You know those times in life when you are in between your defining events – like for author Cheryl Strayed, a devastating loss, a soon-to-come successful book (Wild, the account of her trek on the Pacific Crest Trail at a fraught time in her life), the resulting fame. This in between time is fertile soil, maybe because you do things to keep yourself challenged, and because you are the right person for the job, even if it is unpaid. She took a gig writing an online advice column for The Rumpus, but she is no Ann Landers. Her columns, collected in the book Tiny Beautiful Things, are searing, funny, and wise. I recommend it, especially for anyone whose life has been rerouted by the death of a loved one, as the author’s was by the death of her mother while she was in college.
Even better, Tiny Beautiful Things is now a play also, adapted by Nia Vardalos of Greek Wedding fame, backed by actress and producer Rita Wilson. I saw it in Chicago recently with several friends who know loss when we see it, and we found it, well, searing, funny, and wise. The letter writers become characters, posing their queries in person to the columnist, who roams the stage to answer them on the spot.
There is more here than just grief, but once you get to know grief, it becomes easy to see that it underlies many of the other dilemmas of life – relationships gone bad, wished-for outcomes that didn’t come, mounting disappointments.
The answers we are all looking for are about how to find our way to hope again, how to traverse a trail you can barely make out, and Strayed is a worthy guide who fervently believes that hope is there waiting, if only we will keep going.
I hope you will read the book. I hope you are lucky enough to see the play, which is being produced in eleven places in the U.S. It is easy to tell that it all came from real lives – the author’s, the letter-writers’, landing with the audience who has been there too