How are you getting to Santiago?

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During an interview with Bill Rodgers after he won his fourth Boston Marathon, he was asked what he thought of the people who were still running 3, 4 or 5 hours after he finished.  His response was great, he said, “I couldn’t possibly run that long.”

The Camino de Santiago is something that you walk at a pace that makes sense for you.  Steve and I start each day with dozens of “pilgrims.”  Most of them  pass us sometime during the morning, and by the end of the day, we often feel like we are the last people to arrive at our destination. Some people pass us at breakneck speed, as if this was a race.  I wondered about this and with a little research (not hard to do on the Camino) I discovered that without a reservation, or in the case of Albeurgues, a bed, folks need to rush to their destination or be shut out of a place to sleep, and may have to walk several miles to another town before finding a bed. Wait a minute!!! Aren’t we doing this to reflect on life?  To smell the roses, or the wild rosemary that grows along the way? A friend told us that people are leaving earlier and earlier each morning, some at 5:00 am to get to their destination to line up for a bed for the night.

Truth be told, we are doing this in a very different way.  We had all of our hotels booked in advance, and whether we arrive at 3:00 in the afternoon or 8:00 at night, our room awaits us. Each morning we leave our suitcases and they are magically waiting for us at our next destination.  We carry backpacks filled with raingear, water and snacks.  We have the luxury of enjoying some breakfast in the morning before we leave and stopping as many times and for however long we choose.  We are covering the same ground each day as most pilgrims, but at a pace that is sometimes akin to strolling.  We stop to take pictures, to watch the storks in their enormous nests atop churches, or simply to have a sandwich or a cup of soup at a restaurant or on a bench in a town as we pass through. We are also paying a lot more than 8 or 10 Euros a night for a bed.  That is a trade-off and one, at our age, we think we’ve earned. Some people cover the same distance we do in half the time and when they arrive in a town and secure a bed they can shower and explore the town.  We usually arrive between 3:00-5:00 pm each day and we shower and relax, sometimes exploring a town, having dinner and crawling into bed in our private room with our own bath.  Staying in Albeurgues is not for me, a room with 10-100 beds with people snoring or coughing and sharing a bathroom with loads of strangers.  There was probably a time in my 20’s when this appealed to me, but at 67, it’s the last thing I want after a long day of walking.  There are lots of ways to get to Santiago and people choose the one that works for them.  As we get further along the Camino there are more and more people joining the way, looking for rooms or beds and making it more and more competitive.  I suspect some people welcome the rush and challenge of getting a bed, others find friends to share hotel rooms with.  Whatever way people choose they will get to Santiago and have the same thrill of arriving.  We will likely come strolling in several days after most people we started this journey with and we will have a huge smile on our faces as we make our way to our hotel and the hot shower that awaits us.

Buen Camino.

With love and gratitude,

Marsha

Crossing the finish line!

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When I started running road races about 30 years ago, I learned quickly that when well intentioned spectators yell from the sidelines “You’re almost there,” it’s best to ignore them.  Unless I can actually see the finish line, I’m not almost there. When I cross the finish line I will be there.

