Something I’ve always loved to do is to use a point in time- New Year’s, my birthday, the beginning of a season- and think back to the previous year and where I was/what I was doing. I’m not alone in this, it’s a natural way to mark our progression (or regression??) through life.
Today is the first day of spring, and I am staring out my kitchen window to at least 5 inches of snow piled on top of the bushes, on the trees, covering the ground. It snowed all day long. Sometimes light flurries, sometimes heavy, large flakes. But once again, everything is white, and still, and quiet.
This landscape is at odds with the season, it’s at odds with how I feel. I want the world to feel bright and alive, not silenced and soft. I want to feel some sunshine on my face and see a scattering of purple wildflowers on my neighbor’s lawn. I want the lengthening days to encourage me to be out and to be doing more; but instead, today, the snow forces me home, and inside.
I feel confident in saying that this is the last snow, for awhile. And spring is here. But it looks a lot different than last year. A year ago, I’d returned from a 5-ish mile hike through my state park and stood in a long line snaking around the block, waiting for a free cup of water ice. I stood in between families and groups of teenagers, I was dressed in hiking pants and an old pair of sneakers. I knew I would be walking the Camino and these were early training days: wearing shoes that gave me blisters and feeling my muscles ache after walking 5 miles through wooded trails. But it was satisfying: a long hike. A free cup of water ice. Spring.
The winter before had been a hard one for me, and it was a victory just to make it to that first day of spring. It was a victory to have decided to walk the Camino, a victory to push myself to go on long hikes after work. That first day of spring felt so full of promise and warmth and light, and I suppose that it was a good indicator of things to come.
This year? Maybe I don’t need the sunshine-y symbolism of the past. This year’s winter went by faster than any winter I can remember; there was cold, ice, snow, rain, and lots of gray… but there was something else. I’m struggling to put my finger on how exactly to describe it, I don’t know if I can. There’s been hope, and promise, and excitement for the future. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I haven’t had days of doubt and frustration. There have been times when I’m a bit down, even a little sad. Confused about how to go out and get the kind of life that I want for myself. But there’s also been this thrill, this… wonder. And it’s sort of underneath everything else, and it doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere.
The Camino opened up some things for me. It’s taken me a long time to really feel its influence, but it happened sometime during the winter. I settled into the short, dark days, and let myself think about my life and my future, and then I just started moving. I started writing, but it’s been different than my dozens of other attempts: this time, it feels sort of permanent. I have a different kind of confidence about it, despite the days that I struggle. Because honestly, most days I sit at my computer and I want to bang my head on the table. Sometimes my eyes fill with tears of frustration because the things I am writing are just so, so bad. Some days I don’t write at all, and just watch Netflix. In the past though, these frustrations would have made me stop, they would have made me think that the elements of my life weren’t just right, that I needed to do x, y and z before I could actually start to write.
Now, I just recognize that this is part of the process. This is what it takes to write. I’ve said this before: it’s a lesson I learned on the Camino. It was the Camino: needing to start slowly, start with a single step, in order to get to the end of something very monumental. What I didn’t realize 6 months ago, however, was that the Camino gave me confidence: confidence that I can undertake something very big and scary, confidence that I can find my way through it.
I still have a million questions about my life and my direction. Will I be able to write a book? Will I be able to spend at least a year or two supporting myself from my writing? Will I be able to travel in the ways that I want to: back to Europe but also to Africa, to Turkey, to China and across the US? When will I focus on dating and trying to meet someone? Will I have a family? How can I set up my life so that I can have all of these things? Is it possible?
These are big questions, questions that I know can’t be answered all at once. So instead, I focus on today: Today, everything is great. I spent my work day talking and laughing with teenagers. I went to IKEA and had a $1.00 frozen yogurt. The snow is slowly falling outside my window. I have several writing projects on the desktop of my computer. I have a list of Spanish phrases to practice before I go to bed. Yesterday I walked through a park. Tomorrow I will drive to DC to spend the weekend with a friend.
Spring is here and I’m excited for the next three months. I don’t know if this season will answer any of the larger questions of my life, but I don’t think it needs to, not yet. Because what I’m doing is laying the groundwork for my future: the writing and the walking and spending time with people who make me happy. And for now, that’s all that I need to be doing.
Because in three months, my life will look a little different (in three months, I’ll be on a Camino!), and three months after that, maybe my life will look even more different. And on, and on, until each small step adds up to something monumental. Until they add up to the answer to all of the big questions of my life.