Day 20: Keeping on
The walk from O Cebreiro to Triacastela (19.6 km; a nice “light” day) is a zigzagging descent down a mountain and through the valley, with panoramic vistas of pastureland and small villages. This portion of the walk contains one of the Camino’s iconic statues: a bronze pilgrim, leaning into the wind.
The descent, of course, is much easier than the ascent.
Or at least, in theory this is true. During and after the ascent, it’s the muscles that are sore, that demand ibuprofen (or even better, the pain patches you can buy along the route of the Camino, which aren’t yet available in the US). On the descent, it’s the joints—the hips, the knees.
This is where things can go wrong.
Yesterday was a mini-emotional rollercoaster.
The day began with a three-and-a-half hour visit with a dear friend. We’ve chatted over Zoom a couple times but haven’t seen each other since the pandemic began, and so: coffee, talk about life and teaching and truncated plans and coffee, tears, talking. My heartbeat did this weird uptick just to be out in the world, entering through her gate, fending off her tiny loveable dog. It’s been hard to find these moments.
Then, it was a rush home and another rush across town with Will, Baxter in his crate and LG on my lap for Baxter’s vet appointment. LG is smarter than she looks; she has no problem being left with Baxter but refuses to be left on her own. For his part, Baxter has a 15-year-record of horrible behavior at the vet. While we waited for our appointment—Will and LG outside, since only one of us could come in due to pandemic restrictions—Baxter circled the lobby and then the exam room approximately one thousand times, which meant doing a thousand mini-hurdles over the bar under the exam table. Every time someone opened the door, he tried to make a run for it—which was ironic, considering that his largest issue at this stage of life is his mobility.
It was a strange discussion, because at times we talked about treating him as if he had all the time in the world left—as if we were talking about some spry ten- or twelve-year-old. And also, we had the talk about what happens then, because it’s coming, and we all need to be prepared. While the vet talked calmly, I sobbed into my mask in the exam room and Will cried in the parking lot, and Baxter circled, circled, hurdled the bar under the table, circled.
At home we fell into an exhausted sleep, all four in different corners of the house. I had that feeling on waking that I’d slept through an entire day, that somehow it was the next day already and I’d missed my morning appointment. I looked at the clock: thirty-five minutes had passed. After another mini-nap, I woke in high-bitch mode, my default after unsatisfying naps.
It wasn’t the best state of mind to log on Zoom and chat with the Friday night anti-racist book group I joined a few weeks earlier. We’re three weeks into a discussion of White Fragility and it’s powerful to see people making realizations, owning and acknowledging. There’s a scrubbed-raw feeling that comes with this, a bit like running your heart over a mandoline. And yet, every time: hope.
And then: unwinding.
I tried to settle into a rerun of The West Wing, which is hard now, too, considering. It almost feels like a fairy tale, some bedtime story of a forgotten land. This is how government should work, kids.
In the midst of this: fireworks. We’ve been hearing them for more than a week now: sudden booms that shake the house and sometimes feel far too close, or distant crackles like static electricity. One of the benefits of being a fifteen-year-old somewhat placid beagle (especially after the one thousand laps) is that you can sleep through anything. But our ready-to-fight ten-year-old rat terrier hears all, and so: an hour of trying to calm her rapid heart, the realization that we are still fifteen days from July 4.
And then, a ping on my phone as I was settling into bed, into the breeze from a fan blowing in the window. An out-of-the-blue thank you from a student: thank you for encouraging me. [Cue heart-swelling music.]
I’ve been trying to come up with a theme for each day, for the walk (or the non-walk walk, as I’ve begun to think of it), and each day the theme somehow suggests itself.
But today all I can think of is, keep going. Keep moving. There is still good out there. There are people who care. Keep putting one foot in front of another.
The walk was never supposed to be easy.
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Paula Treick DeBoard