Amanda Gates

Book: Tiny Beautiful Things

When I was in college there was a boy (of course there was). I really liked this boy and we hung out a lot. However, while he wanted to hang with me all the time, he would tell me he didn’t want a relationship, even though he really liked me, that it was fun to just hang with me, blah blah blah. Because I liked him so much and he was fun to be around, and because he just kept calling me to hang out, I kept it up for several months. One day I was talking to a very wise coworker about the situation. I told her that it hurt that he didn’t want to be more than friends (well, sometimes more), I still held out hope and wanted to keep seeing him because I missed him and was sad when we didn’t see each other.

She told me, “Go right ahead. But there will come a time when it will hurt more to be with him than to be without him, and that’s when you’ll stop.”

And she was right. That time came, I stopped hanging out with him, and while it hurt, it didn’t hurt as much as giving my feelings over to someone who didn’t reciprocate. I never forgot her advice.

Reading Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things reminded me of this moment in my life. Strayed is the voice behind an advice column called Dear Sugar and Tiny Beautiful Things is a compilation of some of her best advice. She gives advice on sex, love, finances, abuse and much more. Her advice is wise and spot on, plus just beautifully written. She can take bits from her own messed up life and turn those stories around and dole out sage advice. Some of the letters and her following advice can make you laugh, cry or just shake your head.

The interesting thing? With every letter, I would give the exact same advice (not as eloquently, but exactly the same in theme). Because with every problem, there really, truly is a best path; a best perspective. But when you’re in the situation? When you’re continuing to hang with the boy who doesn’t return your affections? You can’t see it. Your situation seems impossible, like there is no answer. But from the outside, either as Strayed or as the reader, the solution seems so easy: leave, stay, buck up, shut up, get help, etc.

This doesn’t make the book less interesting by any means. It’s completely interesting and touching and so many of her stories and advice struck home with me. When a mid-20s college graduate complained that her parents weren’t helping her with her student loans (how can I possibly get out from under these without their help, they’re being selfish, etc.), Strayed told her to “grow up, people do it all the time.” Love that. When a fiancé didn’t know if he was responding well to his partner’s grief over losing her mother, Strayed said all he needed to do (for the rest of their lives) was listen and say I’m sorry, over and over, even if it felt like the most lame, unhelpful response. Yes. When a mother whose six-month-old was having surgery to remove a tumor and she was questioning a God who would do such a thing, Strayed (who doesn’t believe in God) gave the most eloquent response, asking why we only question God when something goes bad in OUR lives. Bad things happen all the time to everyone. In fact, Jesus, a human man, died on a cross and suffered quite a bit but also endured. She reminds us to find God within our hard times – friends who help you, strangers who reach out – rather than wondering where the hell he went.

It’s like throughout the book she offers the most obvious advice, but it’s advice that we tend to forget. It’s like when bad things happen to us, we lose all sight of common sense. Some situations in the book I’ve been in, some I’m in right now, some I hope to never be in. But, I would love (though it’s pretty impossible) to remember every piece of advice she offers and then keep remembering it the next time I find myself lost within a problem or situation. The answer is there, always, we just have to let ourselves find it and then trust it.

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