Once upon a time there was a little girl. She lived near a huge, dark forest, which was inhabited by a particularly vicious wolf. However, for the longest time, she didn’t know this. All she knew was that the forest was a looming, threatening presence, somewhere she was always aware of, and went to great lengths to avoid.
Eventually the time came when she could no longer get around the forest. It had spread to such an extent that the only way was through it. But, there were no paths, no way-markers. It was dark, and oppressive, and incredibly lonely. The first time she ventured in, she didn’t know about the wolf so she wasn’t as cautious as she could have been. Yes, the dark and the lack of pathways was scary, but she believed that once she kept going, she would be ok. She wasn’t. The wolf heard her, tracked her down, and kept her trapped for months on end. She couldn’t work out how to escape, how to get past him – he anticipated her every move. She gave up trying for a little while, and just hid, hoping he would go away. If anything, he became more determined to keep her there.
After months of trying and failing to escape, the girl noticed a path she hadn’t seen before. Taking advantage of a moment’s distraction on the part of the wolf, she crept down the path and found a little cottage. The woodsman who lived there agreed to help her get away from the wolf, and so they travelled the next few miles together. The forest didn’t seem so bad with company. The woodsman was familiar with the wolf, and knew how to avoid him. He taught her what to look out for, and the best places to hide. Eventually, the time came when they had to part company. The woodsman had come as far as he could, had taught the girl everything he knew, and it was time to continue alone.
And so she did. For a while, things went well. She was more familiar with the forest, and had learned to spot the subtle trackways that led through it, as well as the paths that were likely to lead to dead ends. She kept the wolf at bay, and as her confidence grew, began to build a mental map of the forest, trusting in her own ability to find a way through.
But, it didn’t always go so well. Sometimes she would get tired of being so careful, or frustrated at walking a path that seemed to lead in circles, so she would strike off in another direction, away from what she knew. In her frustration, she would ignore the signs of the forest that had become so familiar, and in doing so, put herself back within reach of the wolf. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he caught her again. The girl was devastated to find herself prisoner once more, and furious with herself for letting it happen. This fury clouded her judgement, stopped her from remembering all she had learned with the woodsman. This time though, after giving herself time to calm down, she realised the situation was familiar. She knew how the wolf would behave. She had gotten away from him once, she could do it again. Thanks to the woodsman, she knew of pathways that the wolf had yet to find.
Over the years, the girl became more adept at finding her way through the forest. Yes, the wolf was always lurking, particularly along her more regular routes, but the safe paths were becoming clearer and she learned more and more about how to recognise when the wolf was close by. That said, she was never quite able to relax – a simple error in judgment could lead her back down a dangerous road, and she knew that the wolf only had to win, and truly win, once.
That was a terrifying thought, and one that overwhelmed her at times. How could she keep going in the face of those odds? Put simply, because she had to. She could not, and would not, give up. She might stumble and occasionally lose her way, but her years in the forest had taught her what she needed to survive, to beat the wolf. She just needed to remember that, and keep right on walking.
I’m still wandering around the forest with the wolf hot on my heels. I’ve wanted to give in, so so many times, I’ve wanted to let it beat me. Both the forest and the wolf have knocked metaphorical lumps out of me over the years, but I’m still here.
I’m still here.