Sunday, 2 June 2013

Pilgrim's Progress

Back in Utrecht, out of the frying pan of spring in Phoenix and into the cool, wet chill of spring in the Netherlands! Jet-lag and weather-lag aside, it is good to be back. The spring rain has made everything even greener than I remembered, with flowers blooming everywhere. Especially my garden. In fact, it seems that while I was gone it decided to hold an orgy, spawning a riot of weeds! Still, much as I normally detest gardening, I enjoyed a sunny afternoon mucking about while listening to the nearby Dom tower bells playing everything from Lara’s Theme from Dr. Zhivago, to Finiculi Finicula, to Eleanor Rigby. Later, after doing laundry, cleaning house and sweeping the kelder, I sat on the canal wharf at sunset – which these days does not  arrive until after 10:00 P.M. – enjoying some wine and good Dutch cheese as I watched the boats, canoes, and kayaks drift by. Bliss!  

However, getting my house in order after my unexpected detour is but a prelude for the next big step – it is time to belatedly begin the trail of the lonely thesis pilgrim. Yes, after – finally – completing my last term paper for my last class, it is down to just me and my thesis. Funny, much as I groaned over group projects, I now rather miss having group mates with whom to collaborate and commiserate! House Beautiful is soon to become Bunyan’s gaol. Your thesis is supposed to be the culmination of your entire LLM, worth twice as many credits as a class (no pressure!), and which must be completed during spring and summer – just when your brain needs a rest, the days become long and sunny, outdoor cafes beckon, and your feet start itching for travel and adventure.   

Like any pilgrimage, a thesis is a journey that must be undertaken alone, with faith that you will find the answers along the way. From the Slough of Despond, where you bog down in procrastination, to the Valley of Humiliation, where you realize that your thesis question is as clear as mud, and on to the Valley of the Shadow of (brain) Death as your endless research takes you down the primrose path of interesting, but ultimately useless, information. You may reach the Plain of Ease for a brief respite, only to encounter Doubting Castle (with no Promise key!). Try as you will to be a hermit in the Delectable Mountains (or, in the Netherlands, Molehills) the seemingly back-to-back spring and summer festivals lure you to the distractions of the Enchanted Ground. Oh, to finally reach the Celestial City of COMPLETION!!!   

And then what? Who knows! Another pilgrimage in the form of a PhD? A new job? Perhaps a pilgrimage of a more physical nature, the Camino de Santiago? I know somebody who did all three Caminos in the space of one year, each a little longer and more painful. Yet each more satisfying and fulfilling; a time to endure, reflect, and gain perspective. Such is the nature of pilgrimages. The first step is the hardest, whether it be with your feet, your mind, or your heart. Once committed to the trail, it is just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. So, it is finally time for me to stop talking the thesis talk, and start walking the thesis walk. Here’s to finding the way and staying the course – blisters notwithstanding!

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