Harry looked at me from across the table. He wore round glasses with thick frames and a scarf was still draped around his neck. “I’m sure you’ve already answered this a lot today, but do you have plans for another Camino?”
There were about 12 of us seated around a long table, at a restaurant in Chestnut Hill. I was with the Philadelphia Area Camino group and we’d just been on a 5-mile walk, and now we were putting up our feet and grabbing a bite to eat, just like we’d do on the Camino.
I stabbed my fork through a tomato and looked back at Harry. “Honestly, I’m not sure yet.”
There had been a lot of travel talk that day, about past Caminos and future Caminos, about other places in the world we wanted to go, the things we wanted to do. These are things I think about a lot: the next place on my list, the next trail to walk.
In some ways- in many ways- it would be so easy to walk a third Camino this summer, and indeed, I might. But there are a few other things I want to do as well, one thing in particular that has been ‘on my list’ for nearly as long as I can remember: drive across the United States.
It was something my best friend and I talked about in high school. “When we graduate, lets do a cross-country trip!” We were serious about it, but not serious enough, and in any case, things changed and the plan never happened. But I’ve wanted to do it ever since. Sometimes I worry that my vision of the trip is too different, that it can no longer be the young, carefree, wide-eyed adventurous sort of trip that I’d always envisioned it would be. And of course, it can’t be, because I’m not 18 anymore, I’m not in my mid-twenties anymore either.
But the thing is, I still haven’t been to Nebraska. I still haven’t seen the Grand Canyon or followed in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s footsteps. Those were the things I wanted to do all those years ago, and I still want to do them. But now? I want so much more, because I know so much more. I want to hike and to camp and to spend time in as many National Parks as possible. And I want to drive far and wide to reach as many family and friends as I possibly can. When I was 18, nearly everyone that I knew lived in my town. Now, I have friends and family spread across the country.
(Just so you know, this is going to be a topsy-turvy, disjointed kind of post.)
I still hesitate about doing this cross-country trip for one reason: my car. I have an old car with a lot of miles on it and every single time I get inside to drive somewhere (even just a mile down the road to buy some groceries), I feel slightly stressed. I’m so alert and aware of every shudder and jerk, every creak or whirr from the engine. I’m sure it’s because I’ve recently had to have the car towed, twice in less than a month, and now I almost expect that it won’t start, or that it might stall.
Soon, it will be time for a new car. And if I’m being honest with myself, it was probably time for a new car two years ago, but for me, this is nothing new: it feels like I’ve always driven an old, slightly unreliable car.
I love the idea of taking this car (if it makes it to the summer), on this epic cross-country trip, and basically driving it until it dies on me. But that’s probably the worst idea in the world, given that I want to actually enjoy a trip like this and not be constantly stressed over the fact that the car might leave me stranded in the middle of nowhere.
The answer is, of course, to buy a new car. I started thinking about this last night, why it feels so difficult for me to say, “Okay, that’s enough, it’s time to buy something new.” My thoughts started going deeper and deeper and finally I came up with this, a statement so simple and true that I’m amazed it’s never occurred to me before:
I love things to pieces.
I’m sure I’ve known this about myself- I DO know this about myself. And yet, last night, it all seemed so remarkably clear, in a way that it never has before.
I’ve always been like this. When I was a toddler, I had this teddy bear and I loved her so much. She was already with me in my very earliest memories, I see her glued to my side in photos that I can’t remember. I carried her with me and slept with her for much, much longer than kids normally do. Her fur became matted and mangled, her nose fell off, she began to resemble something more similar to E.T. than a teddy bear. But she was so much a part of me, that she became something very real to me.
It’s not just stuffed bears, it’s other stuff too, everything: a scuffed pair of Doc Martens that I wore every day in high school and are- at this very moment- sitting underneath my bed. It’s the jobs I’ve held, the friendships and relationships I’ve had, the cars I’ve driven. I’ve watched things break down and fall apart and crumble around me, and that is how I finally walk away, because I have to. Just after I graduated high school I drove out to the parking lot across from the vacant movie theater where I used to work and watched as a wrecking ball smashed into its brick walls. I drove to a bridge just outside of Philly and parked my car and watched from a distance as The Vet- the stadium where I’d spent years watching Phillies games- imploded. I’ve owned two cars in my life and drove the first one into the ground. My mechanic handed me five twenty dollar bills. “This is how much the parts are worth.”
Others leave, I stay. I stay and I stay and I stay, and it’s because I have a deep connection to the people and places and things that I’ve learned to love. I don’t want to leave them, I don’t want to leave any of them.
And often, this quality of mine- my respect for tradition and ritual, my appreciation for the things I love, my commitment- it’s a wonderful thing. I have decades-long friendships that I cherish, an old apartment that I find beautiful and comfortable and so uniquely me, a connection to the students I work with that I recognize is very rare and special.
But there’s a problem here, too. Lately, I’ve been wanting to change some things in my life. I’m still working on what and how, but I’ve opened myself up to new opportunities and now I want more. I want to explore more, I want to do more, I want to learn more and see more. But change often requires that we let go of something, that we give up something that we’ve learned to love, and that really scares me.
I started practicing this on my first Camino- loving and letting go, loving and letting go- but I didn’t quite get the hang of it. It’s probably one reason that I went back for a second Camino, I just wanted more practice. Walking through a place and to a place and then packing up and leaving. Over and over again. Meeting people and getting to know people and feeling connected to people and leaving. Over and over again.
I got good at it on the Camino- it took me 1,000 miles, but I finally got the hang of it. But now I’m at home, and don’t they say- don’t I say- that the real journey starts when the walking ends? In the last year I’ve recognized that I am going to need to change a few things in my life if I want to ever try and go after some of my dreams. Eventually, I’ll have to leave this apartment. Eventually, I’ll have to quit my job. Eventually, I’ll have to buy a new car.
And I wonder if I could start there. If, rather than letting the car die on me a dozen more times, I could say, “I’m walking away from this now. It’s time for something new.” It’s something so small, so obvious to most people, but it feels really big to me.
I mean, maybe I’ll go back to Europe this summer and do another Camino and spend some time in France and hold onto my little clunker of a car for another year. It’s a fine option. But this weekend I spent a lot of time thinking about a different option, one where I let go of something I love in order to go after something new. I think it could be good for me.
Thanks for bearing with me, through this long, rambly post. This is one reason I love to write, even if the things I say don’t really come together well or are all about teddy bears and old cars. It just helps to get stuff out on the page, to make sense of my self and my thoughts- it helps to organize life, in a way. 🙂