October is many days of a sameness here at The Peaceable. We wheel things around in barrows, and shovel up muck, and update all our files of important documents (which is much like shoveling muck, I think, but with less visible progress.) Una lets us know she is not ready to die yet. She bounds about each morning chasing mice and beating up Tim and bossing everyone around. Maybe the veterinarian gave us too much information. It seems like we humans are the ones doing all the suffering. At least until evening, when her breathing is labored...
Life in Moratinos goes on the same rhythm it´s followed, more or less, for the last 500 years or so: Harvest grapes and press them into mosto and set that aside to moulder, clean up the cemetery, chop up the kindling for the winter fires, get your flu shot, your pneumonia vaccine, wash the windows, plow and sow and hope the rain comes down on time.
The weather´s been kind. Progress continues apace at both new pilgrim albergues, and the pilgrims themselves continue flowing through the middle of all our activity, dozens of them every day. They don´t stop to say hello when we greet them. They don´t come home for coffee, even, not anymore. So I was surprised a few days ago when three pilgrims at the edge of town surrounded me with hugs. I knew them right away, because they stop in here whenever they come by: Jussi and Liisa, evangelical missionaries from Finland, and Daniel, a sometime Yankee sailor who does odd jobs. They´re a strange trio -- the Finns are elderly and parental, with ruddy cheeks and kindly smiles. They don´t have to tell you they love Jesus, cause you can see that. Daniel´s somewhere in his 50´s, but he´s young for his age, full of jokes and advice and American brass, with a Jewish vibe ringing in there somewhere.
We met them on New Year´s Eve 2006, soon after we settled here. All together we attended a do-it-yourself pagan bash in a town nearby that included downing shots of home-brew liquor and vegetarian lasagna and singing our respective national anthems. The highlight was watching our rather-floppy-by-then host attempt to light a bonfire and jump over it without torching himself or the neighborhood. All of which might be a blast if you´re not partying alongside teetotal born-again elders.
They must´ve forgiven us, because they keep coming by when they´re out spreading the Gospel. This time I gave them boiled eggs and mandarin oranges, grapes and figs and brown bread to eat. They drank down a pot of coffee, blessed our house, and set out on their way. I don´t think I will see the Finns here again. Jussi looks grey with exhaustion. Liisa mentioned retirement, stepping aside and letting the younger evangelists have a go, seeing as Jussi´s coming on 70.
Seeing them again made me wonder. Maybe pilgrims have changed in the past four years, or maybe we have, but we don´t often see the soft, slow type pilgrims any more. These ones flow slowly down the Way, stopping now and then to help someone lay bricks, or to pick a Neil Young song on a guitar, or to talk about Jesus in the middle of the morning. Nowadays it seems like pilgs roll along hard and silver as ball-bearings, self-contained, on schedule, leaving no tracks and picking up no dirt or bugs or color, waiting til they´ve found a place to stay before they open up their packs and relax.
Today is Friday, a wake-up day. I can keep myself occupied Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday, but the veterinarian is closed on weekends. If we let Una stay alive through Friday evening, we commit her to hanging on through Saturday and Sunday and most of Monday, too. We have to gauge carefully, balance her morning liveliness against the afternoon clinginess and the breathlessness of night. We cannot let her suffer. We pretend not to notice how slowly she rises in the morning, and how she decides against the long hike, turning aside instead to squeeze past the fence and greet the Italian work-crew laboring at Bruno´s albergue. She has a terrific appetite, and we´re giving her deluxe dog food, driving greedy Tim mad with envy.
We are running out of sunshine. If I work hard and stay busy I don´t hear Una coughing. I don´t notice how Paddy´s grey hair is going white on the edges. I don´t feel my own breath coming shorter each afternoon, after the medicine wears off. I don´t notice when the sweet old pilgrims don´t come back again.
Death is part of life, it´s all around us, it´s easy to deal with when it´s out there in the future, and abstraction. But as I dump the barrow out in the patio, I rake the soil ´round a grave already dug and waiting for a certain dog. The sky is going grey, and winter is coming on. Friday comes ´round so fast, and Una looks sad in her bed at night, struggling her way to sleep.
I do hate long goodbyes. I hope October doesn´t linger too much longer.