My son and I were well-settled into our seats on United Airlines, ready for the long flight back over the pond, when he held up his phone and showed me what he was listening to: Fleetwood Mac. Stevie Nicks singing Silver Springs. Live. I plugged in my headphones and searched my iPod for the same song.
We’d had an incredible time and incredible good luck touring around London for a week. Like the day we showed up at Parliament just in time to hear them argue (so politely, and yet screaming) about health care in The House of Commons. Like when we showed up to tour St. Paul’s Cathedral and the children’s choir was practicing, so that while we stood on the tombstones of favorite poets and writers, our own very-real angels sang for us.
But oh man, the nights. After all the bad news from home, it was so damned hard to settle down at night and shut my mind off, to settle in for the nights, to relax, even after walking for hours and miles in rain and wind.
1 am. 2 am. 3 am. Tired? Not me. I had my eReader with me, so I scrolled through my dozens of options, only to come up with nothing. If only, I thought, I wasn’t so distracted and sad. If only I didn’t have the attention span of a fucking gnat…
I scrolled on. I stopped when I saw Cheryl Strayed’s name. We’d just walked by the London Ritz earlier that day, and I’d remembered seeing a photo of Cheryl in front of the Ritz the week before. She was just here, I thought. I’m here.
Hey. I’m. Here. And I did the thing that seemed most right. I clicked on the picture of a brown boot and found myself reading, re-reading for the 3rd time and hearing, a familiar voice. “The trees were tall, but I was taller, standing above them on a steep mountain slope in northern California.” The first line of WILD.
For the next many nights in London, and on our United Airlines flight home, I read chapter after chapter of WILD. Every night I walked along the Pacific Coast Trail with Cheryl and her story and it was like hearing a familiar and comforting bedtime story. I boarded the flight home with just a few chapters to go, starting with #18, Queen of the PCT, and felt like I, too, was on the homestretch.
Cheryl Strayed. Stevie Nicks. What would it be like to write prose like that, lyrics like that? You certainly can’t know you’re doing it when you’re sitting alone in your room with blank piece of paper. Yet, you’re doing it. You are. And then you’ve done it.
I re-read the words in WILD, walked step by painful step along that trail, and made it all the way to the end. I listened, as loud as I could stand it, over and over to every single Stevie Nicks song in my iPod. And I arrived, finally, in San Francisco. It felt like the longest flight of my life. I didn’t think I’d make it. Thank you, Cheryl and Stevie, for your voices, and for getting me home.
What gets you home these days?