The past two nights, I’ve stumbled through NYC pretending that I fit in, ignoring–or hiding–that I still feel like an outsider. I stop extra long at busy intersections–at one point so long that a feisty West Village pedestrian smacks into the back of me without a word of “Oops” or apology. I’m in the way. But I can’t explain to them that I recently spent five weeks with traffic as one of my biggest contenders. Before you leave, you avoid telling your parents or husband that car accidents are the biggest–and pretty frequent–cause of pilgrim injuries, or worse (Hi dad!). I scuttered across a few too many highways with a heavy backpack because the yellow arrows told me to. But alas, here I am, a safer New Yorker.
I am also used to being the “other” in a city. I see women walking toward me with makeup and fashionable clothing, and my brain still tells me that I am an outsider in hand-washed hiking pants, a faded blue shirt, and a nylon headband covering the heat rash on my neck. I know I’m not, I’m one of the normals now. But that’s the issue, I don’t feel like it. I don’t feel like them and I know I’m not like them.
The true issue is figuring out what the hell you do with this confused energy right after you get back from a trip of this sort. This happened to me last time as well, and honestly, I thought it had to do more with life events at the time, and not a pilgrim-reintegration syndrome, an issue I just made up all on my own.
But don’t get me wrong, I’m not a total mess by any means. In reality, I’m sitting at my new homemade desk (because I now write from home for a living, yay!)–with some calming folk music, a hot mug of freshly made coffee, and even a small oil diffuser that calmly changes colors every few seconds. I could not be in more of a comfortable, introvert-friendly, privileged scenario than right now. So why am I such an emotionally stunted grouch half the day?
When we were hiking, we used to go through Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey phases to occasionally search for some meaning to the bizarre mental phases of walking for 35 days. My favorite word became BOON. Not just because it’s fun to say, “Return with boooons,” but also because I love the idea of returning with something other than confusion and sore knees.
So now, I guess I’m just looking for my boons? I’ve started to (finally!) write in a serious way about my first two Caminos (notice how I worded that…yeah…). Anyway, a lot is flooding back. The stress of staying alive is subsiding, I’m starting to transform the memories into something sacred. Because if we didn’t allow this to happen, we would never seek adventure again, or we’d never get back into romantic relationships after a sucky one, we’d never go back into the audition room. My other favorite Joseph Campbell monomyth phase was Master of Two Worlds. It’s when the hero has to confront his final antagonist to prove he can cross the threshold home. Even though I am home, and I reached Santiago, it has yet to happen. #MonomythGoals?
You have to make part of the struggle sacred. So, I am starting to remember both sides of my trip as so–whether it be the morning of butterflies, good conversation, and that spot where the woods got really cold for a mysterious moment because of a dense patch of pine trees, or when I had 9k left in the heat and nothing but my blisters and the angry sun to keep me focused. I have to make it all sacred because this is how I will find my boons. And this is how I will keep going back when I need it again.