Well, we have finally made it to Santiago, after 110 kms, a beautiful sunny day greeted us as we trekked the last 4.7 kms down the hill and through the city and finally into the Cathedral square! It wasn’t just relief that greeted us but a sense of accomplishment that we had got here relatively unscathed, with feet intact and a bag full of stories and experiences to share….
We wondered whether we would see some of the people we met along the way? The answer to that was a astounding yes, but not in any planned way. And that’s the subject of this blog, a final one on the Camino before you all get sick of it!
Although the Camino can be anything from a personal pilgrimage to an exercise in long distance walking, we found the reflective element was really beneficial. So in between the walking, the food and the beers both of us found space to clear our heads and examine our lives just a bit.
The one major thing I think I want to take away from the walk, apart from the beauty and the sense of achievement , is to stop trying to plan my whole life. Instead I want to respect spontaneity, to understand that not everything can and needs to be controlled. We make decisions for many reasons, but in the end they have to be our reasons. And that through that spontaneity we open ourselves up to new and wonderful things.
Let me start at the beginning….
On the very first day, and we were very green peregrinos or walkers at this stage, just feeling our way, we passed a bar, not like the bars in Perth, but a small bar, which was also a cafe and a restaurant all rolled into one. This was run by an elderly couple, was down a hill and had seats outside, pretty much on the road. No one else was stopping here, most walkers had stopped at one at the top of the hill, where there was a view. Matt looked at me and I looked at him, and we felt this was a place for our first cafe con leche (coffee with milk) of the day. It was a spontaneous decision that would influence the rest of the walk for us. As we were sitting there the elderly woman came to me with some newspaper. Initially I was a bit confused, as she asked me to lift my shirt…, then I realized she was wanting to put the newspaper on my back under my shirt to soak up the sweat. This is apparently something very traditional that Spanish people do for peregrinos and it was the most touching thing I can remember happening to me. Suddenly we were part of something very special, yet very ancient. We seized the moment and were given a gift.
But another gift was about to be given. So there we are pretty much on the road, drinking our coffee, with the newspaper on my back, when along comes a young man, with a donkey and a dog. He stops and orders a coffee, and enquiries as to whether he can let his donkey eat some of the grass by the side of the road. This was our introduction to Anthony, a French lad in his late 20’s, Martin, the donkey and Uno, the dog, who had been walking for over a year, and were heading to Santiago. They had started their Camino in the middle of France, traveling by day and seeking fields to set up a tent at night and cheap places to eat. We had a little chat, enough to find out Anthony intended to keep walking, and that he had a love and compassion and a bond with both animals that was amazing.
We were to meet up with Anthony and his menagerie many times during the coming days, each time a surprise, as we made our way along the Camino. At bars for a coffee, or by the side of the road, suddenly he and Martin and Uno were there. We shared a few spontaneous lunches, our shout, and some obligatory cold beers. In a town square I looked after the animals while Anthony went and got a paper, and we had time walking together along the path, at a donkey’s pace, of course. But this in itself was also a blessing. At this pace there is time to talk…and we found out just a little bit more about him. A gentle soul from Brittany, he had an urge to travel and a sense that life on the Camino was a shared life. He had spent a year in Australia, and in the Kimberley, which had sparked his wonder lust and he had a desire to visit and perhaps live in Mongolia, after heading to Morocco and Jerusalem. We found we had similar views on many things happening in the world so he was not totally disconnected from it. In fact I think he was working out how he could contribute best to it…..
In all our encounters we enjoyed his sense of humour and stories of traveling with Martin, the time Martin got sick after eating apples, the way he hates when horses go past, but then wants to run after them, the way Anthony got him in the first place, and the relationship all three have to one another. If Anthony is out of sight both Uno and Martin start looking for him, very anxiously…
Every time we left them, it was tinged with a little bit more sadness as our connection had become that little bit stronger. What we thought was the last time was in a field just outside of Santiago, a joyful goodbye if there is such a thing, as we hadn’t thought we would see him so close to the city. We were able to tell Anthony how much his company, and that of Martin’s and Uno’s had enriched our journey, and that we would watch his further travels with delight via Facebook.
So, as we left him in this field, after a fitting farewell, with hugs all around even for Matt, and hugs for Martin and Uno and one last avoir, we set sail for Santiago.
But never say never in this world, which is something I am beginning to really understand…
We arrived in the Cathedral square of Santiago to find many pilgrims there, walkers, bike riders and those who rode horses, sad that our walk had come to an end. We recognized some of the dusty and dirty faces but many we did not, but that did not dampen our enthusiasm or our feeling of camaraderie. Once the initial excitement was over, we did what all pilgrims do, we took a photo and headed to the Pilgrim’s office to get our certificate. Here we waited in line, and were greeted by one of the officials, for us a lovely Spanish man, who shook our hand numerous times, even though we had only done 100 kms, wrote our names in Latin on the certificate, also in Latin, and handed it to us in such a way that we felt incredibly special to have joined this group.
