i can't stay
Often, Camino pilgrims find re-entry back to “normal life” a challenge. They have stepped off the work/consumer hamster wheel and discovered a beautiful unforced rhythm to life. Many find the fit so comfortable, they wished to return, I did, still do.
“The trouble is you think you have time.”
Jack Kornfield, Buddha’s Little Instruction Book.
It took nearly being deleted from existence for me to become acutely aware of my mortality. The realisation of the short and fragile nature of my time-limited journey compelled me to do something. I knew what I needed to do when I returned to my family on the Isle of Man. I had to chuck a brick through the plate glass window of our lives. I didn't need a soothsayer to explain the consequences, it was going to be a bloody mess. When disentangling a relationship, there are no bloodless options, everyone gets cut. There are no “good” decisions, only bad or worse.
“You're going to pay a price for every bloody thing you do and everything you don't do. You don't get to choose to not pay a price. You get to choose which poison you're going to take. That's it.” Jordan B. Peterson
My persistent regret is others also suffered from my choice of poison.
I was about to embark on a real-life Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need experiment, which was no small undertaking for a 54-year-old man with limited employment prospects. It was no surprise once the brick left my hand, the first casualty was sleep. After that, I unravelled pretty quick. I skirted the abyss of a mental breakdown, had a peek over the edge, and descended a few rungs on the ladder. I can’t recall much of the detail from those days, but what I do remember was the anxiety headaches, the breathless panic attacks, and my oh so desperate need for it all to be over. Along the way, I acquired a large number of sleeping pills, my preferred method for turning the lights off.
“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in”.
Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
If you put one foot in front of the other and repeat this simple action, you will reach your destination. The problem was, of course, what destination, where? The future was like gazing into the night sky and glimpsing a faint star out of the corner of your eye; it disappears when you stare at it. Gradually, a whimsy became a notion that morphed into an idea; and finally, a question.
What if I took a gap year?
“The life you have led doesn’t need to be the only life you have”.
In my younger days, there was no such thing as a “gap year”, at least not for people like me, we were the inspiration for the “choose life” mantra, on the film Trainspotting, but what if?
What if I took a year out and wholeheartedly embraced the life of a pilgrim?
I grabbed at this idea the way a drowning man might, in desperation, snatch at a stick. To begin with, I had to get past the European winter. After some research, a few applications, and an interview, I was offered a job with Esprit, a winter holiday company. I was going to be a minibus driver in St Anton, Austria. The money was rubbish, but the upside was it included all of Maslow’s basic hierarchy of needs, and then some.
"If you wish to stand and progress as you ought, hold yourself an exile and a pilgrim on the earth." Thomas a Kempis
I had a growing irrational hope everything would be okay, and the lights would stay on.