With train rides and flights and schedules to meet clouding my dreams, I was up early and left Azura in the dark. I was out the door in no more than 10 minutes. I guess I have acquired a little grace somewhere along the way.
I ran across three guys who were heading out of town so I followed them, asking them if they knew the way. It seems like they did (communication was somewhat compromised due to the language barrier) so I followed them only to ascertain… that they didn’t. I should have known- they kind of reminded me of Moe, Larry, and Curley- confiding in each other but you get the feeling that they were all just in agreement about their own misanthropic adventure, but had no idea what the hell they were doing.
So, before any eye-poking or hair pulling commenced, I stopped and checked in with Brierley and saw that it seemed like the camino left Arzua back towards the center of town, so I turned around. Pretty soon I met another guy who spoke only Italian who looked lost. He followed me and sure enough, In another half K we ran into a group who were heading down the street Brierley had guided me to, and all was good in the world, at least on the camino at 630am in Arzua Spain.
And so it went. Another morning walking with new pilgrims, most of them younger, probably mid 20’s to 30’s. For all my caustic, curmudgeonly comments (meant to be taken jokingly) in the past, I was glad to see all these “kids” out here. For whatever reasons they were here, at least they were getting out, throwing a pack on their back, and walking what was now 40 or so kilometers to Santaigo de Compostella.
Most of them probably had at least become familiarized with the religious and cultural significance of the walk, if not being here for reasons like my own. In fact I hoped they weren’t, they should be out here having a good time with their friends, having the light breath of youth carry them along on their way to the journey that is adulthood. I offered up a “buen camino” often, and had a few brief chats as I walked by.
To get an idea of who’s walking the camino, the friendly folks at the Pilgrims’ Welcome Office/24 hour convenience store in Santiago de Compostela have provided the numbers for us. In 2014, 237,886 people completed the pilgrimage. Of these, 89% arrived on foot, 11% arrived by bicycle and a few hearty souls rode horseback. Pilgrims came from Spain (48%), Italy (8%), Germany (7%), France and the U.S. (5% each), Portugal (4%) and over 150 other countries. About 28% were 30 years of age or younger, 55% were between 30 and 65 years old, and just over 16% were older than 65. These 2014 pilgrims included students, salaried employees, technicians, retirees, teachers, blue-collar workers, civil servants, homemakers, artists, farmers, unemployed people and priests.
In short order I was out of the city and walking through small fields as the sun began to peek over the trees that bordered the fields. Then I walked over a river, and back into farmland and forests. It was clear out and fog sat over some of the fields where livestock grazed. There wasn’t really anyone to talk to. I kept looking for some of my fellow pilgrims from days gone by but I saw mainly younger folks I didn’t know, and a few old guys powering through who looked like they were on a mission from god. And maybe they were.
Speaking of missions, I guess some people think that being out here, for an American, far away from his home, is something kinda extraordinary. I never looked at it that way. I guess in Spain walking the Camino is seen as special, even something to put on your resume.
But I guess in America, many of us settle for the ordinary in our lives. And I guess for a lot of us thats OK. For the most part, we don’t know any better, or maybe we just can’t escape the walls we’ve built for ourselves. That probably goes for everyone in the world. Just a reminder to you all- it’s out there. Or here. Or wherever. Maybe even in your own backyard. Or maybe on a beaten path, in Spain.
I know it’s not easy. Work, schedules, relationships. As I’ve mentioned before, I had no choice. If I’m in any way to be admired for walking the camino, remember that I’m a reluctant hero, sort of like Bruce Willis in Die Hard. And I’m not out here saving anyones life except my own. But, I thank you all for the comments and encouragement Ive received on this journey. I hadn’t been the best friend/ lover/ father/ man before I left. I wasn’t keeping up my end of the bargain. Hopefully I can set my life straight and get better at living upon my return.
For awhile I walked through fields and “forests”. Well, if a forest could be planned by an engineer anyway. Trees were lined in perfect rows, with the same exact space between each tree. Maybe they were being grown to harvest and sell, but they didn’t look like they would produce much lumber.
After awhile the path came out to the main road, and there were a few busy cafe/ bars, with tour busses out front letting off pilgrims for their day’s walk into Santiago. I stopped for a break and got a little something to eat, and a Red Bull, since it was a little later in the morning. There were a lot of pilgrims sitting outside, having a grand old time. They were in their own world, and I in mine, the gnarled, grizzled veteran of a whole 30 days on the camino, as compared to their sweet smelling, smiling selfs with day pack in tow.
