Burgos to Astorga is 222km—not a hike, a bus ride. When we planned our walk, we had to look carefully at dates and distances. The full French way takes about 35 days, but the four of us had only cobbled together 30 days of vacation. We figured we could cover 20-25km each day, but to make it to Santiago de Compostela within 30 days, we would have to skip part of the Camino. Our decision was to skip the meseta, the flat and open plains of central Spain which can be brutal in the relentless heat of summer. Some hikers say it’s the best part, that the desert has its own stark, lonely beauty. Others say it’s brutal—there are no villages or people for long stretches, and it’s as much a mental challenge as a physical one.
At halfway through our trip, it seemed like a good day to take a break, and a bus.
It seemed like a good time for a rest.
Of all the things I’m bad at—and this is not a short list—resting is somewhere near the top.
I have a personal form of restlessness, either a quirk of personality or something hardwired into my DNA. I say that because the older I get, the more I become my mother. Neither of us can sleep past five in the morning. Both of us fill our days and then some. My mother, upon retiring after decades of teaching, promptly went back to her school as a daily volunteer. (And she loves it; this pandemic has been very hard on her.) As it is, I’m forty-four and haven’t been able to commit to just one career.
The truth is, I like being busy. I’m a somewhat anxious person, and I quash that with activity—long-range goals, short-term plans, a daily to-do list that I take great pleasure in writing and even greater pleasure in slicing through with a pen. It’s a way to account for my time, and it satisfies some of my more obsessive tendencies.
It’s been hard to keep busy over these last weeks. Today I’m turning in my excellence review materials—160 or so pages that are supposed to prove my worth as an educator. It’s a relief, because this is not my favorite kind of writing and I’ve had to butter myself up each morning to open my laptop and begin another page. But I’m also staring into an abyss—the empty hours that have been filled with this task for the last month.
Seriously, send help.
The truth is, I often wish I could be a different person—someone who packs a bag and heads to the beach and just relaxes for the day. I wish that I could really binge something—whether the final seasons of America’s Next Top Model that I’m watching as I eat lunch each day, or maybe the last season of The Handmaid’s Tale, but I start to get anxious when I’m sitting there for too long and inevitably, I reach for the to-do list again.
I don’t know, yet, how to get to the root of it.
The truth is, most of the time it serves me well. I juggle busy days; I get things done.
It’s just that at times, I can’t turn it off.
Last night we went to a fundraiser for our dear local theater, the Prospect Theatre Project—a drive-thru dinner and drink pickup. There was a Shakespearean sonnet booth, and an actor recited Sonnet 116 (which was the only one I could remember offhand) into the open window of the Mini: Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments…
It was heartening to see so many people there, in a line of cars that stretched down 13th Street and wound through the alley behind the theater. We’re the same people who would have crammed into the theater in pre-pandemic days, waited in line for the bathroom during intermission or lined up at the bar.
Will and I had packed some lawn chairs, and we ate our dinner on the lawn in nearby Graceada Park, site of our beloved Concert in the Park series each summer except this one. The Mancini Bowl amphitheater was empty except for two teenagers throwing a ball back and forth. People wandered by with their dogs, and we drank our Chekhov’s Cherry Orchards (cherry, lime and heavy on the vodka) and felt as normal as we could feel in this strange time.
And for one single, precious hour, my mind was at rest.
Paula Treick DeBoard