The road back…
I forgot to mention that I arrived in Santiago with Amanda. Well, sort of. She texted me when I was a kilometer or so out. She was in bed ready to go to sleep. I convinced her to stick with me for awhile, not letting her know where I was. Then I texted her “guess what?”. She texted back and said “what”? I hurried into the square and sent a pic of me in front of the cathedral, simply saying “I made it”.
Later after I left the cathedral, I walked over for the last stamp on my pilgrim passport. After standing in line for 45 minutes, I got up to the desk where 8 or so clerks were shepherding pilgrims through. I put down 5 euros for a certificate (the stamp was free). It was now official.
I had walked from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela, a total of 770 km or 478.456 miles. I guess it was kinda extraordinary. But I knew I hadn’t walked it alone. I did it on the shoulders of every person who has touched my life over the years. So I threw a thank you out to the wind. It circled around the spires of the cathedral, came back, and I swear I heard a “your welcome” somewhere off in the distance.
As I left, I felt the familiar tug of my old life, and knew I had to find the train station to catch my ride back to Madrid, and a flight the next morning at 6am to Amsterdam, then L.A. Schedules. Responsibilities. Time. A little anxiety set in, not knowing where the station was, even though I was 2 hours early. I walked out of town and found it on the outskirts. I still wasn’t sure I had a reservation since I had booked “something” over the internet, but the site was a little confusing, not to mention in Spanish. At first it looked like everything was sold out, but then I got to some other part of the website and was pretty sure I had successfully booked a seat on the same train…
After fumbling with the kiosk and a little assistance from a Spanish couple, I had a ticket in hand. So I went out and watched the trains come and go, and wrote a sort of poem:
Sunset is the tears, those who’ve gone before
And the dawn is the smile of those yet born
We walk the path we’ve chosen
our clothes in tatters, our boots worn
The days slide by and we carry
the weight of a million scars
Still we stumble on, sometimes we fall
and end up in the gutter looking up at the stars.
I boarded the train and found a window seat. Soon enough we were leaving Santiago de Compostela and speeding through the countryside, heading back to where I began my sojourn. It’s funny, I guess I’ve inspired a few people, maybe to walk the camino, or maybe at least to examine their own lives. And maybe inspiring others is something we all should strive for.
And it doesn’t have to be some grand gesture, some heroic feat. It can be something as simple (I mean that ironically) as inspiring your kids by being the best damn parent ever, trying to live with grace while being there for them, dancing and laughing with them, and letting them learn from your example, imperfections and all. As long as you do it with love, for there is no better teacher than love.
Wikipedia defines inspire as “filling (someone) with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.” The true test is if you can live a life that is continually inspiring others. If you can, I’m pretty sure you’re on the right track.
The train rolled on as the sun set. I put on my headphones and let the music wash over me as I thought about the past month, the steps I’d taken, the people I’d met. I closed my eyes and drifted off for a few moments, and then opened them to a new scene speeding by out the window, a different shade of yellow orange illuminating the hills, fields, and cities. I
I thought, in that moment between being half sleep and awareness- are we all just waiting for our real life’s to begin? It seems we have two lives, the old one we fight with, the one that gave us scars and made us cry. And the lives that, if we can heal those scars, we are all stumbling towards. Maybe that is the lesson of life.
I wish I could say that all the fucked up parts of my life, all of the people and issues, all of the things that had brought me to the Camino lined up, presented themselves to me, and disappeared, one by one, as I sat looking out the window watching the moments drift off with the last breath of the day . But that didn’t happen. Life doesn’t work that way, even when you do something a little “extraordinary”. No, you’re still the same person inside, and it takes more than 31 days walking across Spain to rid yourself of the ghosts that haunt you.
I arrived in Madrid and caught a cab to the hotel, arranging for a 3am cab to the airport (I asked and was instructed to be there 3 hrs early). I went to my room and unpacked, then went out for a bite. I was hoping to find a pharmacy to get some aspirin since my ankle was still swollen, but there wasn’t one open. Instead I opted to medicate with some wine and charcuterie a block from the hotel.
After a few hours of fitful sleep I caught my cab to the airport and checked in, which took all of 15 minutes. Since I now had 2&1/2 hours to kill, I decided to seek a few aspirin to quell the pain and swelling of my throbbing ankle. But because it was so early, nothing was open in the airport except a cafe, so I found an information booth, and was directed to the airport medic, located somewhere in the bowels of the airport. What transpired was a quest of felliniesque proportions.
I walked down into the far reaches of the airport and found the medic, simply to ask for a few ibuprofen. After checking in with a receptionist, I waited for a half hour. Finally some dude showed up, but he was only there to, well, Im not sure. I told him what I needed, but apparently he couldn’t give me a few aspirin, I guess he needed to call somebody else.
