In 2015, I walked a thousand miles across two countries, a couple of mountain ranges, and a few hills that felt like mountains. I shared meals, rooms, and stories with people from every continent except Antarctica. I learned how to count in French, and hand wash my pants in a sink, and what it’s like to sleep in a 900-year-old house (the plumbing is limited and far away, but it’s totally worth it).
In 2016, by contrast, I spent a lot of time staring at a laptop screen, watching things fall apart.
Sound familiar? I suspect a lot of us rang out the year last week feeling a little shell shocked by how many things (both personal and global) went terribly wrong last year.
But I don’t want to talk about 2016. It was such a rough year for so many people that calling it a Dumpster fire has become cliché.
Instead, I’m going to think about what’s next.
I’m pulling out the mantras that drove me over the Pyrenees, from Le Puy to Finnesterre, and thinking about how to live them better in 2017.
This is likely to get long, so I’ll break it into three parts.
Mantra 1. Practice acceptance.
I tend to approach the world as if everything is negotiable, everything happens for good reasons, and the people who are kind and fair will be rewarded. I can probably blame four decades of reading novels with happy endings for that.
Of course, real life doesn’t always work out like a novel. I know that, in theory. But when things don’t seem fair or even logical, more often than not I still fall apart.
Fortunately (no, really), I’m married to a pessimist who sees no reason to think that anything will be logical or fair. It’s become Eric’s unfortunate duty to remind me, over and over, that some things just won’t be what I want them to be, and no amount of whining or complaining will change that.
The municipal gite will overbook, and we’ll be sent off to a moldy, crumbling overflow building. It will keep raining, even after both our trousers and our pants are soaked through. I will have to climb another hill when my body is sure we should be there by now. People will snore, and turn on overhead lights before dawn, and pack all of their belongings in the noisiest, most crinkly plastic bags they can find. Surly Spanish waitresses will refuse to serve us. Every French cafe and market will be closed on a Tuesday for no apparent reason.
Practice acceptance, Eric would warn me when I would get that “are you kidding me?” look, or (more embarrassingly) my eyes would fill with tears. And sometimes I would. More often, I would growl at him and keep sulking.
Eventually, though, I would usually have to acknowledge that he was right.
Sometimes I just have to accept what is, rather than what should be, and adjust myself, rather than the immovable situation in front of me.
It might rain, but I can choose to laugh and splash through a puddle or two. It’s not like I can get any wetter. That hill still needs to be climbed, but I can focus on the next ten steps, rather than the whole impossible thing. I can smile at the snorers, knowing they’re not doing it on purpose. (The people with the crinkly bags? Yeah, I’m still working on accepting that.) I can remember that the waitress had probably served a few hundred clumsy, noisy pilgrims already this week, before I threw her yet another request in butchered Spanish. My once-in-a-lifetime experience is her day-to-day grind. And the French markets? Well, banging on the doors doesn’t help (trust me on this), so we may as well keep walking. Someone probably has an apple or some sausage in their bag.
Practicing acceptance became a daily exercise on the Camino, as important as stretching my calves at the end of the day.
And now, for the sake of the Camino, there are things for me to start accepting in 2017 for what they are, rather than what they should be.
My now-chronically injured feet, for one.
Yep, even at home the Princesses continue to rule my life. Last spring, when I tried to ease back into a running routine, I developed first plantar fasciitis, then heel spurs and chronic Achilles inflammation, and now tendonitis (in the OTHER FOOT!). Plus, there’s a floating bone fragment that the doctor says will probably continue to irritate my feet forever.
I spent a lot of 2016 trying to actively ignore the problem, believing the whole situation would get better on its own. After all, I walked across two countries! How could a little jogging and basic exercise leave me so broken?
But ignoring it didn’t work, and I’ve started to accept that I’m at that age where things start falling apart without regular care and maintenance. I’ve given up running (at least for now), and obediently wear a walking cast for a few days when I overdo the walking. I donated my five bags of cheap shoes (I have a thrift store habit) and spent an insane amount on sensible orthopedic footwear. (Shout out to PowerStep inserts, which are slowly helping me walk again.)
I’ve also accepted that the Camino Norte trip we’d tentatively planned for spring will have to be put off until at least the fall. And that’s okay. Because we’ve seen Spain in the spring, but never in the golden hues of harvest.
Hmm, maybe things happen for good reasons after all.