I was startled awake in my top bunk by a rotund, jovial guy telling me (and the other 180 pilgrims sleeping in bunks in my room) to essentially get our asses in gear. I had set my alarm for earlier but in my post Pyrenees/rain soaked delirium the night before, I guess I screwed up. Breakfast was at seven and I had wanted to get my shit together. Before I left Madrid, I had every intention of organizing where each item would go in my backpack to make access the most efficient and easiest but, well, as I mentioned, too much living that last night in Madrid had compromised my packing.
Nor I had slept well, and was cold most of the night. I had only packed the recommended sleeping bag liner, since most of my walking will be spent in 90+ degree weather (Madrid was 95-100 the whole time I was there). So, after a day of walking in a constant rain and being soaked to my sorry pilgrim ass, I was somewhat cold already when I went to bed. And as usual I woke up at 5ish, so I groped around and found my sleeping pills and proceeded to choke down half a pill without water making sure not to wake my bunk mates. I dozed off to sleep after a half hour and was in the middle of a rem cycle when I was prompted to wake up.
So as the other pilgrims packed and left-obviously they hadn’t spent an evening in Madrid over imbibing and if they did, the fact that most of them were at least twenty years younger than me contributed to them bouncing back a little quicker. So I took a little more time than most to get my shit together.
So the fat, pissed off guy who had woke us up before (his demeanor had changed, probably only due to my now somewhat anxious perception of him) made the rounds again, telling me (my other bunk mates were long gone) essentially that I should get my pathetic pilgrim ass in gear and head out to the camino if I really wanted to find what I was looking for.
I threw a last few things in my pack and headed out to the Posada de Roncesvalles for breakfast, a few hundred yards from the auberge. It was a separate building, dating probably to the 1800’s (new by Roncesvalles standards). Park and Im were there, as well as Else and Wim. I was served a simple breakfast of cheese, meat, bread, juice, and most importantly, coffee. I sat with some folks I had not yet met. Nobody spoke much, they were probably like me, too tired and in pain to utter a word, after climbing rain-soaked over the Pyrenees.
I left by myself thinking I would catch Park and Im, since I could see them off in the distance. The path took me along the side of the road for awhile, and then into forest. I started to think about the things that had happened to me recently. Really, most of the things that happen to us in life aren’t big catastrophes, although we often make them out to be. Most of it is pretty small stuff.
So maybe those things happen to give us pause, make us reflect, and are there as reminders that we are human, fallible and can make mistakes. And hopefully we learn from those mistakes. If you think you haven’t got anything left to learn, then I’ve got an internet venture called myspace you might be interested in.
As I got further away from Roncesvalles, everything became more lush, greener. I ran into a few people, made small talk, and wished everyone the traditional ‘”buen camino” (good camino, good journey) as I passed by. Apparently, rumor is on the camino that I’m Tom Hanks. I’ve had 5 or 6 people ask about it, and my resemblance to him. I’ve heard this before and frankly I always thought he was a little goofy looking (sorry Tom), while I see myself as being much hotter ;). They all must have seen “Castaway”-I’m thinking’ it’s the beard.
When Stefano mentioned my resemblance yesterday (at the place I had lunch in the Pyrenees), his friend piped in (in broken Italian/English) and said “It must work well with the ladies”. I laughed and told him that’s what Tinders for. He gave me that smile you get when you know someone hears you but they don’t understand.
I did think later it might be funny to create “Tinder para el Camino” ©- helping people from all over the world hook up on the camino”. Talk about a melting pot. Then again, it sort of collides with the reasons most are here. I really wasn’t serious but I have trademarked the idea.
I moved on through peaceful, deciduous forests and farmland. Big white cows, round Monet haystacks. The sun broke through the clouds, providing that brilliant light you get after your eyes have dimmed and gotten used to the grey. Most of the time I heard cowbells down in the hollows and glades. I think I saw the ghost of Christopher Walken walking along side me (wait, he’s not dead, he just kind of looks like it). More cowbell!
I was walking alone for awhile, so I started singing as I do- badly (“Helpless”, Neil Young). I also play guitar badly. It reminded me of the time not too long ago, in the final throes of my marriage, when I was sitting on the floor wrapping christmas presents. When I wanted a break ( wrapping presents is next in line after death and taxes in the pantheon of crappy things in life) I would pick up the guitar and sing a few verses (it was probably Helpless).