The camino travelled along the side of the road for awhile, and then moved into a forest, and some small fields. I have to admit, at this point in time, I was probably already moving back into the “real world” since I have a time and place I have to be. Yes, soon I would have to confront the biggest reality of them all: time. The time of schedules, deadlines, death, taxes. The time that waits for no one. The time that is on my side. The time that, in the end, renders us helpless. The time that once, not too long ago had stopped for me.
Like the time I was sitting next to Amanda in her backyard, not too long after we had gotten together, looking out at the city below and the mountains beyond. Inexplicably at first one, then a few, then about a hundred birds congregated on a phone line above the hill running down from her yard. It was like they were gathering to see this new thing happening, a new light that was being born in the universe, a new spark of hope in the darkness. It was before we both had reasons to look away, as we stared into each others eyes.
The birds gathered, and tittered and tattered, as we discussed the things you talk about when everything is new. I joked that it was my animal magnetism they were attracted to, but I knew they were there for her. Maybe to look over her. For all her strength, resilience, and fortitude, and my scars and open wounds (mostly self inflicted) she needed them more than me. She had told me a few of the things that had scarred her, from her marriage, and her life. It explained why she would often get close to me, then retreat when she got too scared. She had good reason, and a lot of it had nothing to do with me.
I think a lot of us want to be close, but because of the past, we’re afraid of it. The closer you get to it, the greater the chance at getting hurt again. And so you get anxious, fearing the possibility of experiencing pain, and you stop. And the voice in the back of your head convinces you to retreat.
But still, we yearn for intimacy (maybe the intimacy we had with our mother and as a child) so we seek it physically (although there is nothing wrong with that, I think it’s often the first step towards real, emotional intimacy). But if that’s as far as we go, and we mistake physical intimacy for emotional intimacy, we let it fool us into thinking we’re being intimate, close, in love.
And just being physically intimate is fleeting. It’s probably a cover up for the real issue- that we are trying to avoid the pain that could be caused if someone doesn’t return our advances towards being truly intimate- laying ourselves bare to another, throwing shit out there that you wouldn’t tell any one else about yourself, and expecting the other person do the same.
And the closer we get to somebody, the greater potential there is for pain. Which is why we construct the walls, put on the armor, and arm ourselves with the weapons necessary to do battle with the ghosts that haunt us. Unfortunately, the same walls which keep others out, also keep us inside.
I walked over a river and into A Calle, a little village where good ol’ American style consumerism had taken hold- a short half wall that ran along the camino displayed a line of “Peregrina Cerveza Premium”, a local hooch. A bunch of pilgrims sat behind the low wall quaffing the stuff, whooping it up. I smiled as I passed, knowing that in days gone by I would have stopped to down a few, but that was then. I didn’t have time and, well, I guess it was just another indication of me leaving my past behind.
After another 2.5 kilometers I got to Salceda and had some lunch and knew that I had to get serious about…schedule, and the future, beyond simply putting one foot in front of the other. Specifically, I needed to think about where I was going to stay. I was a little worried based on my experience from the previous night, not being able to find a bed. It felt kind of strange as my mind edged back into the hyper speed, pumped up, goal oriented dollar chasing mindset that I had forgotten, at least for the previous 30 days or so. So I decided to book a cheap hotel a few kilometers off the camino, and Salceda, the town I was in, was the place of departure.
I was a little concerned. I mean, the hotel looked fine on booking.com, but I was in a strange country, didn’t speak the language much, and worst off, I wouldn’t be able to confer with Brierley for fucks sake! But I guess at this point in my journey, especially since I had been traveling alone, I had become more self reliant. It hadn’t really occurred to me but, like most lessons in life, I guess you don’t notice them taking hold, informing you. They just slowly envelope you like a fog creeping in off the sea, and become ingrained.
After conferring with my GPS, I finished my bocadillo and moved on. Not too long after I left I found myself rambling along a road through a eucalyptus grove and the strangest thing happened. I was walking quietly by myself and all of a sudden I was amongst the soft fluttering of wings of a bunch (herd, flock, swarm?) of Monarch butterflies. I’d had a similar experience decades ago, jogging amongst another grove of Eucalyptus trees during lunch at a place I worked at in Irvine, CA.
And in fact, it’s kind of funny. The monarch makes several appearances in something else I’m writing and represents the rebirth of the main character (caterpillar to cocoon to butterfly) and in fact, is based on me. Something else about butterflies- many cultures associate them with our souls, and around the world people view the butterfly as representing endurance, change, hope, and life. Enough said.
I could only stop and look up as they made their way down the camino (flying instead of walking!), taking their time, darting from side to side, as monarchs do. I watched them for awhile until they floated out of sight. I looked around but there was no one to share my experience with, so I moved on.
