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Day 17: the Line

(Originally posted on 8 September 2016)


The past two days have been very difficult, and not just for the physical and mental exhaustion. My iPhone screen cracked; two bracelets broke for no apparent reason; I got ready at 5 am only to find out the hostel would not let anyone out before 6; I had been excluded from dinner by the same hostel because I arrived too late; three of the albergues where I had requested for accommodation on the same day was fully booked – just to name a few.

As if this list is not enough, this morning on the road to Ponferrada, I had a funny encounter with a hog.

Bad luck, I thought.

This series of unfortunate incidences prompted me to think about the concepts of luck and destiny. On the Camino, recognizing the distinction between luck and destiny can be instrumental to one’s mental wellbeing. Indeed, if you indulge your mind in a spiral of paranoia, the first day you think it is bad luck, the second you start packing your backpack with amulets of every kind and the third day, you just don’t walk anymore because the moon is going down instead of rising. You begin as an interpreter of destiny’s signs, and you end up as a slave of your own fears.

For this reason, I spent some hours on the road thinking about where is the line drawn between destiny and superstition. For rationalists, who believe that everything happen according to cause and effect, the threshold is very high, for believers of every sort, who think in an intervention of God or destiny in each one of the events of their life, is very low.

So I asked myself: “What is your line, Marco?”

On the Camino, my line is defined by the words “Don’t stop”. That is my priority for the path. My focus is making sure that I will sleep in a different hostel night after night, irrespective of external events. Whatever happens, I know that I have to march onwards, whether is 5 or 50 miles. As long as the direction is fine, I know that - sooner or later – I will reach my goal.

In my every day life outside of the Camino, my line is drawn differently, because I don’t have such a singular objective as reaching Santiago de Compostela. I’d like to think that my line corresponds to the Italian proverb “aiutati che il ciel ti aiuta”. Its literal translation is “help yourself and the sky will help you”. Its meaning is quite clear: nothing good will happen in your life if you choose to spend your days facing the wall and waiting for something to happen, but if you work hard, opportunities may arise. In that case, be grateful, because it may not be attributable solely to your merits.

One of the core teachings of Christianity says, “ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you”. (Luke 11:9 ) Fair enough. But I would like to highlight its implicit assumptions. What are you offering in order to let your desires happen? What are you putting on the table? Sleepless nights or rest? Easy choices or tough work?

Personally, I do not believe that the sky will listen to you if you do not work hard to prepare for good things to happen to you. And more than this, I cannot think of a religion that is premised on the fundamental unfairness that you will receive plenty without offering anything, even considering the huge influence of misericordia.

As Stephen Hawking once said, I have noticed even people who claim everything is predestined, and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road.

To some extent, underlying that elegant observation is the simple truth: help yourself and the sky will help you.

Ps, today, I arrived at the hostel as its last pilgrim of the day. The lower floor was full, so the hostel opened an empty room upstairs just for me. After days of staying with people snoring and waking up at every possible time, I was really relieved. “Que buena suerte!” - What good luck, I thought.

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