Yesterday was awful. Hissing in my ears all day, the desires for restriction and self-harm soured my mood. For every few steps I took forward, I seemed to slip back further. After a stressful supper, I was ready to give up. Grumpy and frustrated with myself, I just wanted to start the next day with hope of a better outcome.
When my mother suggested after supper that I go for a walk, I grabbed my music and red windbreaker before slumping out the door. Hiking through through the woods around our house is something that calms me down and brings me life. However, I was pretty sure that tonight I would return just as upset as ever. After all, I already had embarked on a walk earlier and it had not settled me down. What could make this one any different?
As I made my way along the forest path listening to the sound track of the musical Into the Woods, I attempted to lose myself in the songs. Yet, dark emotions and thoughts continued to plague me. Drained mentally, emotionally, and physically, I wondered if I should simply head home. This walk was certainly not mindful the way she had ordered any of my exercise should be. I was not receiving peace or life as my mother had hoped for. Maybe I should just head home and mope in my room.
To my surprise, however, as I turned the corner, there stood a woman who was staying next door to my family for a short time. Grinning excitedly, she quickened her step to approach me. With a forced smile and clenched fists, I acknowledged her. Why was she doing walking along my path? How was I to respond to this cheerful stranger when deep down I was in so much pain? But most of all I wondered how I could escape from this situation the quickest.
Hoping for only a brief greeting, I waved with false enthusiasm. She responded, however, with true joy and energy. “It is like I am meeting Little Red Riding Hood in the woods!” Looking at my bright jacket, her eyes glistened as if she were seeing a magical creature. “I love fairy tales and here you are looking like you are straight from one!”
As she continued to gush over me being Little Red Riding Hood, my heart began to melt. I too love fairy tales and have often imagined being part of one while exploring the forest around my house. As a bond was created between me and this woman, I agreed to let her take my photograph. Thinking that our exchange had not been too awkward or painful, I prepared to continue on my walk.
She, however, wanted to ask me more questions. Before I knew it, we were discussing being an artist, healing through creating artwork, performing on stage, and traveling. This woman who I had previously avoided out of fear turned out to understand some of the deepest longings and anxieties. Too soon, we parted ways because of the mosquitoes pestering us. As I walked back to my house, my heart felt lightened and more hopeful.
Sometimes we encounter different Little Red Riding Hoods in the woods, surprises that are both magical and longed for. However, I know that I run away from these chance meetings too often out of confusion, fear, and disbelief. Other times, my eyes are simply closed to the opportunity. Depression, anxiety, and other worries cause me to question and avoid something that seems too good to be true or possibly life-giving.
However, the challenge for myself and for anyone reading this is to be on the look out for these chances. These moments do not have to be momentous. They can be a stranger doing a kind deed, seeing your favorite flowers in an unexpected place, or being given an opportunity to fulfill a dream. Instead, of pushing them aside or ignoring them immediately, let’s try to at least pause and consider them. This does not mean falling blindly for anything. It means opening yourself up to the possibility of magical and wonderful things happening. Instead of only seeing the negative, I encourage myself and others to see the Little Red Riding Hoods just as the woman I met did. You never know what beautiful and healing surprise might be in store for you.