In fact we have joined the Camino community and will never be the same!
But this is not the end of the story…..
After all of this excitement, and after the 21 kms we walked in the day, we were really pooped, so once we ate and of course had a celebratory beer we headed to our hotel for a shower.
When we came out and back to the square, we could not believe our eyes, for there, in the square was Anthony, Martin and Uno! In the Cathedral square of Santiago! We were amazed that he had travelled the 4.7 kms through the town to the Cathedral with a donkey and a dog!!! When we heard how he got in, just by walking, apparently Martin had a head of steam up and just kept walking, we could not help but laugh. But more amazing was that we were all in the square at the same time!
We quickly greeted Anthony with hugs and kisses. He was so happy that he had finished his 1500km walk with the family he had started with. It was also such a spontaneous and wonderful end for us, to see them all again, such a wonderful, unexpected surprise. Of course we were not the only ones greeting him, he had many people talking to him. Anthony was now a bit of a celebrity, as the only person with a donkey in town!
It was at this point we realized that while Anthony was a major part of our journey, a joyous, spontaneous part, we were a small part of his. In the end we could never have planned this continual overlapping of stories, yet by being open to others, and ready for what may arise, we were given many gifts along the way. Anthony, Martin and Uno was one such beautiful gift. But they were not the only one. There were many others we connected to during our Camino, some we met up with again in Santiago and some we did not. Our Camino journey was enriched by all of them, all unplanned encounters on the road…..
So our Camino has come to an end. How do I finish this blog after writing so much about a donkey, a dog and a young Frenchman. Perhaps it is to say that our connection and time spent with them revealed to me some universal truths about life, in addition to losing my control fetish!
I was reminded that we are to embrace the moment, not what has gone or what is to come, but the current moment and embrace those around us who are sharing that moment. Difficult I know, perhaps a Camino walk might help! I was shown that community does not need to be for years and years, community can be as short as 1 day or 6 days or as long as a lifetime. And our experience with Anthony and the many others on the Camino reinforced the notion that every encounter with another can be beautiful and meaningful and filled with love and compassion, joy and light, if we want it to be.
And finally, that we can choose our own way, even with a donkey and a dog for company!
Not bad for a few days walking!
I know there are many blogs about the Camino journey on the Net, often covering the 700+ kilometres the full journey takes, with lots of pictures and insights. So I don’t want to be just another one, and in fact I can’t as Matt and I are only doing 140 kms into Santiago. Yet already it has been a fantastic experience in so many ways, and I can now see how people get the Camino bug and want to do more!!!
So I just want to write down a few things…
There is something about travelling a path followed by so many people before us, people of faith and people of no faith, responding to this simple urge to walk and walk and walk, and along the way to maybe reflect a bit on life, that is very therapeutic. Walking is used for meditation in many faith traditions and I can see why. One step at a time, getting into a rhythm places us firmly in the here and now, not looking too far into the future and not looking back. It gives us a different perspective and removes many of us from our crazy lives, if just for a little while.
We pass a lot of stone markers that point the way on the Camino, ancient signs that direct the traveller. These are very comforting, for those of us lacking directional sense. On them are often written notes, or notes are placed under stones. Many others have piles of stones on the top without notes. It seems symbolic, this ritual placing of the stones, as people shed things as they walk, giving up what is unimportant and superficial to them and perhaps discovering what is real. Some walkers don’t do this and some of the school groups leave graffiti or their names rather than anything more serious. And there are lots of school groups in July!! We have not placed a stone, but perhaps we will, that’s the good thing about the Camino, it is for each person alone to do what they feel called to do.
However the Camino is not just a reflective walk, it is also a very beautiful walk. Along the way there is time to admire the lush green countryside, full of trees and rolling hills and lots and lots of corn, and tiny hamlets and stone churches. And to meet and talk to fellow walkers, some religious and some not, but always with great stories to tell. We already have been blown away with the diversity of nationality, of age, and of past history that goes with walking the Camino. We have met a catholic couple from Mexico City, a family with 5 girls, the youngest only 8 years old from Madrid, a beautiful couple from Washington State, who told us this amazing story about hope and love which I will share later, and wonderful Spanish owners of bars, restaurants and shops. And of course our French companion Anthony, with his donkey Martin and dog, Uno. We have met him over the past 3 days, and today shared lunch and a stroll for a few kilometers….
