It has been nearly nine months since I reached Santiago de Compostela, and eight months since my return to my normal life, if I could call it normal . . . My best plans for a change of pace at home included calm days, time to read in the evening with my dog at my feet, no daily commitments outside my home, and a concentrated effort to finish a thesis I had been not finishing since 2000.
The first three weeks of November were close to that ideal. I did actually sit on the recliner couch, in front of the fireplace, Marley, our old Golden Retriever, at my feet, every night for at least two hours, reading and relaxing. I went to bed early, waking up at 5:30 every morning, ready to put my pack back on and head out of the albergue, until I woke up enough to recognize my own bed, not a room full of bunks. Our social calendar was nearly blank by design, only making room for an occasional movie and dinner with one couple who love that activity, lively discussions ensuing over appetizers, shared main courses, and dessert.
I met with my new thesis advisor, J.C., who gave me a deadline . . . Spring 2014. I switched from sorting out 400 pages of a collage memoir to re-crafting my Camino writings. Yes, the ones that are on this website. J.C. strongly urged me to hold the size of the thesis to 70 pages. I told him I doubted I could do that, but I would select carefully, adding some background writing he thought would be useful for this project. Ready to tackle the end-of-my-Master’s-Degree-for fun, which I had begun in the late 1990’s, I was both extremely stressed and extremely relieved that I could finally see the light at the end of that tunnel we all talk about.
Then Marley stopped eating. He weighs over 100 pounds, so eating is his favorite activity. Two vet appointments with our regular animal hospital resulted in no explanation, but we did discover a handball-sized growth on his right front elbow. Colorado State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital, one of the best in the country, is fortunately located two miles from our house. And that visit set off three months of tests, surgery, feeding tube installed in his neck, syringes of “slurry”, a thick mixture of nourishment since he was not eating, and daily appointments for bandage changes, suture changes, etc. Final diagnosis: an antibiotic-resistant staph infection, life-threatening in this case. We went through five or six types of antibiotics before CSU found one that would begin to touch this infection. I was required to wear rubber gloves to touch the pills that finally worked. Marley lost twenty pounds in about six weeks. His body looked great, but this was not the way we wanted him to slim down.
Needless to say, I had no energy for thesis writing. No energy for preparation for Christmas, though we were so happy to have Neil’s daughter and her family, my two sisters, all three of my children and the spouses/partners of two of them at our house for several days. And Marley had no energy for anything.
But slowly, as is usually the case, things settled into a routine. It wasn’t the routine I had planned post-Camino but as on the Camino, we take things a day at a time. As Marley recovered, I worked hard on the thesis. My computer decided to follow Marley’s lead and it got very sick. Six weeks of computer hospital by phone. More frustrating and much less illuminating than my six weeks on the Camino. But I persevered, and finished the writing. Proofed it, corrected, copied it, distributed it to committee members and my adviser in late April, and defended on May 6. Completed paperwork for graduation. After sixteen years or more, from my first course to defense, I finally have a second Master’s degree, this time in English/Communication Development. That makes me MA Squared.
And in this past eight months, I have taught three courses called Cinema du Jour at our local art-house theater, with discussion following each film. A six-week course, Flow Writing for your WHOLE life, attracted wonderful participants and ended in late May. Requests to speak about my Camino experience come in, and I’ve done several presentations about my walk. I love presenting, and am at ease in front of people; however, the cacaphony of unplanned activity in my life is not at all helpful, except as a “character builder.” And the best laid plans, as you all know . . .
Now Neil, Marley and I have spent the past three weeks at Neil’s beautiful cabin near Ouray, Colorado, sitting on the porch with this view in front of us every day. It is a calming experience, and I’m grateful.
I’ve begun planning to walk the Camino again in September 2015, either the Camino Frances again or the Camino del Norte. I’ll make the decision later, but the timing is fixed. Since I’m a “seasoned pilgrim” at this point, the agony of planning what to take, of adding and discarding various items, will not take up the entire next year. I could pack up and go next week if that were practical. Everything I need is already set aside. For now, just the thought of setting out again makes me smile.
Next posts: A list of my Camino Albergues, day by day, with occasional comments for each.