My daughter walked by and made fun of me for trying to sing. I used to sing to her when I gave her a bath as an infant. I know my singing voice isn’t that great, but who cares? I felt embarrassed and sad. What 8 year old daughter would even think to say what she did, and where had that came from? I can only guess. I never sang around her after that.
I walked a little further and finally ran into some Polish pilgrims. Damian and Lucha. The both laughed a lot which immediately endeared them to me. Lucha had just joined Damian in St Jean, because she wasn’t down with starting at Damian’s doorstep in Krakow and walking across half of Poland, Germany, France and Spain like he had done.
Which by the way, is how the original pilgrims did it centuries ago, by simply walking out their front door- usually in Spain although routes have been established in most of Europe. Damian was Catholic (as is the dude buried at the end of the camino) and for him it’s a religious pilgrimage.
We traveled together for awhile, talking about his trek, my journey, life in general (it seems to come up a lot on the camino). We also discussed the previous night, checking in at Roncesvalles. You had to fill out a simple form and check off why you were trekking the camino. Two of the options were cultural and spiritual and we postulated that everyone must be out here for at least partially spiritual reasons, for a chance to look oneself in the eye and take stock.
With his easy laugh and attitude (and the fact that he had walked from Poland) Damian was the most interesting Pilgrim I had run across so far. But then, as I parted ways with him and Lucha, I ran into Emma and Baya, from Portland Oregon.
They had met in a blueberry patch when they were two. Uh-huh. They actually did. They had been friends ever since, are in their early 20’s and live a mile from each other. I’ve always loved the Northwest, mainly due to the people I’ve met there, and the healthy, creative energy that seems to subside there. I’ve spent a lot of time there, and everyone I’ve met, for the most part, always seems smart, creative, open to anything. And these girls were no exception. It was Emma’s first time on the Camino, Baya had been once before.
I don’t know if you ever meet people who, right off the bat, you just start talking about anything and everything under the sun with. I have- Amanda was one them. Maybe you just have to be open to it, and some of us, sadly aren’t. So Emma, Baya, and I walked, and we talked about everything under the sun. One topic led to another, then another…
We talked about some dude with a map of life, Joseph Campbell, our lives, heroes journeys, how they liked to sing on the camino, etc, etc, etc. Then, Baya told a story that made me have to walk ahead so they couldn’t see the tears in my eye. And I don’t even know how we got on the subject.
Baya told me about a friend whose son was emotionally disabled (Aspergers type symptoms). Only thing was, when she saw the kid without the parents (her friend would babysit him from time to time) there were absolutely no signs of anything, the kid was completely normal (whatever normal is these days). The child’s nervousness, anxiety, and external misbehavior was caused by the parents.
I had thought about this exact thing in regards to Hannah before. I had heard a similar story a few years prior. I didn’t really have any concrete evidence, but I’ve seen the little gestures and hand signals Janice gives to Hannah. So has my mom. And I know that Janice is controlling, and has Hannah wrapped around her little finger.
I have no doubt that Janice thinks she is doing the right thing. I am also certain that some of it is due to my moving out 2 years prior. It’s just that all parents think they are doing the right thing, but sometimes maybe they’re doing it the wrong way. I’m sure that if Janice ever reads this, she would never understand that maybe if she gets some help, it will help Hannah. Talk about the camino providing.
As I walked away from Emma and Baya (sometimes it’s not necessary to say goodbye) immersed in my thoughts about everything we had discussed, they started singing:
If you’ve been thinking you’re all that you’ve got,
Then don’t feel alone anymore.
When we’re together, then you’ve got a lot,
‘Cause I am the river and you are the shore.
And it goes on and on, oh, watching the river run,
Further and further from things that we’ve done,
Leaving them one by one.
And we have just begun, watching the river run.
Listening and learning and yearning.
Run, river, run.
Winding and swirling and dancing along,
We pass by the old willow tree
Where lovers caress as we sing of our song,
Twisting together when we greet the sea.
And it goes on and on, watching the river run,
Further and further from things that we’ve done,
Leaving them one by one.
And we have just begun watching the river run.
Listening and learning and yearning.
Run, river, run.
