Maybe it’s some hereditary pathological optimism thing from my Mom. Maybe I’m just naive like Little Red Riding Hood from Into the Woods, and I can’t get past my “The woods are just trees. The trees are just wood. I have no fear, nor anyone should.” attitude. Maybe it’s because I spent so much of my childhood in the woods and it feels more, well, natural. Whatever the reason, the phrase “out of the woods” bugs me.
“Out of the woods” means out of danger. Throughout folklore the forest is considered a place of darkness and evil. That’s where the witch’s sweets house was in Hansel and Gretel. It’s where the wolf always lives. But I take issue with this. The first problem is calling the woods bad in the first place. The forest is a place of wonder. Yes, it’s where the villain often lurks, but without it there would be no story. A place itself isn’t good or bad. I think we have a habit of labeling things we don’t understand or identify with as “bad.” Bad things happen everywhere. Some areas of the city are more crime prone, but that isn’t the buildings fault. Let’s stop blaming our surroundings for our problems.
When someone is “out of the woods,” they relax. Since the struggle is over, they stop paying close attention to their surroundings. While enjoying life is a wonderful thing, and I think it’s how we are meant to live, you can’t let your guard down. You’re in the clear. You can see everything plainly, so you don’t have to try as hard. But I know from experience that there are still dangers in a clearing. You don’t pay attention to your footing, and it’s easy to step in a hole. This isn’t to say that I don’t think you should relax. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Instead of fighting and struggling during those times when you are “in the woods,” look around. Enjoy the life surrounding you. Look for the good in all of your circumstances. Be careful of the thorns and snakes, but don’t live your life paranoid about something you may never run into. Enjoy the wildflowers and the big open sky of the meadow, but just as you kept lookout for dangers in the forest, don’t let your guard down once you step into the clearing. There are still snakes and thorns; They just look different here. They are sneakier.
In life you run into many situations. If you don’t allow yourself to find the joys and the “happy thoughts” in all places, it will be harder to enjoy them in the obvious ones.