We are on Day 10 of our walk along the Camino de Santiago.  No one could have prepared me for either the physical challenge, or the amazing natural beauty I would experience.  The first day was the hardest and yet the most extraordinary day.  We crossed the Pyrenees from France to Spain.  When we started, the weather was overcast and perfect for walking.  It was straight up for about 8 miles and then once we were on the top of the world we were treated to views beyond belief. I wanted to break into my Julie Andrews rendition of “The Hills Are Alive.” We began the descent, without my song and dance, to reach the first day’s finish line–which ended up being about another 12-13 miles.  We started in Saint Jean Pied de Port, France, and when we reached Roncesvalles, the first town in Spain after the descent, we discovered that we were actually staying in the next town, another 3 miles.  Most “pilgrims”, that’s what we are called, left us in Roncesvalles and we continued on in the rain towards the elusive first day finish line. I had my Garmin GPS watch measuring every mile and when that ran out of power, I switched to Map My Walk on my phone, checking regularly if we were there, by how many miles we had walked.   Of course, by then I had realized that most of the signs with kilometers listed were inaccurate and I stated laughing, a bit crazed and hallucinating by then, about how funny it was that I was measuring the miles.  First of all, it’s 500 miles from Saint Jean to Santiago, so no matter how I walk it, it’s 500 miles.  There are lots of up hills and down hills, some very long and steep, all with amazing natural beauty, so actually, who cares how far it is?  We leave every morning about 8:00 AM and many people pass us in the course of the day. We great each other with “Buen Camino,” have a great walk. We usually arrive at our destination between 4:00 and 6:00 PM.  We walk at a slow pace, take lots of breaks and are grateful for the long days of sunlight.  Once we arrive at the town, we head to our hotel, that’s where that day’s finish line ends. We have a hot shower, relax, and get ready for a great dinner complete with wonderful Spanish wine.  The Spanish eat dinner so late that it really doesn’t matter what time we arrive, restaurants don’t even open until 8:00 PM.

We will walk every day for the next 26 days, with 3 days for resting.  I stopped wearing my watch and when we see a town in the distance, I stopped wondering if that’s the town we’re staying in.  We will get there when we get there and the wonderfully friendly Spanish people will greet us like we are old friends who have finally arrived.  Walking the Camino and finding our way is an experience of a lifetime, each step.  When we arrive in Santiago on June 1st we will be there whether I have measured the miles or not. We will cross the finish line and celebrate this amazing accomplishment.

Buen Camino.

With love and gratitude,

Marsha

Do you mind if I ask how old you are?

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We have been traveling for the past nine weeks, visiting six countries, two in southeast Asia, and four in Europe. Throughout this journey, whenever they were available, we’ve asked for senior discounts–on trains, planes, museums and tours.  In most places we are given the discount with no questions asked, no proof of age.  That has been a bit disappointing.  I guess I really do look like a senior.  When exactly did that happen?  When was it that I stopped being asked to prove my age?  When was the last time I asked for a senior discount and the person looked at me with skepticism?  That just doesn’t happen anymore.

Today we were buying tickets to tour the amazing castle in Carcassonne, France, the last stop before beginning our Camino walk, and I forgot to ask for the senior discount.  The woman, probably in her 30’s, looked at me and sheepishly said.  “Do you mind if I ask how old you are?”  I laughed, and said I was certainly old enough for the senior discount, telling her I was 67.  I was hoping she would say, “Wow, you don’t look a day over 62!”, the age for a senior discount. She just smiled and told me I was getting a 2 Euro discount on the ticket price.

On Tuesday, we begin walking 500 miles of the Camino de Santiago.  We start on the French side of the Pyrenees.  From what I have read, the first day is the hardest day of the 34 days we will be walking.  People speak of starting in Saint Jean Pied de Port, where we will start, with great pride. There’s no senior discount for the Camino and no short cuts.

In 1999 I ran the Boston Marathon and I said to someone I knew who had also run that year, a world class runner, “Wow, I ran the Boston Marathon, but not like you.”  Her response has never left me, “You ran the same 26.2 miles that I ran, on the same day, with the same conditions. Never diminish your accomplishment.”

We won’t walk as fast as many people, but we will walk the same 500 miles, over the same terrain. We might be asked our age, but we won’t receive a senior discount.

Buen Camino!

Look for our updates on my blog and on Facebook.

With love and gratitude,

Marsha

 

On the Road Again

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Several years ago I took a test that measured the amount of stress certain situations and events have on a person’s life.  I was instructed to check off the things I was experiencing, or had recently experienced.  They ranged from death of a loved one to loss of a job  to moving, and the list went on.  I was surprised to see that one of the items listed was, “going on vacation.” Going on vacation?  What are they kidding?  Isn’t the whole idea of vacationing to reduce stress?

