There is a reason we use the words breaking up when we talk about ending a relationship. It can leave you feeling collapsed, damaged.
That’s how I felt when my boyfriend and I split up about a year ago. And I didn’t want to deal with it. So I jumped in with my sister and her family who were leaving for the weekend on a camping trip, out of the reach of his text messages, emails and phone calls.
On the way out of town, I bought, simply on impulse, two or three books to keep my mind occupied. One of those books was “Wild,” by Cheryl Strayed.
She told how her mother had recently died and her young marriage just failed, and she felt lost. With little preparation and even less experience, she filled her backpack and headed out on the Pacific Crest Trail.
As I read her story, camping myself just a couple of miles from the trail, I went along for the journey. I didn’t climb the hills, blistering my feet and losing toenails, but I ached with her heartache and looked for my resolutions as she searched for her own.
My weekend spent virtually hiking the Pacific Crest Trail was healing.
When I came back, I loaned the book to my co-worker Julie McManus. Where I found a metaphorical transformation from the book, she found inspiration to make a physical one. Shortly after reading it, she started planning her own months-long hike along the trail with her two sisters, Seana and Tara.
More than once, she tried to convince me to join her. More than once, I explained to my 22-year-old friend that I have a career and bills and responsibilities (and I use all of those words lightly), and I can’t just up and leave.
Until it hit me. About two months ago, the thought just struck me. Maybe I can’t leave for two months, but I could leave for two or three weeks.
So I requested the time off and started the monumental task of acquiring everything I’ll need to live like a nomad. Just as things started coming together, my own dad died, knocking my feet out from under me — drawing an even greater parallel to the book that had inspired the whole thing.
But I knew more than ever, I needed to go on this trip.
Some people are supportive, some are worried. Some are credulous. I get asked a lot, “Why would you want to do something like that?” It’s usually followed up by a more probing question like, “Are you trying to ‘find yourself’ or something?”
It reminds me of a trip I took shortly after Sept. 11 to South Korea and China with a group of friends taking advantage of the low airfare and an acquaintance living in Seoul. The guy I was dating at the time (sorry so much ex-boyfriend talk …), could not understand why I wanted to go when the best answer I could give him was, just to see it.
The most honest answer still is, I don’t know. On Sunday, I’m just picking up my backpack and walking into the woods with the McManus sisters. I don’t have any grand expectations of personal epiphany or a greater insight into my life.
In fact, as I find myself again a little broken, a little collapsed, I’m looking forward to no expectations at all. And maybe in letting go, there will be healing.