Tiny Beautiful Things (2012) is a collection of advice columns penned by Cheryl Strayed, the formerly anonymous author of “Dear Sugar” for the Rumpus. It takes readers on a beautiful but sorrowful journey through the different stages of our lives.
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Do you ever find yourself feeling lost in life? Searching for answers at every turn, only to find a new question in your way as soon as you’ve managed to answer the last?
If so, you’re not alone. And if you said no, then perhaps you need to think about it for a little bit longer.
The truth is that no one has just the right answers. Not this summary, not any book, no one. The reality is that instead of answers, we really only have our own experiences to share and the advice that others can give us.
Cheryl Strayed, the author of Tiny Beautiful Things, thoughtfully constructed this part memoir, part advice column based on her “Dear Sugar” advice column to help us find the beauty in places that we wouldn’t normally expect it to be. She admits that her advice isn’t based “necessarily on the right-wrong continuum” but that there should be a variety of factors that go into making appropriate decisions in life. And what are those? Well, they include self-realization, acceptance, forgiveness, and resilience. desperation, and redemption.
In this summary, we’ll take you through some of the most important key insights of these factors to discuss the difficulties and beauty of the different stages of our lives.
And with that, let’s dive in.
Acceptance of Life and Death
Questions surrounding life and death can either be very broad or very specific. It’s easy to wonder when you’ll die, how you’ll die, or whether it’ll be painful. But these aren’t the kinds of questions that the author Cheryl Strayed chooses to dwell on.
She focuses on stories with harrowing questions full of substance, pain, desperation, and beauty. Depression and grieving were common themes throughout her column.
When we’re depressed or grieving, it often feels like there’s no way out. We feel ashamed and hide ourselves from the world. But Strayed emphasizes that while difficult, we need to be open about how we’re feeling. We need to talk to others and tell them that we’re not okay and that we’re struggling.
One gentleman seeking advice described being stuck in his own personal hell following the death of his son, who’d been killed by a drunk driver some years earlier. He expressed his regrets about things he could have said or done differently – something we’re all guilty of feeling when a loved one passes. He wondered how on earth he could move on.
The reality was that he’d already started to move on and that he’ll continue to do so. Moving on doesn’t mean forgetting, it means finding your inner healing place.
Healing is a different process for everyone. The most important thing you can do is carry on the memory of your loved ones in whatever way you can.
Most people struggling with depression or the process of grieving describe feeling lost. What they don’t realize is how much hope they truly have. The first sign of hope is that they’re reaching out for help. They want to heal, they just don’t know how to.
The first step is usually acceptance. And acceptance is of major importance in this next story.
A woman who wrote to Strayed lived in constant fear that she’d end up diagnosed with cancer. It was a common disease in her family. She’d lost her father to liver cancer, her grandmother to a brain tumor, and while her mother survived her battle with breast cancer, it essentially broke her.
This woman called herself “Scared of the Future.” She was thinking much too heavily about this aspect of life because she was too afraid she’d become ill. She wondered how she could plan for her future when her future wasn’t guaranteed.
It’s important to realize that none of our futures are guaranteed whether we’re ill or not. If we want to learn how to live, we have to accept that.
At the same time, it’s completely normal to question your future. It makes it difficult not to when you have a voice in your head that likes to control you.
Strayed’s advice to anyone dealing with this kind of dilemma is that fear should never overpower your ability to be rational about your own mortality. The more you tell yourself that your future is doomed, the more you’re robbing yourself of the life that you truly deserve.
A lot of key messages concerning life, death, grieving, and healing are the same. They all take some sort of acceptance.
In our first example, the father had to accept that his son is no longer alive and that he has to find a way to continue on without him. Things won’t get better without your loved ones, but coping with their loss will get easier.
For this father, and for anyone who has lost a loved one, it’s the opportunity of having known that person and carrying on their memory that should give us reason enough to keep moving forward.
Love and Realization
We spend a huge portion of our lives realizing who we are, who others are, and what is in or out of our control.
The thing about life is that we constantly have expectations. We make the mistake of having too many expectations for ourselves and for others. But we can’t control what others do or say. What we can control though, are our decisions.
