Word of the Week 5: Bray
Welcome to Wednesday Word of the Week, a hump-day cyber celebration of skillful and felicitous word choice selected from my current reading.
This week I am backtracking five months to revisit possibly the best book I have read in the last half decade: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed’s acclaimed and joltingly poignant memoir of confronting both an untamed land and her own wild heart.
At twenty-six, still mourning the untimely death of her counter-culture mother, and burdened with a series of wrong steps and bad decisions, the author embarks on a grueling journey of self-discovery and healing. Woefully unprepared, she sets out to hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest trail—alone—from the Mohave Desert in California, through Oregon, to the Colombia River Gorge in southern Washington.
It is an amazing adventure; but this is not simply an adventure story. Rather, through seamlessly integrated flashbacks, we witness nothing short of a catharsis, of redemption through pain, of transcendence through struggle.
At the heart of that struggle is not only the young woman’s ultimate acceptance of the loss of her mother to cancer at the age of forty-six, but her forgiveness of the way her mother lived her life. It is in a final passage on this theme that, in a howl of futility and rage, the author lends to this week’s mundane word a new, searing power to move.
“And then I wailed. No tears came, just a series of loud brays that coursed through my body so hard I couldn’t stand up. I had to bend over keening, while bracing my hands on my knees, my pack so heavy on top of me, my ski pole clanging out behind me in the dirt, the whole stupid life I’d had coming out my throat.”
Wild is one of the most heart-wrenching, skillfully constructed, lyrical, honest, and successfully realized memoirs I’ve come across in years. If you’ve read it, I’d love to hear how it affected you.
And, if you’ve encountered a use of a word or phrase that has stopped you in your reading tracks this week, consider sharing it here.