I had the pleasure of talking with a friend tonight. One who is particularly special to me; she inadvertently helped me learn how to be strong, confident, and inordinately proud to be a woman. I met her while hiking last year, and our conversations always assist me in processing my experiences and feelings on the hike, what I’ve taken from it, and where it is taking me in this walk called life.
We discussed who we are, how fortunate we are to have experienced what we did, how blessed we are to have made what we have of this incredible experience. We discussed how hard it is to share our thoughts and feelings with friends who aren’t hikers because they simply don’t understand. They want us to share our experiences wrapped up in a pretty little package with a bow and maybe a few sparkles. The fact is though, that there isn’t a little package. Nor are there any sparkles. Our 7 months spent living in the earthly environs of The Appalachian Trail were messy, dirty, and unforgiving; wonderfully amazing, lesson-filled, and utterly and perfectly life-changing. To describe such an endeavor succinctly and tied with a bow is quite simply impossible.
We agreed that we both look at life in an entirely different way at this juncture—and for the first time, I was able to put some words to this new view. It goes something like this:
I am learning to accept that my new world-view is quite different from the whole of society, and as I navigate this realization, I have to alter my reactions accordingly. The other night, I attended a concert at a nearby venue with my sister. It was a small space (thankfully—I still find that I struggle in large, loud crowds) and we were there with a group of my sister’s friends. The opening performer was Chelsea Shag. I knew nothing of her before this event, and rather enjoyed her quirky artistry and unique style. She was dressed in layers; a long-sleeved gray sweatshirt under a funky, bubble gum pink wrappy, flowy-sleeved…thing, and semi fitted, deep red/marron, velvety lounge pants which were cuffed in elastic a little below mid-calf. She has long, light brown hair which would likely be referred to in a fantasy novel as “the color of spun silk,” and a naturally pretty face with little makeup used only to accentuate her gorgeous features, adding no sparkle or glitz. One of my sister’s friends made multiple comments on all of this; first on her choice of clothing and its eclectic-ness, then on her down-played makeup and the fact that she “needed more eye makeup, something to match the rest of the look.” Clearly, she and I were seeing two different women up there on that stage. My hiker trained self, saw a beautiful, confident young woman sharing her gift with a group of people who were enjoying it. This very friendly, well-intentioned woman saw a ball of quirks; a girl who needs to change herself to fit into some mold which is deemed acceptable by our society. I often did too, before March of last year. I saw flaws in everything: In people I didn’t know, I judged people of whose lives I had no knowledge. And I’m ashamed of this—I am left feeling grateful that I no longer see the world in this way. My new self, however, took the opportunity to tell this person that the woman on stage is perfectly herself up there on stage, dressed as she is and with little makeup used only to highlight the aforementioned quietly pretty face that is.
My world is now made up of many fragments, prisms. Each is bright and glittery, unique to my life, a single piece of the whole that makes me, me. And each of these pieces which make me are joined by each of the pieces which make all of us. In looking at the world this way, it can be nothing else perfectly unique and strikingly, imperfectly Stunning!
I’m grateful to The Trail, its earth, its trees, its essence, and its community for granting me this gift. This gift, this greatest treasure ever afforded me, has changed my entire sense of being. It has changed the very core of who I am. This recognition leaves me quite breathless. I’m left in awe of the power of an experience I couldn’t have imagined; an experience which can’t ever be summed up at all. Just as the trail is a living thing, the lessons learned are living and ever-changing. They are powerful and life-altering. They encourage me to seek discomfort and strive for growth; allow me to trust that my individual process is mine alone, and that it will not fail me. Not now, not ever. It never would.