(Originally posted on 12 September 2016)
Palas del Rey/ Santa Irene, O Pino
Looking back on my posts, I noticed that I have given a lot of airtime to my feelings, but not so much to the stories of other people. I decided to dedicate this posts to the friends I have made in the last few days: Dennis and Georgia, because the interaction with fellow pilgrims will become one of my most beautiful takeaways from the Camino.
(Clarification: I have asked for and obtained both of their permission for me to talk about their stories in my blog, and I want to thank them for so generously helping to let my thoughts come alive. )
I met Dennis this morning on the road to Melide.
He is a retired policeman from the United States who lives half of the year in Oregon and half of the year in California, mostly for weather reasons. We had a long conversation about religion, family, the present and daily life.
After a long uphill path, and a light breakfast with just a couple of snacks (not enough for a pilgrim, and definitely not enough for me), I was dreaming about a hot coffee with some pastries. I asked Dennis if he wanted one as well, and he told me that he had not taken coffee for 18 months. Having coffee used to be his shared morning ritual with his wife, but she passed away 18 months ago, after 49 years together.
I asked him if I could offer him a coffee, even just for the symbolic “wake-up” effect, and he kindly accepted. At breakfast, he was laughing and chatting with me and other travelers. I could only imagine what a struggle he must be going through. I just wanted to help him move forward, in they way the Camino teaches all of us to. I made a small gesture, and I am certain that the Camino will do way more than I did.
Georgia has been my main pilgrim partner for the last two days.
She is an Italo-American girl with a wide bandwidth for my sometimes hyperactive mood. In just the past 48 hours, she saw me singing, yelling against the sky, complaining about every possible uphill, downhill or flat path, practicing martial arts with my walking stick, and saying “¡Buen Camino!” or “¡Hola! ¿Qué tal?” to all the pilgrims and the cyclers that passed me by on the road. Moreover, she listened patiently to my impressions about medicine, law, relationships, music, Zen philosophies, work, friendships, religion and food - just to name a few.
Gotta say I have done my part as well. She told me that – probably for some emotional blockage – she just could not yawn anymore. But when she was with me, she yawned on both days. Even though she considers my methods unconventional, she is very pleased about the results, especially because no doctor or therapist in the last few months succeeded in the task.
Just when I thought that my role was finished after the first yawn, today she received a message from her ex-boyfriend, with whom she had lived together for 5 years before the break up. His brother had died. If I did not happen to be there, she might have walked alone and faced the situation all by herself. At least with my company, she could have someone to share her feelings with. I tried to get her to open up more on what was clearly bothering her but she changed the subject. I offered her an hug. She refused.
We spent the last hours of the afternoon without speaking a word to each other. It was not because we were annoyed. Quite the opposite. It was because, sometimes, silence give us a way to better express feelings. With each step we took, the sound of our walking sticks hitting the ground echoed in the air for a period that felt like a lifetime to me. We kept walking and walking even beyond what we had originally planned. Indeed, we both knew that, the Camino can be therapeutic.
So, this is us - our fragilities, our passions, our fears.
Georgia told me “I don’t want to maintain a reputation anymore. I just want to be me.”
It reminds me of a quote from Charlie Chaplin:
“Worry more about conscience than reputation. Because conscience is what you are, your reputation is what the others think of you.”
My position maybe is not so strong, but I know that I am writing open-hearted and in the truest way, and I would not be surprised if, after the end of the path, I question myself, “how could you have written something so intimate?”
Day by day, our barriers are lowering, our emotions escalating, and our core deepening. We are so used to speaking openly with strangers that it feels like the norm for us. Because on many levels, we have surrendered ourselves to the destiny.
Perhaps it is precisely because I have written and spoken so openly and honestly, I have been able to maintain a balance between my mind and body . During the 750 kilometres of non-stop walking in the past three weeks’, this blog and the many conversations with my fellow pilgrims have become a powerful source of support. Without them, I probably would not have survived such grueling conditions, day in, day out.
Another pilgrim told me today that only 5 % of the travelers starting from St. Jean Pied-de-Port ever reaches the end at Santiago de Compostela. Some dies, some decides to have just a quick tour, some cannot make it for physical issues, and others have to come home. For those 5%, I guess that becoming naked in front of destiny and letting our fragilities show – are the price we have to pay to complete the path. And after having reached Santiago once, I still believe it is a good deal..