Pretty soon the road veered off the camino and I was in farm country- smallish fields interrupted by groves of trees now and again. I walked through several small towns with no signs of life although I did see (and hear!) one guy on a moped whine by.
I was truly alone, off the camino, reliant now only on my GPS and mediocre sense of direction. Speaking of moving on, a brief history of this pilgrimage and why so many have taken the steps that I am now following: After Jesus’ resurrection, St. James became the leader of the church in Jerusalem. Apparently, he traveled to Spain to spread the good news, then returned to Jerusalem where he was martyred. Not so good news for him. Following his death, his followers took his body to Spain and buried him in northwestern Spain. Time moved on, people forgot about ol’ St. James.
Then, around 815, a Spanish hermit had a vision in which he saw a bright light shining over a spot in a forest (hmm…sound familiar?). The hermit told the local gentry, they checked it out, and found St. James tomb and body. The bishop of a nearby town had a church built on the site of the tomb. After awhile, the shrine began attracting pilgrims, who steadily increased in number until by the eleventh and twelfth centuries, a half-million pilgrims a year were making their way to the church, which grew into the town of Santiago.
For many centuries, the pilgrimage drew both the wealthy and the poor. A pilgrimage was seen as an enactment of the spiritual journey of Christ, and the hardships along the way were welcomed as tests of faith. Apparently they did it without ipods, cellphones, or Deuter backpacks.
After a few more kilometers I made it to my hotel. Nice, clean accommodations for 35 euros. A room to myself. I washed my clothes in the sink and walked a kilometer to a truck stop and got some Nestea and a bag of chips, walked back to the hotel and sat down at the small desk in my room to write. As Bob Dylan once said “It takes a lot to Laugh, it takes a Train to Cry”. Don’t know what that really has to do with anything, I just always wondered what that meant.
As I sat at my little desk, I couldn’t help but think about this crazy, fucked up, excruciatingly beautiful world (the one Dylan often sings about, in fact) and how lucky I was to be sitting at my little desk with my Macbook Air, a bag of chips and a Nestea, writing down my thoughts after just about completing a 30 day walk across Spain.
Kind of puts things in perspective. I was a little melancholy- I thought about those I had left behind- My good friends who had put up with me in my sorry state back home, a resentful daughter I was trying to reconnect with, and a smart, insightful, beautiful woman who had taught me more about myself than I’d ever cared to know.
I thought of everyone who had carried me on their shoulders, and deposited me to where I was at this very moment at a hotel in O Pino, Spain. It was then that I knew that it was up to me, and only me, to figure out where I needed to go next.
For the time being, the answer to that question was the restaurant downstairs. Somewhere online I had ran across a good review of the place so I decided to sit down and have a good ol’ fashioned proper meal, like back in the states, with a menu and everything (the typical pilgrim meal was usually posted on a chalkboard, or piece of paper).
The restaurant was nicely appointed with white linen tablecloths. I was the only one in the place. I ordered chicken and vegetables over rice. Unfortunately, the waitress pointed out that the four dishes that were served with rice had to be ordered for two, and hence you had to pay for two people if you wanted to order the dish. Really, all cause of the rice? I felt kind of like Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces. So I got the clams and pasta, and didn’t tell the waitress to hold the chicken between her knees.
[Bobby wants plain toast, which isn’t on the menu]
Bobby: I’d like an omelet, plain, and a chicken salad sandwich on wheat toast, no mayonnaise, no butter, no lettuce. And a cup of coffee.
Waitress: A #2, chicken salad sand. Hold the butter, the lettuce, the mayonnaise, and a cup of coffee. Anything else?
Bobby: Yeah, now all you have to do is hold the chicken, bring me the toast, give me a check for the chicken salad sandwich, and you haven’t broken any rules.
Waitress: You want me to hold the chicken, huh?
Bobby: I want you to hold it between your knees.
I went back to my room and packed up for my last days walk. My ankle still throbbed and looked a little like the elephant mans’, but as I mentioned before, there just was never a question that I wouldn’t trounce into Santiago on the appointed day and finish my journey. I laid down to the sound of the wind softly blowing through the window where the last few remnants of my laundry dried. Dylan floated into my mind as I drifted off:
Now the wintertime is coming, the windows are filled with frost
I went to tell everybody but I could not get across
Well, I wanna be your lover, baby, I don’t wanna be your boss
Don’t say I never warned you, when your train gets lost – Bob Dylan, “It takes a lot to Laugh, It takes a Train to Cry”.
