Susie and I went to see Wild today. It’s the new movie starring Reese Witherspoon as Carol Slayed in the true story of her solo hike of the Pacific Coast Trail. The story resonated with me because I kept relating her experiences with similar experiences I had while cycling cross country. I loved the movie but realize I’m biased by my recent adventure. Susie liked it too, so I guess it is a good movie.
An experience like this definitely changes a person. I believe each one of us has some experience that we can benefit from having. For me it was the bike ride. For others it’s a long hike, or a meditation retreat, or an Ironman. I don’t know how many experiences qualify. It has to force you to be alone with yourself for an extended period of time. You’ll be forced to use some of that time to get to know yourself, and then you’ll be forced to wrestle with things about yourself that you try to ignore most of the time. And finally, if it’s the right experience, you’ll have to forgive yourself (and others). From that moment on, you’ll be a noticeably different person.
I have a great neice, Vivian. She’s about two years old. She has never liked me. If I’m in the same room, she runs to hide behind someone else. If I talk to her she starts to frown. If I touch her, she screams inconsolably. On Christmas, I was sitting at the table when Vivian and her mother arrived at my sister’s. I called out to her from across the room so she would be sure to notice I was there and could maintain enough distance for her own comfort. Vivian ran acros the room with her arms wide open and jumped into my lap. She gave me a kiss and began to babble at me in her two year old language. The room went completely silent, which is a neat trick with my family. Vivian and I get along swimmingly now.
The next day, I went with Susie to feed Nike, the Helmuth’s rather anti-social cat. In the entire time they’ve had Nike, he’s never stayed in the same room with me. In fact, he wouldn’t even stay on the same floor of the house. This time, he ignored Susie and came over to rub against my leg. He let me reach down to pet him for a moment.
These two events reminded me of something my Big Mama used to tell me: Babies and animals are excellent judges of character. I don’t know if I ever believed that statement, but the response I got from Vivian and Nike made me feel like whatever changed in me when I was on the road has become permanent to some degree. A big enough degree that the babies and animals can tell.
I enjoy the world so much more now. It was during the movie that I realized what it is. I have been telling people that I discovered during my ride that I liked me. Actually it was during my ride that I found the strength to forgive myself, and that allowed me to forgive others. Now instead of collecting and cataloging grievances, I spend more time noticing good and beauty all around me. You can only find it if you look.