You know that decision-making can be hard – sometimes very hard. But just because something’s difficult doesn’t give you, or anyone else, the justification to take the easy route. The easy route will rarely get you the best outcome.
All these realizations and decisions can greatly impact another major theme of your life: your love life.
A lot of answers we seek have to do with love – finding love, keeping love, and what to do with it. Some are afraid of love and others seek it out.
And realization is so important when it comes to love and relationships.
One of Strayed’s advice seekers didn’t realize that the aspects that he associated with the word love were holding him back from moving forward in his new relationship. His failed marriage clouded the true meaning of love for him and his refusal to say love had a larger impact than saying the word itself.
Then there was a woman with a 14-year age gap between her and her husband. She’d come to realize there were a lot of things in life that she wanted to do and she was still young enough to do them. But she was struggling with the idea of hurting her significant other.
Strayed explains that realization can help you understand your true self. You can truly love someone but still want to leave them.
There’s love that comes with strings attached and then there’s love that doesn’t come so easily.
A 26-year-old man reached out to Strayed about whether he should find love or focus on other aspects of his life. He had a rare blood disorder that had given him physical deformities. As a result, he didn’t believe that he could find love.
In her response, Strayed reveals her own experience of a friend who was severely burned. She describes how, at first, it was painful to look at him. But once she got to know him better her vision of him changed completely. The reality is that there are people who judge him on his looks but there are also -be people who embrace him because of them.
The young man shouldn’t let fear of rejection affect his pursuit of love. The depression that he was allowing himself to sink into was based more on the fact that he’d already convinced himself he’d never find someone.
These sorts of negative thoughts are what hold people back from reaching their potential and connecting with their true selves. The beauty is in trusting yourself to make the right decision.
Forgiveness at Heart
Forgiveness is often difficult. And often we’re faced with a dilemma. You can likely recall a time in your life when you debated whether or not to forgive someone for doing something. Or perhaps it was you who was debating asking someone else for their forgiveness.
Stayed says there are three common themes of forgiveness: forgiving yourself, forgiving others, and asking for forgiveness. Most people who wrote to her wondered whether they should offer someone else forgiveness. Plenty of those people were daughters regarding their fathers. Here’s just one example.
A woman recalled having a good relationship with her father until he left her mother for a younger woman. She felt broken and betrayed, but Strayed reminded her that her father’s intentions weren’t to hurt her and the best thing to do was speak to him and hear what he had to say.
This is one situation where forgiving is certainly valuable.
But there are also situations where forgiving isn’t in a person’s best interest.
For example, a woman debated whether she should invite her father to her wedding after the rough childhood he gave her. She’d carried this anger for years but her fiancé insisted she invite him.
What this woman failed to see were the very words she’d written to Strayed. In her letter, she very clearly didn’t want to invite her father. Instead, she needed to put herself and her best interests first. She needed to be open to her fiancé about why she didn’t want her father at her wedding. Secondly, she should have an open conversation with her father and tell him how she feels and what needs to be done in order for their relationship to be repaired.
Knowing when to forgive or not takes a lot of self-understanding. It also goes along with the other themes in this summary – including acceptance and realization.
Analyzing conflicts comes with the consideration of everyone involved. What are everyone’s best interests? Do you know when to put yourself first? What are your boundaries?
Understanding forgiveness is being able to see growth and change within yourself.
A Life of Resilience
All of the letters that were submitted to Strayed’s “Dear Sugar” column shared one common theme: resilience.
Despite being open about whatever was troubling these advice-seekers, they all showed the strength to go on.
You’ve no doubt experienced what it feels like when life is continuously knocking you to the ground. It can feel impossible to get up or as if you’re just stuck at a dead end. But every day that you wake up and cross another day off is a sign of being resilient.
A transgender male who wrote to Strayed personifies resilience. They were rejected by their parents during their transition and hurt by the harmful comments that their parents were capable of making to their own child. This person ultimately decided to move away and found themself in a happier place with a great job and a supportive group of friends.
Despite objections from the people they thought loved them, they stayed true to themself and continued the pursuit of being the person that they always felt they were. True resilience.