After 4 years of living and working in Korea, I am leaving in a week. I’m  packing boxes filled with all the things I’ve accumulated. I’m shipping those 10 boxes home to Maine.   At the same time, I’m packing my suitcase for a four-month adventure. Sounds amazing doesn’t it?  My husband, Steve, and I have been planning this adventure for some time,  and it is now upon us! If we don’t kill each other before we leave next week it will be a minor miracle.  “Why are you taking that?” “Are you sure you need that?”, are just a few of the questions we are asking each other.  The stress is building.  Luckily, we have travelled together all over the world, and we both know that once we leave all will be grand, but until then I have to remind myself that going on vacation was on that stress scale. We aren’t just leaving for a vacation, we are leaving for good.  That means if we leave something behind, it’s forever. Yikes! I can feel the stress as I write this.

In many ways this is the dream of a lifetime.  It also means I won’t have a “home” for all this time.  I’ll be staying in hotels, inns and hostels, on boats and on a cruise ship, in Airbnb apartments and travelling by plane and train.  I’ll be meeting up with friends in a few places and walking 500 miles in Spain in 37 days.  But truth be told, I’ll be living out of a suitcase.

I’ve written in the past about my need for “home” and my ability to make wherever I am home, but never for this long and never in this many places.  I’ll bring pictures of my grandchildren to put on a night stand wherever I am.  I’ll cook meals in the apartments we stay in.  I’ll do laundry and all the mundane things of ordinary living, except I’ll be doing them in extraordinary places.

My goal on this journey is to be present and to not be distracted by the past or the future, but instead focus on what’s in front of me.  The stress scale didn’t say that the vacation itself was stressful. Rather the preparation, anticipation and anxiety of what’s to come after the vacation is what causes a person to lose sight of the moment.  It’s a challenge to stay in the moment and I don’t have any illusions that I won’t be distracted by the future and what lies ahead.  My goal is to focus on my surroundings and not miss any opportunities.

While we were packing the other day I was carrying on about not having a home, Steve just listened and smiled at me reassuringly and I realized once again that home is where I am and where we are.

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My plan is to blog a lot more during this adventure.

Stay in touch and I will too.

With love and gratitude,

Marsha

Why worry?

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When I was growing up the motto in my family was: “If you worry hard enough, bad things won’t happen.” From a very young age I took this to heart and began worrying about everything. I really believed that this worrying, my worrying, was actually having an effect on outcomes. Then I began to notice that bad things happened, in spite of my worrying. So, what does a person do? Worry harder, I thought. I spent most of my childhood worrying about everything and continuing to have no control over anything. Bad things happened, good things happened too, but that was not my concern. My worrying was purely focused on preventing bad things. We don’t need to wake up Freud here to see what happens to a child who spends most of her childhood worrying.

I’ve learned over my life that no amount of worrying has any effect on outcomes. Actions might alter a few things, but not worrying. I’ve watched and observed that I’m not alone in this process of worrying. Many people, sad to say, spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about things that they can’t control. Many of us agonize over decisions we need to make, or have made, as if our lives depended on them. Once we make a decision we worry about the outcome or the alternatives and options that we passed up. It’s an endless loop if you stay on it. If you’ve ever been in a 12-step program, you know that this concept of worrying doesn’t work, so we give it up to our higher power and do what we can and move on. Easy peasy! NOT!!!! I am a very skilled worrier. It took years of practice to perfect this skill. And yet, no matter how skilled I am, it is still ineffective. Unlearning this takes time.

So, what do I do about this worrying dilemma? At 66, I know both in my head and heart that just about everything is out of my control. When I find myself in that spiral of worry, I catch myself a lot sooner, have a good laugh, remind myself that I’m not that important and try to move on. I travel a lot in my life, in fact I’m writing this blog from Myanmar. There is so much I could worry about if I wasn’t a recovering worrier. For example, I’m boarding a plane, whose name I can’t pronounce, to go to a part of this country that most tourists don’t go to, and we are the only foreigners on this flight. The things to worry about are endless. I know that once I decided to come on this trip I gave up control of all these things. So I let go, for real, and board the plane for an adventure of a lifetime, at least this year.