As I moved on, I started singing along.
I met Amanda at a party. I almost didn’t go, I had been with some friends earlier and begrudgingly took my leave. The party was a “celebration of life” honoring the birthday of one of the hosts’ friends, and the passing of another. The host was a business associate who had become a friend.
I didn’t know who’s birthday it was, but as the fucked up hand of fate seemed to be touching my life those days, I had had a legal entanglement with the dead woman-a lawyer- who had been murdered by her boyfriend.(http://www.etonline.com/news/168488_legal_diva_reality_star_loredana_nesci_reportedly_killed_los_angeles/).
Looking back in life, it seems that maybe from time to time we should stand back and look at the sign posts. It seems to me that there are, at times, certain things that help to lead us off in the wrong direction, away from our authentic self (I’ll probably use that term a lot), the person we were put on this earth to learn to be. This is assuming that there is any meaning to our existence here on this mortal coil.
If the signs hint at you (or maybe scream) that you’re somewhere perhaps you shouldn’t be, maybe it’s time to head in a different direction. My legal dealings with the dead lawyer whose life the party was celebrating should have been one of those signposts that screamed at me to run. But there I was.
I walked into the kitchen and a few women descended on me like vultures (later I found out they were more like mother hens). I figured it was just because I had a bottle of red wine. After pouring wine for all of us and making some small talk, I walked outside past the 2 piece band playing old Motown and 70’s rock to the tables that had been set up on the lawn. I finished my wine, ambled over to the bar to get a beer, and walked around. I was trying to figure out how to make a quick escape. I ended up at one of the round tables on the lawn after being called over by one of the women I had graciously donated some of my wine to.
I then proceeded to be chatted up by the women who had now been joined by their husbands, boyfriends, etc. They asked me who I was, what I did, how I knew the host. The rest is a blur. I don’t know if it was intentional or if it just happened, but all I remember is, (it could have been ten minutes or an hour, later) I was at the same table with Amanda, the one friend of these woman who was alone. And suddenly we were alone. And I don’t remember anything of what was going on around us as we spoke. Except calm. And it seems as if we talked about everything under the sun and stars.
Maybe this was her friends’ intent. But you know what they say about the road that’s paved with good intentions. Still, the more we spoke, the more I felt like I had known her forever. It wasn’t the words she spoke, but what she spoke of. It wasn’t what I heard but what I felt.
After awhile, her friends let her know that they were leaving. They invited me to join them, but I declined. And in fact, it was almost as an afterthought, just as she was walking away, that I handed Amanda a business card to email me.
Long before, I had accepted the fact that I would be without someone for awhile. But you know what the Buddhists say: only when you stop searching for something will it find you. Or maybe it was Yoda who said that. Nonetheless, somewhere, amongst the rumblings of my insecurity and ambivalence, something glowed dimly. She was so damned easy to talk to and we shared some common threads: separated (later we found out for exactly the same amount of time), abusive spouses, kids, the joy and pain of life.
A week or so later we had dinner overlooking the crashing waves of the Pacific. A night of shooting stars, roving peacocks, and a thrilling reminder of what we had both long forgotten: that life can be good, and if you’re lucky, maybe you can be given the opportunity to mend the wounds of the past with the help of another.
Janice and I got together on a balcony, at a wrap party after too many drinks. We kissed, that was it. I had been working with her on several freelance jobs, and I hadn’t been seeing anyone in awhile, I guess I was ready. She was smart, she had it going on. She was attractive to me. I’d like to think I’m not that superficial. I like to think that emotions and feelings color the actual physical perception of our vision. If we feel something, we overlook some aspects of the physical nature of things.
After that moment on the balcony we were pretty much together. I don’t know if she knew what she was doing, I sure as hell didn’t. Maybe she knew it was time to get this one thing in place so she could then focus on the next thing. I, on the other hand, had been drifting at the time. And getting together with her did help me focus. Focus on the things that she thought were important. We became a team. So, being passive, I went along with it. Trying to do something creative went by the wayside. I didn’t think about her lack of passion, her focus on money, or her idiosyncrasies. I used to joke that it was “an East Coast thing” (she was from New York). I guess i was the stereotypical west coast laid back guy. But when your a hopeless romantic you just dive in. And you never think about the possibility that you might drown.