was lying in bed with all of Earth’s gravity pushing down on me, my heart was beating up against it, a mile a minute. I started: “Good night…” I stopped.

I started again, this time with rhythm in a sing-song voice.

Good night
I love you
Sweet Dreams
And buh bye

My dad looked at me. I snapped shut my eyelids to avoid eye contact. “Good night, I love you,” I opened my eyes. “…Sweet dreams, and Buh bye.”

He stood there for a moment, both of us allowing the comfortable silence to linger. He turned away to leave. I smiled.

I had always wanted to tell my dad that I loved him. But I didn’t know how. I-love-you wasn’t a sequence of words repeated in our household. Not because there wasn’t any love, but more likely because my mom and dad’s expressions of love were influenced by that of their traditional Indian upbringing: Ones that were void of visible or audible displays of affection.

The poem was my clever way of expressing my feelings. I could pass it off as an intellectual piece of work, just like the activities I did in school.

From then through my early teenage years, my dad’s good night ritual included a recitation of the poem, which I recited back.

My use of the word “recitation” is deliberate. There wasn’t much emotion behind the words. They were forever a string of three words I had cunningly snuck into a poem.

I learned, over the years, that masking one’s feelings is a sign of strength. Whether it was in the classroom, on the soccer field, or in social situations, I wore a mask of tempered stoicism.

Transitioning into my post-college work life, this lesson was only further validated for me. I read that being sensitive and emotional — characteristics typically attributed to women — could curtail career success (Imagine the hatred I felt toward myself for months after I burst into tears in front of my CEO). I heard from another Sheryl to seize opportunities that come my way by being more assertive and confident regardless of any insecurity or anxiety I might truly feel. I gathered from politics that I should hide any “inconsistencies” in my mood as it may put into question my leadership skills.

You see Cheryl, until I read your book, I was never taught that it is not only okay, but necessary to acknowledge that I have feelings, and to listen to them. Before reading, I believed that showing emotion was a sign of weakness. I was blind to the fact that being vulnerable is the only way to experience life.

Now, after reading tiny beautiful things, I am more comfortable allowing my emotion to drive my actions. This includes acts like saying “thank you” to my parents and sending love notes to friends. I’ve let myself be visibly sad and mad and glad and all those other instinctive responses that seem to come so easy to kids. While I still consider context, I hold back from holding it all in. I feel like a more natural human being.

I am, because of you, more whole. This is a tiny beautiful thing.

Thank you for teaching me how to infuse logic with love.

With love,
Rohini

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One Thought to “An Open Thank You Note To Cheryl Strayed”

  1. Nichole

    A beautiful response to a beautiful book. Well-said, as always.
    x np

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