The older I get, the easier it is to let go. Time is limited and worrying takes up a lot of time and energy; physically, emotionally and psychically. So, I move through life as best I can without my old friend “worry” and have the experiences and surprises of life instead. In the words of one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver:

I Worried

 I worried a lot. Will the garden grow? Will the rivers flow in the right direction?

Will the earth turn as it was taught? And if not, how shall I correct it?

Was I right? Was I wrong? Will I be forgiven? Can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing? Even the sparrows can do it and I am, well, hopeless.

Is my eyesight fading, or am I just imagining it?

Am I going to get rheumatism, lockjaw, dementia?

Finally, I saw that worrying had come to nothing. And I gave it up. And took my old body and went out in the morning, and sang.

I hope your day is filled with song!

Stay in touch and I will too.

With love and gratitude,

Marsha

 

 

Make New Friends, But Keep The Old

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There was an old Girl Scout song that started with “Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.” I sang that song each year at camp without much thought. I was young and thought the friends I had would last forever. All of them! As I age I seem to have more time to reflect on those people who have come and gone from my life. Many of them were friends that I thought would be in my life forever and then one thing or another came between us and we drifted apart, sometimes never to be thought of again. Then there are those friends who stay forever.

I once told my husband that I didn’t really trust anyone who didn’t have friends from their past. Not necessarily friends you grew up with, but friends you met along the way who stayed with you, even when you lived many miles away. There are those friends who loved and supported me even when I did or said things that made them cringe. Those are the friends that I can count on. The older I get, the more comforting those friends are. We have seen each other through marriages, divorces, births, deaths, and illnesses–sometimes serious. We have laughed and cried, called in the middle of the night, or the middle of the day, and that reassuring comforting voice was on the other end of the phone line. I have taken some of these women along for the ride of, literally, a lifetime. Sometimes, I wonder if we met today, would we have anything in common since our lives have taken different paths. But that doesn’t seem to matter. What we have in common is history, long and short, and the love and support to be there for each other through everything. They all know who they are.

A few years ago I serendipitously met a women who lives in Portland, Oregon where my younger son lives. She’s actually the mother and mother-in-law of friends of mine, although she and I are closer in age. I did a house swap with her so we could each visit our sons and have a little space. As time went on I ended up staying with her and she with me even when we were home. We have become friends. One night over a glass of wine she said to me, “Marsha, you are a friend that I could call in the middle of the night.” I knew exactly what she meant, I felt privileged and the feeling is mutual. We share lots with each other, but we don’t know all the details of our pasts and it doesn’t seem to matter.

This past summer a dear friend’s son was married and my three lifelong friends, husbands in tow, were there to celebrate the next generation. We laughed and cried, danced, ate, and drank and loved being together. When the bride’s friends asked who we were and we said we were the lifelong friends of the groom’s mother and that we, the 4 of us, had known each other for more than 50 years, they looked at us with longing hoping this would be them some day. For some of them this will probably be true.

I have made new friends over the years and since my years are shorter in front of me then behind me, some of these “new” friends might be in my life until the end. One of these friends I met about 10 years ago. When we first met, I ended up staying at her house for about a week, having rented my house out without much thought of where I would stay. Her kindness and generosity gave me pause. One of the first things she shared with me was that she still sees her elementary school friends and, in fact, they still have reunions, for those who are left. That sealed the deal for me. This is a person who takes her friendships seriously. I have since stayed with her each summer for a few weeks and we stay in touch no matter where we are. She is definitely someone I could call in the middle of the night.

I am lucky enough to have a wonderful sister. She shares a bond with me that no one else can have. A history that we don’t have to talk about, but we know. We can call each other anytime day and night. We are lovingly and gratefully stuck with each other. Our lives have taken different paths and that has not made a difference. She has given me the gift of her wisdom and taken mine. As we have aged we have gotten closer. We have more time to spend together now that my children are grown and she has retired. We talk on the phone as often as we can and we send, sometimes, one or two word emails. We meet up in exotic and sometimes mundane parts of the world. We don’t have to say much, and we know each other’s good and bad sides, and we don’t care. We will grow old together and be there for each other until the end. This is a kind of friendship that stands separate from all the others.