So, in the week following Amanda and I getting back to together, we kept in touch, her doing her thing, me doing mine, trying to right our “professional” lives, get some stuff going, and not be too dependent on each other. She had to make a trip to San Francisco with her kids, driving up and back in two days. It was kind of strange, and beautiful. I wasn’t sure how to proceed, since we agreed that things couldn’t be as they were before, when we had become too dependent on each other.
We talked during the trip, we made plans to attend a concert Jillian had invited us to over the weekend at a beautiful venue overlooking the ocean. Amanda’s kids would be with their dad and we would have the chance to spend the night together and wake up in each others arms, something we hadn’t been able to do for awhile.
The weekend rolled around and I headed up to Amanda’s. We picked up her friend Cara and her date and headed over to Jillian’s and got her and her boyfriend Chuck and headed to the concert. It’s funny, I destinclty remember feeling like a different person, my “new self”. I wrote in my journal afterwards: …that place I’m able to go, more and more. A good place. I’m strong, confident, feel good about myself. I walk taller, think clearer. Negative emotions are not clouding my mind, my thoughts…
I’ve probably already gone on way too much bout what Amanda had brought to my life. But Jillian and Chuck were yet one more thing. Not just them, but also the other friends she had introduced me to. Like Don and Karol, Mark and Kat, Tina and MIck. Maybe it’s just that I was thrust into a group of completely new people, but, I don’t know….anyway, it seems they too have taught me about myself- who I am, reminded me of the man I used to be. I guess were all just reflections of what others see, I mean, how else do we get to know ourselves, except through our interactions with others? Well, besides what that voice in the back of our head keeps telling us.
We settled in on the lawn with a few glasses of Chardonnay (hey-it was hot out!). I sat down next to Chuck and discussed the vagaries of the world. Chuck is a lawyer-surfer. Lawyering is his job, surfing is what gives meaning to his life. Well that and Jillian. I’m sure there’s some other stuff too, like the Dead. And he probably even gets a little something from lawyering…
You probably wouldn’t guess he’s a lawyer by talking to him- he’s laid back, easy to talk to, funny. Not that lawyers can’t be funny. I mean, they can be funny, especially if their the butt of a joke- Q: Why to lawyers wear neckties? A: To keep the foreskin from crawling up their chins. Insert chuckle here. Chuck is one of those people you meet who you instantly like and are comfortable with. Why in life are there people you meet and they always seem like strangers while others, it seems you’ve known them all your life?
Speaking of lawyer-surfers, I have a friend named Norma. She’s a rocket scientist-pole dancer, or at least was anyway. No joke. She’s an engineer in the defense industry, works on some top secret stuff. I think pole dancing (not strip club pole dancing mind you-look it up) gave her meaning in life (empowerment, kept her in shape, etc) and helped fill a void. She poured herself into it when she was alone. I understand that. I turned to writing. Norma is awesome by the way. She’s been a great friend. Its funny though how life works out. She was never married (tied up with her career), never had kids.
At one point she hooked up with a guy and poured herself into the relationship. The relationship didnt work out, but the guy had a troubled son. And even after they split up, Norma tried her damndest to help the kid that had been thrown into her world. She finally met a great guy (another lawyer!), they bought a house together and moved away from next door. She closed the pole studio she had ran while she spent 50 hours a week rocket scientisting. Fred has 3 kids and Norma’s become an awesome mom.
Anyway, after awhile, Amanda got a call from her ex who was supposed to have the kids. He had decided to drop them back at her house. No warning. She finally got ahold of him and he said he had a meeting. On a Saturday afternoon. After that, Amanda got a migraine and became anxious. I walked over to the hotel and got her a double macchiato and three types of aspirin. Besides the double macchiato (pretty sure she had no idea Id be able to score a double macchiato- her favorite) I tried to help her. I held her and massaged her neck. We went back to Chucks place and had dinner and wine around the fire pit while talking and watching a beautiful sunset and moonrise over the Pacific Ocean.
We finally left and went back to Amanda’s place. I didn’t know what to expect. I found out soon enough. A peck on the cheek, and that was pretty much it. Maybe I was being selfish, but I guess I expected more, especially after the previous weekend. She was retreating again.
Intimacy seems to have several levels. And it seems to me, men aren’t very good at recognizing them. And of course one thing that clouds it for us is a hard wired biological urge to, well, you know. So, I propose that we are not too keen on the nuances. So, how do men gauge intimacy? Well, by the physical manifestations, it’s all we got. I don’t think our emotions are nearly as complex and nuanced as women’s’, part of the reason for them being from Venus and us from Mars, or visa versa whichever it is. So when men are roadblocked by one of the few signs they can understand, they may get frustrated.
