Hey there folks,
If you’re familiar with existential literature (which you should be, peasant) then you’ll recognize the title of this post comes from John Gardner’s brilliant piece, Grendel, which, if I really had to pick a favorite book, would definitely be a contender for that moniker.
Exceptional book, Grendel; creates such a sympathetic anti-hero and makes you think – the hallmark of great literature. This post will make a lot more sense if you’ve read Gardner’s novel; otherwise, you’ll just think I’m nuts.
What? I can’t enjoy philosophy too?
What are you getting at, you loon? I hear you say to an empty room. Well who’s the loon now?
Meat and potatoes, comin’ right up. And might I recommend you give this a listen as thou read: Dark Paradise
I finished San Salvador a few days ago – read about it here – but ever since those treacherous mountain descents, my left foot and leg have been the worse for wear. Anyone can hike, one foot in front of the other easy peasy, but ascending 1000m to immediately descend the opposite side in the same day, well, that’s a recipe for pain.
And pain, holy hell, pain it is.
Now I’m not the healthiest of cats to begin with, for if you know me in the real world, you know how much I enjoy my alcohol, tobacco, and fast food. The most I walked back home was to and from work here and there – about 3 miles a day – over the course of a month before heading to Europe. But I certainly wasn’t morbidly obese or totally out of shape. Sure, the Wicklow Way handed me my ass gift-wrapped, but I’ve been abroad for two months now; fairly good shape these days and an excellent hiker.
Bitchin’ tan too.
But something has gone wrong with my left foot. Something I cannot simply rest away. A deep pain, like a crick in the neck you just can’t pop, that manifests itself in a silly hobbling gait I’ve been using for a few days now. The steep, and I mean steep, descents of San Salvador have truly pulled a fast one on me.
Poor Grendel’s had an accident after all it seems.
But this pain, it’s only physical. As I’ve mentioned in other posts – and in person to those few pilgrims who’ve dared to pick my brain – I believe pain is a polite reminder I am alive.
In Grendel’s final moments, he’s escaped the clutches (somewhat) of the unnamed Geat, limping along to his death, perched precariously upon the cliff looking into the Abyss. As his Life leaves him, clarity finally overcomes our anti-hero. According to a Sparknotes write-up of Grendel, “Although in intense pain, Grendel is now free from the mindless, mechanical cycle in which he earlier found himself trapped.”
In a way, yes, this injury has freed me from Camino, the mechanical cycle I’ve been repeating for weeks. It’s not to be dismissed, then, this pain, but embraced for what it is: you’re alive because you hurt.
Is that morbid? That sounds morbid.
The pain is (mostly) tolerable, but my walking days are over this Camino it seems. In a few days, I take up my next volunteer position in Grado to act as a hospitalero for two weeks. As much as I had wanted to walk Primitivo, sadly, that just isn’t happening.
Until then, seems like I’ll be hobbling along as a turegrino. And the first stop: Casa Licerio, a joint managed by a pal of mine from the States. Lovely little casa rural in the even lovelier city of Samos – and it’s absolutely perfect. If you get the chance, pilgrim, pass through Samos and stop on by Casa Licerio – you’ll thank me later.
Not a bad way to rest up, eh?
But that isn’t the only accident afflicting poor Grendel, for what is physical pain without delving into the torment that is my mind?
I hail from a small town in the quiet deserts of southeastern New Mexico. No matter where I end up, that place will always be home.
Before abdicating to Europe, I worked full-time in a local tire shop, fixing flats and selling llantas, making a good wage, and with the best boss I’ve ever worked under. In the evenings, I worked remotely as a tech writer for a software company, doing their bitch (paper)work because no one else could be bothered to do it. Between the two gigs, I had a very comfortable, if unfulfilling, Life.
Yet now my time in Europe is swiftly coming to an end. And to what Life do I return to back home? I certainly don’t want to go back to the tire shop, nor do I want to live out the rest of my days in that sleepy town. My future, if you can even claim I have that, is completely uncertain. And that is a daunting thing to realize – the adventure is over soon.
In truth, I am ready to go home. I’m tired of walking. I’m tired of wandering. I’m ready for the future, whatever it may be.
When I walked my first Camino back in 2014, my mother sent me an email as I approached Santiago. “It’s time to come back to reality,” she said, and for two years, I lived it. Working two jobs, paying rent, taxes, bills, ticking all the boxes of the good ol’ American dream.
And what a loathsome reality that is for me.
Yet those words reverberate even today. Time to come back to reality. And in a few weeks, yeah, reality will be slapping me in the face, grinning like that idiot Beowulf as he slaps poor Grendel about the mead hall. “Sing about walls,” I can hear Reality hiss into my ear, my arm twisted behind my back, as I’m thrown into things against my will.
“You’re a fucking lunatic,” I manage to whisper in defiance. But my head is still pushed into the wall, again and again. Reality triumphs. My soul once remarked that I am indeed a Monkey, that whenever someone or something tries to domesticate me, I go nuts, tearing apart the blinds and humping inanimate objects. Is that what Reality has in store for me?
No, far from it.
For the philosophy of Grendel is the real triumph here. Reality is what we make it: it isn’t defined by burly Geats beating us about the head, or societal norms and expectations. Reality is my creation, and upon my return, the things I have written about in my journal and letters will be the reality I return to, so help me. I will be waiting on the other side of that Dark Paradise. I will be waiting on the other side of that Dark Stream.
Mists might cloud my future, and that is daunting, but the excitement of the unknown, of the less traveled path, is the draw here. Like Grendel, in my painful clarity, I hover about the precipice of the Abyss – with a simple dive, I can conquer it. The future – this Abyss – doesn’t seem so intimidating when one remembers that their Reality is of their own machinations. My Fate is fixed; what use have I for fear?
And all because of an accident.
Maybe I didn’t slip upon a pool of blood as Grendel did, but I have learned that pain and accidents are lessons to be learned and embraced. Portents of the future, if you will. Some days are good, and some suck, but each is a new day. Reality may bash me against the walls and force me to sing of their hardness, but I can bash right back for I have crafted my own future, the Lucky One to whom I return.
I am Beowulf, but I am Grendel.
I am Chaos, but I have found my Order.
I am Darkness, but I have found my Light.
I live for the moment, but I want our future.
And I am fucking crazy, but I have found my sanity.
Poor Grendel’s had an accident. So may you all.