“Resilience” is a word we try to use sparingly at Open Path: it pops up everywhere in the world of mental health. Often, we have to remind ourselves of what it means: an ability to recover from or adjust to misfortune or change. But we’d be remiss to omit “resilience” in the case of Cody Sheehy.
In 1986, when Cody was six years old, he wandered away from a family gathering in Wallowa County, in Northeast Oregon. For eighteen hours, young Cody walked nearly 20 miles, surviving a fall in a gully, an encounter with coyotes, and the overwhelming fear of being six years old and lost.
Writing for Outside Magazine, journalist Emma Marris retraces Sheehy’s story of resilience by hiking Cody’s path with him and his mother, Marcie. Marris also brings along her own six-year-old son. The writing opens us to Cody’s journey, his memories, and the memory of his community: how and why did Cody survive, and how did the event affect his life? Marris quotes Cody:
Over the course of your life, you push through a lot of physical barriers,” he says. “As you grow older, your first coach helps you break through barriers, and maybe in the military you learn to push through barriers or maybe in your first hard job. As a little kid, I had this opportunity to be tested and learn that there really aren’t any barriers. I think a lot of people figure that out. They just might not figure it out at six.”
The physical barriers Cody points to are psychological, as well. As Marris retraces Cody’s steps, she focuses on the physical and psychological risks and dangers we steer our children away from — especially if we don’t allow them to explore in nature.
Ultimately, we must ask ourselves: how do we remain in touch with the wildness of the world? How do we help or allow our children do this? “Resilience” isn’t just a buzzword, but an active trait that needs fresh challenges. Cody’s story helps us ponder this.
Image: Wallowa Valley, Oregon