This has been one of the greatest revelations of the walk so far. The camaraderie is palpable on the Camino, greetings in Spanish even if not a fluent Spanish speaker is the order of the day. “Ola” meaning hello or hi rings out everywhere while “buen Camino”, have a good Camino, is spoken as we pass fellow walkers. While most understand “buen Camino” as a greeting, a wishing well, or happy travelling, it also means good path, or right track, and acknowledges someone who is searching. This encompasses the pilgrimage intent of the walk, which is to become your best self, what God intends you to be. Mind you, as one who is not great with languages it took me awhile to get the greetings, and Matt was found rolling around laughing when I said “Olay” instead of “Ola”! Rather a slip that meant the people I directed it to would think they have to look out for bulls or wonder why I was referring to a face cream! Even the “buen Camino” is slightly tricky, some of the Americans say “Bon”, I think they are also confused. But it does not seem to matter, for we are all in it together, for whatever reason.
So our experience of the Camino so far is one of joy and light, even with the occasional blister, aching legs or sore neck. We already know that we will be back to do some more, and maybe one day do the whole thing in one go, you never know!
Well, we have been in Europe for two weeks, and what an amazing two weeks it has been. The madness and amazing sights of Rome, the stunning beauty of the Amalfi coast and the relaxed food heaven that is San Sebastian. You would think there would be much to inspire a blog. But I was waiting …
Then, last night, inspiration happened. We have been staying in an apartment in San Sebastian very close to the beach but without air conditioning. Well, there is air conditioning but it is very complex to set up, and we have no instructions and after numerous attempts to get it going, we gave up. Instead, we have been opening the windows at night to let in the breeze. Unfortunately, it also let’s in the noise!!!
San Sebastian is renown for its festivals, they celebrate so much as proud Basque people. This weekend is the Harbour festival. It starts well before the weekend, when large puppets roam the streets, traditionally entertaining the children who follow, laughing and cheering. Many of the restaurants and pintxos bars stay open late and generally encourage a party atmosphere. It is lots of fun, with both families and young people out, enjoying themselves.
We, of course, joined in the fun this evening, having our own pintxos tour, but while we eventually went home, many others didn’t. The night was long and, with a window open, sleeping was a problem.
Eventually the party finished and all was quiet. I heaved a sigh of relief and rolled over, expecting to get some sleep…
Then it started, the hidden ones began their jobs. I could hear garbage trucks winding their way along the streets, picking up the garbage from the bins and on the ground, men with water cannons cleaning the paths and roads, machines scraping the sand on the beaches to refresh it for the next day, while still others coordinated the whole process, communicating with one another by yelling and often laughing. There was a veritable army of people working throughout the night, preparing the city for anther day. People hidden from view but vital for the health and wellbeing of others, and of the tourists who visit on a massive scale. It was like a different population came out to play!
We woke up this morning to find no remnants of the party from the night before, everything was clean and new again. It was like these cleaners had appeared and then magically dissappeared.
When we look at our life, and the lives of others, we are constantly reminded that we live in a village, a community that needs lots of hands and feet, some obvious and some hidden. Like much in life we don’t see the hidden ones, only the results of what they do! Yet in all these different ways a contribution can be made, and meaning and purpose can be found, particularly when we acknowledge and value this contribution. It really struck me, at this early hour in the morning, that I was witnessing a miracle. A man made miracle but a miracle none the less.
It made me think of God, perhaps it’s because we are about to walk the Camino! Where do I see God revealed? The cleaners point the way and speak of a universal presence I have always known. For me God is revealed in the ordinary and everyday, it is the everyday miracles that reveals his presence to us. Sometimes if we come out of our little Christian bubbles we see God where he or she really is, right amongst us. God is as much in the church as out, as much in the hidden cleaners of San Sebastian as in Pope Frances. We just need eyes to see or ears to hear. Even when we are trying to sleep!
As Frederick Buechner says…
The sacred moments
The moments of miracle
Are often the everyday moments.
Just a follow up to the previous post.
In an amazing coincidence my quote of the day from Frederick Buechner, which came into my inbox after I had written my blog, was titled, “Letting Go”. Here it is…
|By Letting Go|
|WE FIND BY LOSING. We hold fast by letting go. We become something new by ceasing to be something old. This seems to be close to the heart of that mystery. I know no more now than I ever did about the far side of death as the last letting-go of all, but I begin to know that I do not need to know and that I do not need to be afraid of not knowing. God knows. That is all that matters. Out of Nothing he creates Something. Out of the End he creates the Beginning. Out of selfness we grow, by his grace, toward selflessness, and out of that final selflessness, which is the loss of self altogether, “eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man” what new marvels he will bring to pass next. All’s lost. All’s found. And if such words sound childish, so be it. Out of each old self that dies some precious essence is preserved for the new self that is born; and with in the child-self that is part of us all, there is perhaps nothing more precious than the fathomless capacity to trust.- Originally published in A Room Called Remember|
Deeper, more reflective, and more beautifully written than my blog. Particularly the first few lines. But also the words about trust. Isn’t our faith also about trust. Trusting in the unseen energy of the universe.