Unexpectedly, their parents reached out years later in an attempt to make amends. Strayed wholeheartedly tells them that they should forgive.
This takes us back to other elements of life that we’ve discussed in this summary; forgiveness, realization, and acceptance. In many ways, they’re all connected to one another.
While life throws obstacles at you, it’s important to remember the many tiny beautiful things you can still appreciate within it. Learn to love, accept, and forgive. And despite what you might feel is dragging you down, you can find a way to continue on.
“Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar” is a collection of advice columns written by Cheryl Strayed under the pseudonym “Sugar.” Originally published on The Rumpus, an online literary magazine, the book offers a compilation of heartfelt and insightful guidance on various aspects of life, including love, relationships, grief, self-discovery, and personal growth. Strayed’s compassionate and honest responses, infused with her own life experiences, create a powerful and relatable narrative that resonates with readers.
Review: Cheryl Strayed’s “Tiny Beautiful Things” is a remarkable book that captivates readers from the very first page. Strayed, known for her memoir “Wild,” brings her exceptional storytelling skills and vulnerability to this collection of advice columns. Through her compassionate and raw writing style, she invites readers into the intimate world of her readers’ struggles, offering guidance, solace, and encouragement.
One of the most remarkable aspects of this book is Strayed’s ability to forge a deep emotional connection with readers. Her responses are filled with empathy, understanding, and a genuine desire to help. She doesn’t shy away from sharing her own personal hardships, which adds a layer of authenticity to her advice. Strayed’s willingness to reveal her vulnerabilities creates a safe space for readers to confront their own challenges and find strength within themselves.
The book covers a wide array of topics, making it relatable to readers from all walks of life. Whether it’s navigating the complexities of love and relationships, dealing with grief and loss, or seeking self-acceptance and personal growth, Strayed addresses these issues with wisdom and sensitivity. Her insights are not prescriptive but rather encourage readers to embrace their own unique journeys and find their own paths forward.
Another notable aspect of “Tiny Beautiful Things” is the way Strayed tackles difficult and often taboo subjects. She fearlessly delves into topics such as addiction, abuse, and infidelity, offering advice that is both compassionate and practical. Strayed’s non-judgmental approach and ability to see beyond the surface level of problems make her guidance all the more valuable.
Strayed’s writing style is a true delight to read. Her prose is lyrical, evocative, and filled with poignant metaphors that capture the essence of the human experience. Each letter and response is a work of art, showcasing her ability to convey complex emotions in a concise and powerful manner. The book flows seamlessly, with each chapter bringing a new set of challenges and insights.
“Tiny Beautiful Things” is more than just a self-help book; it is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. Strayed’s words resonate long after the book is finished, leaving readers with a renewed sense of hope, courage, and compassion. It is a book that can be revisited time and time again, offering new perspectives and guidance with each reading.
In conclusion, “Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar” is a profound and unforgettable book. Cheryl Strayed’s wisdom, vulnerability, and authentic voice make this collection of advice columns a must-read for anyone seeking guidance, solace, and inspiration on their journey of love, self-discovery, and personal growth.
Here are some of the essays that I found particularly memorable:
- “The Breakup Letter” is an essay about the pain of heartbreak. Strayed writes with such honesty and compassion that it is impossible not to feel her pain.
- “The Scary Truth” is an essay about the fear of failure. Strayed writes about how she overcame her fear of failure and how she learned to embrace the unknown.
- “The Answer” is an essay about the importance of listening to our intuition. Strayed writes about how she learned to trust her gut and how she made some of the best decisions of her life by following her intuition.
I would recommend Tiny Beautiful Things to anyone who is looking for:
- A thoughtful and insightful read.
- A book that will challenge you, comfort you, and make you think.
- A book that will stay with you long after you finish reading it.
Here are some of the criticisms of the book:
- Some readers have criticized the book for being too long and for not offering enough concrete advice.
- Others have criticized Strayed’s writing style, saying that it is too rambling and self-indulgent.
Overall, I believe that Tiny Beautiful Things is a valuable and insightful book. It is a book that will stay with you long after you finish reading it.