For the past 3 years I have lived in Korea and the friends I have are all young enough to be my children. I often forget that age gap until I talk about something, or someone, from the 50’s to the 80’s and they look at me with the same puzzlement that I look at them when they talk about more current things, like music, which I realize, I somehow stopped listening to after 1980. These women are good friends as well. Women I could call in the middle of the night, which for me could be midnight if I go to bed at 9. They would be there at the ready to listen with love and support. There is a universality about connecting to women, regardless of age.

So what have I learned? I know that the 3 women I grew up with and my sister, know me like no one else and will be there for me, forever. In many ways they are my sister/friends. I can’t imagine anything coming between us. I also know that I have deep bonds with the women who have come into my life over the past 66 years.  When I was young my mother had women friends that she cherished, her sister at the top of the list. She modeled for me how important women were in her life and how I should cherish my women friends knowing that they will last forever. And that is true.

Jumping Off The Precipice

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Several years ago, actually more than 30 years ago, I went to see the movie “Flashdance.” If you haven’t seen it, it’s about a young woman who works as a welder by day and an exotic dancer by night. Her dream is to be accepted into a prestigious ballet school. As far reaching as that was, by the movie’s end she realizes her dream.

A few days after I saw the movie, I was driving to work and a driver on the other side of the road swerved into my lane and nearly hit me head on. I was shaken up, but I wasn’t hit and continued on to work. It was then and there that I decided to quit my job. I knew that my life was destined for more. I walked into work and resigned. A bit rash, I know, since I didn’t have any idea what I would do next. It wasn’t the first time I had left a job without a plan and it turns out it wouldn’t be my last. I have taken many giant leaps into the abyss of the unknown, describing myself as a person who leaps first and, on the way down, begins to think of what the landing will be like.

Coming to Korea knowing I would lose my job in a year and a half , based on a mandatory retirement rule, was a giant leap. I took that risk and had a ball. I was able to get another job, as an adjunct, based on my status as a wife with a spousal visa. Last semester I had a grand time teaching classes that I loved, to students who wanted to be there. I assumed that this position would last for the final 3 semesters we planned to stay until Steve would be forced to retire; an advantage of marrying someone younger than me. I returned to Korea in early September after a wonderful summer in Maine only to discover that the program I taught in is struggling to stay alive and my position was cut back to less than part-time. My first reaction was frustration that I had to, once again, figure out what to do next. Then I remembered that movie and the dreams and hopes that the young woman had. True, I’m not a young woman and, at 66, most of my career is behind me, not in front of me, but that shouldn’t stop me from having a new dream and a new direction and a new focus for the future. I’m about to jump, once again, off that precipice and I do wonder what the landing will be, but that isn’t going to stop me from jumping. It’s a choice and I plan to take that leap to find the next adventure that awaits me. I remember a friend who was dying saying to me once, “You know, I’m alive until the day I die.” We don’t know when that time will come and I know for sure that I’m not waiting around for that day. With age and experience, comes wisdom. That wisdom has taught me that every day counts and my happiness is key. There are many cute sayings about living in the moment. We hang them in our offices and in our homes and we hope to be reminded that the day we are in is all we have. I know how hard it is to live in the moment but I also know that when I focus on the day before me, it brings a smile to my face.

There are so many possibilities for the future. I may not choose the perfect one, but it surely will bring me joy and that is really important. When friends ask me when I’m going to retire, I laugh to myself knowing my life has always been a balance between work and retirement, so I imagine I won’t ever stop.

So, here’s to the next jump and knowing that life really does begin at the end of my comfort zone. The precipice awaits and I’m hoping for a smooth landing.

With love and gratitude,

Marsha