Also, if you want a serious book dealing with change and the ups and downs of life, look at Alexander Shaia’s book, “Hearts and Minds”. An ancient way of understanding the gospels as a 4 part transformation known to our forebears and so relevant for us today.
I having been waiting for inspiration for a new blog for some time. Life has been hectic and hasn’t allowed space for a bit of pondering.
But today was different! We finally put our two sons on the plane, bound for Bali and then on to Europe. Although we will see them for a bit while they are away, it was like a new phase of our life had started. Suddenly we were letting go of them in a way we had not done before. Suddenly they would be really on their own. Ah!!!!
This idea of letting go has been with me for a while now. Listening to the John Denver song, “Leaving on a jet plane” on my way home today just reinforced the idea. I let go of the boys as they got on a jet plane. While we are a pretty close family it seems right and proper that they venture out on their own, albeit together, to see what some of the world has to offer!!!
I have had to let go of quite a few things in the last year, a hospital, a research unit, the people I worked with, and the title I carried with me for a number of years. It has been good and bad, but I know change is never easy and will always be fraught with highs and lows. We have to find meaning and purpose in new pursuits and let go of what has gone, in order to remain sane!!!
Yet we have to accept that time inevitably leads to this change, this need to let go.
As a parent we experience it at almost every stage of our children’s lives, from the time when they are a baby and a toddler to when they are in high school and then going off Europe. Our relationship changes and our children grow up. We have to let go of that dependency and embrace these young adults! And then learn to live without them.
We have to practise the art of letting go within our own lives as we grow older. Suddenly we are not the leader of the pack, but supporting other, younger people to take charge, and to lead us. Suddenly we do not have the energy or the ideas that we once did, or even the mental capabilities. Sometimes it is hard to accept this lesser position. That we cannot influence a situation or event just by our sheer will. Someone will come up with a new idea or a new way of doing things that changes the nature of our world and we are not the driver, but a bit player.
It is made worse when illness and disease catches us, often unawares. Illness means we have to stop what we are doing and take stock. We have to face often months of treatment, and focus on repair rather than doing the activities we have always done and have been a part of. This is hard, very hard.
And then there is the time when there is no treatment, and we have to face letting go of this world. Without much more than a final wave we have to leave, whether we have completed our tasks or not.
So I realise letting go of what we know and love is often painful. It is having to face change that often is not of our making.
But there is always a shining light. Something that helps us through.
We have a young woman at our church, around 19, who is full of the urgency and enthusiasm of youth. She is frankly amazing and has been involved in many actions and activities related to Amnesty International while supporting the refugees in Northam with visits. In between this she is studying and leading the life of a single, social person. We as a church are carried forward by her and with her, and we do what we can to support these initiatives. Letting go of the need to control everything or do everything opens the ways for others to exercise their gifts and their talents to better our world. This young woman is certainly exercising hers.
Another young woman has been in Rome this past week, also associated with our church, as a representative of an international youth coalition supporting the Pope’s position on climate change. She was part of a huge march to St Peter’s square involving people from many different faiths, calling on governments to take action at the upcoming United Nations summit. While the Pope released the encyclical it is the young who will be the catalyst for change. And these young people need not be people of faith, but rather of passion and commitment.
So letting go of one thing leaves room for other things, or other people. Other lights to shine.
Letting go of our boys will give them space to mature more fully as independent adults.
Letting go of the need to be the leader allows others to develop those skills, others that will take us forward. If we can support and nurture their passion it will give us all a future.
Letting go of a busy work life helps us to embrace new ways of being, to open a space for different ideas and visions. To spend time talking, laughing and supporting one another. It allows us to discover what is important and what’s not, and to strive to embrace each day as it comes. Letting go of some things gives space for others.
And letting go of the idea that we are invincible, that we are never going to get sick, let alone die one day, gives us a new appreciation of life, with all its diversity and joy. Even if the road back to health is a long slow one.
So I have come to the conclusion that all of life is one big letting go process.
The key is how we face this inevitable change in our lives ……
Perhaps we just need more practise at it.
Matt and I are dealing with the trauma of our loss head on. We are letting go of work and the boys by going on holiday!!!
I will keep you posted from the Camino (don’t worry, we are walking for 6 days, not 28!).