I often let my blog posts simmer in my mind for a bit. An idea might take root but I give it time until it's clear what my message will be. This post has probably been the one I've mulled over the longest so far, and has been harder to write, but I think it's important to share.
I've mentioned before that one of the main reasons I am hiking the AT is to experience the community along the way. After what happened to me in San Francisco, I lost faith in other people. I feared meeting strangers and saw them as potential dangers; I constantly worried about my safety and the safety of others. I didn't recognize this until I was on the John Muir Trail with my cousin and witnessed her openness toward the other hikers along the way. I remember wanting to share in that connection but was held back by insecurity. I wasn't ready to trust again.
In therapy, I worked hard on exploring those fears and regained some of my extroverted nature. Still, my world in Charlottesville felt small and I felt called to explore the bond that ties thru hikers together. That, among many other reasons, is what inspired my hike.
So a few weeks ago when I hit the Trail Magic jackpot, I was overjoyed. I left with a full belly, but more importantly a deep appreciation for uninhibited kindness. I called my parents the next morning, though, and my Mom said something that has stuck with me.
"What if someone had hurt you again? How would you come back from that?"
I'll admit, while I'm doing my best to be safe and aware, at the time that thought hadn't crossed my mind out here. Yes, people do bad things to each other for no reason at all; I am painfully aware of that fact. And yes, something could very well happen to me again, which would be devastating.
And yet, in that moment, I actually felt a calmness wash over me. The fear that had paralyzed me in so many situations seemed, in a way, ridiculous. Living with the constant awareness that someone could hurt me would also require missing out on the magical experiences I've shared in these past few months. It's a risk, true, but one I find I'm now willing to take.
I can't give the AT all of the credit for helping me reach this point. Just a few months ago, I struggled with my therapist about how life would still be painful. At the time, I felt that people should have some sort of "pain quota," that once something truly life-changingly horrible happens to someone, they should get to float through the rest of life pain free. It sounds silly now, but it took me a while to come to terms with the fact that it wasn't realistic. There will be sadness, there will be tragedy, and there will be pain. That's life.
Accepting that has helped me realize that I am stronger than I've ever given myself credit for. I have spent almost all of the past four years crawling out of a dark place and into one where I feel whole again. Should something horrible happen again, should someone destroy my trust in others, I will recover. And I will work just as hard to regain the perspective I have now from this journey.
I don't think I could have fully understood this lesson if I hadn't ventured onto the Trail. Out here, I have come to accept that there will always be more climbs. Difficulties and challenges await, and it is all we can do to meet them head on. That, and perhaps along the way share in the connection that makes our journey worth it.