Putting it in context for me (this is all about me anyway, isn’t it?) suffice it to say: We had spent three nights together the previous weekend just enjoying each other, intensely and intimately. And we had both discussed this weekend with excitement and anticipation. We’d made plans. And then, everything came crashing down, to a sudden halt, seemingly due to a phone call from Amanda’s ex-husband. In addition, I thought (as many might think- there i go thinking again) that this might be a time when Amanda could use my emotional support more than ever. Instead she pushed me away.
This is not to say that she didnt have good reason. Amanda had a lot of good reasons, harbingers of the past, some of which I knew, others which she hadn’t told me. The older I get, the more I see that were all just trying to transcend the wounds hoisted on us by others, many of us just doing the best we can, struggling to get by ourselves and dealing with the sins of our fathers. Like me. Like Amanda. Like (I’m guessing) Amanda’s ex. But it’s like trying to get rid of an old tattoo you don’t want anymore.
So there we were, me trying to assuage her fears, and at least find something, a little bit of that closeness from the previous weekend. Maybe thats what scared her. The level of intimacy we had reached was good. Great. Awesome. At least I thought. I mean when someone tells you 2 or 3 times over a few hours that they love you so much you can only think one thing: that they love you so much. Especially when you love them so much.
After awhile though, there was nothing left to say so I got in my car, drove home, and sat down and wrote for a few hours. Thinking about it, I was probably being selfish and not taking what she was going through into consideration. I guess it was yet another thing that she was had given me, was teaching me, another lesson. Whether she knew it or not.
I was only walking through your neighborhood
Saw your light on, honey; in the cold I stood
Anywhere I go there you are
Anywhere I go there you are
I been getting used to waking up with you
I been getting used to waking up here
Anywhere I go there you are
Anywhere I go there you are
You’re the fire and the flood
And I’ll always feel you in my blood
Everything is fine
When your head’s resting next to mine
Next to mine
You’re the fire and the flood -Vance Joy
‘It takes strength to forgive” said Heather. Way back on day 10 or so, she told Cormac and I her story of forgiveness, forgiving her husband many years after her divorce. We discussed this as we sat in front or the old church sipping a glass of wine, waiting for the clothes we had washed and dragged out to into the sun to dry. Heather told her story and then walked went over and showed a few young Italian guys how to waltz. Not sure why that happened, it just did.
Heather realized the only person she was hurting was herself. We get comfortable with our anger, and it takes a lot more work to forgive someone that to hold on to the comfort that anger gives you. You have to make a concerted effort to kick it’s ass out of your life. Anger just lays there as it grows and grows, waking up when you call it, contributing to that knot in your stomach when you wake up on the morning.
I made a promise to myself at the beginning of this journey. With every step, every little piece of my boot thats worn as I walk, I will try and shed the sins of my past, fix the results of the bad choices i’ve made. And as I walk, I will look down the path of all the pilgrims before me, and see a future of hope. I know someone who went through hell, and hope was the only thing that saw her through. I don’t know if I’ve lived up to that promise I made. I suppose only time will tell.
In life we make choices all the time. We often don’t even see them as choices, because they cut deeply, and hurt us so much we dont even want to confront them. But if it’s emotional things, we do have a choice. Cause it’s all “in our head”. And those things can be changed. Only problem is, by virtue of the fact we can’t touch them, they’re the easiest to shove aside and ignore, and the hardest to deal with. How do you fight a ghost you cant see?
And yes, studies even show that forgiveness is good for us. Just like with anything in life, there are costs to your choices. Staying angry, resentful, and vengeful comes at a price. All these feelings can have a detrimental impact on our physical and emotional health. Those studied reported decreased depression, anxiety, and anger when they were able to forgive. So, as Heather might tell you, don’t allow yourself to go through another day feeling angry about being wronged. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and dance!
These times are so uncertain
There’s a yearning undefined
And people filled with rage
We all need a little tenderness
How can love survive in such a graceless age
The trust and self-assurance that lead to happiness
They’re the very things we kill, I guess
Pride and competition cannot fill these empty arms
And the work I put between us,
You know it doesn’t keep me warm
I’ve been trying to get down to the Heart of the Matter
But my will gets weak
And my thoughts seem to scatter
But I think it’s about forgiveness
Even if, even if you don’t love me anymore
There are people in your life who’ve come and gone
They let you down, you know they hurt your pride
You better put it all behind you, baby, ’cause life goes on
You keep carrying that anger, it’ll eat you up inside, baby
I’ve been trying to get down to the Heart of the Matter
But my will gets weak
And my thoughts seem to scatter
But I think it’s about forgiveness
Even if, even if you don’t love me anymore -Don Henley