The author of this book, Cheryl Strayed, was wild with rage, anger and pain following the loss of her mother, who succumbed to cancer at age 45. Growing up in a poverty-stricken, fractured family that constantly moved from one shabby place to another, the author had been torn by conflicting emotions for most of her young life. Totally adrift, disgusted and disillusioned with the path her life had taken, including one-night stands with men she barely knew, alcohol and drug use, she was at a breaking point when she happened upon a guide book about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Hardly prepared either physically or emotionally for such an arduous expedition, she nonetheless felt she had nothing more to lose.
So begins her punishing, grueling, tortured hike over extremely rough terrain—dry creek beds and jagged gullies; scorching temperatures reaching over l00 degrees. But it was tempered by majestic mountains, towering trees, and gurgling brooks. This treacherous and dangerous undertaking includes encounters with black bears and rattlesnakes, and she even loses her hiking boots over the side of the mountain. Her extremely heavy backpack, which becomes an appendage she names “The Monster,” cuts into her hips, shoulders, and tailbone, rubbing them raw. Her feet develop painful, bleeding blisters. At one point she has no source of water and becomes seriously dehydrated.
Read this heart-rending account of how this ordeal in the wild is curative, setting her on the right track both literally and figuratively, so that at its end she is able to say that the hole in her heart feels ” infinitesimally smaller.”
This is an inspiring story of not only survival, but also amazing achievement. Born in a poor neighborhood where prostitution, gangs, and drug use were rampant, Sonia Sotomayor also suffered from an extremely unhappy home environment full of turmoil and recrimination. Hers was the humblest of beginnings, further disadvantaged by her father’s alcoholism. While such adversity might have cowered a less resilient and independent child, in Sonia it heightened her awareness of behavior and its consequences, and the problems inherent in poverty and lack of opportunity; bias and bigotry.
Despite her total lack of role models to emulate, she knew at a very young age that education was paramount to success and applied herself with relentless hours to that end. One rather interesting memory from her childhood was her love of the Perry Mason TV series where she was first introduced to the world of courts and lawyers. Even at that young age, it was the role of the judge—calm, impartial, in control—that most appealed to her. Eventually her devotion to study led to scholarships to a number of Ivy League institutions.
Eventually she chose Princeton, but even there she felt that she did not belong; that she was “a stranger in a strange land.” Because she had gained entry through affirmative action, she was sometimes made to feel like an interloper, unworthy of the opportunity bestowed upon her. And so she worked harder and harder to compensate for what she knew to be the gaps in her background. For example, although her intellect was keen, her written work was riddled with grammatical errors as well as Spanish constructions and usage, not surprising for one raised in a Spanish-speaking family.
More troubling for her than these deficiencies, which she compensated for by studying grammar texts and learning ten new vocabulary words each day, were the cultural gaps. She had never seen the richness of Oriental carpets, the smart and expensive attire of most of her classmates, the ease with which they mixed socially, their European travel and trust funds. Even as an accomplished adult many years later, she retained this sense of inferiority when surrounded by wealth and prestige. Fortunately, Ms. Sotomayor had the strength of character, the wisdom gained from a lifetime of adversity, the innate intelligence, determination and work ethic to not only overcome such limitations of background, but to succeed to the high level of appointment to the United States Supreme Court. She is a living example of The American Dream at its best.
Do you prefer to listen more than talk; to while away an evening curled up with a book rather than accept an invitation to a party? Do you prefer to work on tasks alone, preferably in a closed room rather than brainstorm strategies in a group with colleagues? Are you highly empathetic to others’ distress and react keenly to injustice, feel extreme emotions, deplore small talk, have a strong conscience? If so, you may be among the one-third to one-half of those often referred to as introverts. Some mothers become very concerned when their child appears shy or timid when encountering new people and new situations, or when the child’s teacher notices his tendency to avoid social interaction with others. The predominant message in this book is that such a child is okay; that there is nothing wrong with these traits in and of themselves. Don’t think of such “introversion” as something that needs to be cured. Some of the most successful people in the world are/were introverts, including Charles Schwab, Bill Gates, Brenda Barnes, Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, and Dale Carnegie.
Cain asserts that today there is a bias against quiet people, that they are often mistakenly considered hermits or misanthropes since ours is an outwardly oriented society.
Extremely interesting are the many studies she cites, particularly that of Jerome Kagan, a leading Harvard researcher who studied infants’ brains and behaviors at birth and whose work was picked up by his protege, Dr. Carl Schwartz at Massachusetts General Hospital using magnetic resonance imaging when these children grew up. They are the ones credited with the “high-reactive nervous system” theory. They believe that certain temperaments are innate, but also believe that environmental factors can also contribute to introversion. Their studies support the premise that introversion and extroversion are physiologically, even genetically based. Moreover, Schwartz’s studies indicate that high or low reactive temperaments do not disappear in adulthood; that is, a bold or timid personality does not essentially disappear as one matures. Rather the individual can learn strategies to cope with these tendencies.
Donna DeLeo Bruno is a native Bristolian and a retired teacher of writing and literature. She now splits her time between Bristol and Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., where she gives book reviews at the local library as well as at book clubs and women’s clubs. Some of her most enjoyable and relaxing hours are spent reading a book beneath the shade of a tree at the foot of Walley Street with the sun sparkling its reflection on the water.