So I waited. Eventually another guy showed up. He took a look at my ankle, but he wasn’t very forthcoming (there was a language barrier) with advice or, more importantly, drugs. I was a bit irritated so I finally just shook my head, grabbed my stuff, and started to leave. Just as I was heading out the door, I muttered something about “ibuprofen”. He stopped me, reached in a drawer, and handed me a few. I’m still not sure why. I thanked him and walked back up to the gate, and boarded the plane.
I gave up my seat to a family. The aisle seat I had would mean more to them than it would to me. When I got to Amsterdam I had to walk a good kilometer to catch my connection. That’s a damn big airport! I guess I can add a few more kilometers onto my journey. Maybe this was where my old journey ended, and the new one began.
The flight back to LA was uneventful. I wasn’t looking forward to meeting the old me, I knew he’d be standing there ready to grab me and convince me of my folly, and that I should return to what I knew, the familiarity we all cling to. The walls we build to protect us from the lessons we’ve learned. I hoped that I’d be able to walk right by the bastard and continue to heal the wounds, forgive the past, and learn to love again.
I grabbed a cab and headed back home. Home. I wished that I wasn’t heading back to the shotgun shack, the shitty place I lay my head down to sleep, the place that has become my prison. I wished instead that I was heading to a place of light and wonder, of peace and solitude, of solace and warmth. a place nestled somewhere next to Amanda’s heart. But I also knew that to get there, I had to continue to walk the path I had left behind me on the camino, and take the steps that only a real hero dares to. And I was up for the challenge. But I knew it wouldn’t be easy.
Any minute now my ship is coming in
I’ll keep checking the horizon
And I’ll stand on the bow
And feel the waves come crashing
Come crashing down, down, down on me
And you said,”Be still, my love
Open up your heart
Let the light shine in”
Don’t you understand?
I already have a plan
I’m waiting for my real life to begin
When I awoke today suddenly nothing happened
But in my dreams I slew the dragon
And down this beaten path
And up this cobbled lane
I’m walking in my own footsteps once again
And you say,”Just be here now
Forget about the past
Your mask is wearing thin”
Let me throw one more dice
I know that I can win
I’m waiting for my real life to begin
Bits and pieces:
If there is any meaning to life, it is this: For each of us to right those wrongs. With every little thing we can do to fix ourselves (and it takes some work) we add to what is good and right to this crazy mixed up world. It’s all we can do.
The scars from your childhood- watching your father beat your mom, falling asleep after a fight and too many pills…Like a tattoo you can’t get rid of, after you’ve gotten a little older and decided it may have been a mistake..
Someone told me a story about their I think father, or uncle. He had gotten older, was in a wheelchair, but with some assistance, had walked the camino. I had to turn away, my eyes filled with tears. What the fuck business do I have being out here? How fucking humbling is that? Walking the same road that this old, paraplegic guy trod? I mean, my problems are non existent compared to the load he’s carried. And yet, we let these weights burden us, wear us down.
I think we all have a child in us, a child that doesn’t want to let go of…childhood. I mean, why would you? But in America were thrust into adulthood, before we’re ready. Maybe we’ve been coddled, because our parents could. Everything’s like a business, cogs in the machine. Graduate High School. Go to college. Have kids. Grow old. We don’t have time to grow up, emotionally. We keep on relying on our old habits.
Amanda was the reason, the truth, the final straw that pushed me out here. And I know that Amanda was brought into my life as an agent of change. And I go, attracted to all that she is (beauty, intelligence, insight) knowing that I will have to face my demons. It just seems too perfect. Life doesn’t really work this way. Or does it?
The heroes journey. I know I may lose her if I don’t face my demons- codependence, not taking up space, loving myself, healing the wounds of the past. But there she is too- having to face her own demons in her own way. If she would only let me in to help her, the way she’s helped me. Not sure how much she even realizes…I like to think we have stronger bonds of commonality and mutual respect than many I see out there. But as I’ve said before, what the fuck do I know?
She’ll let you in her house
If you come knockin’ late at night
She’ll let you in her mouth
If the words you say are right
If you pay the price
She’ll let you deep inside
But there’s a secret garden she hides
She’ll let you in her car
To go drivin’ round
She’ll let you into the parts of herself
That’ll bring you down
She’ll let you in her heart
If you got a hammer and a vise
But into her secret garden, don’t think twice
You’ve gone a million miles
How far’d you get
To that place where You can’t remember
And you can’t forget
She’ll lead you down a path
There’ll be tenderness in the air
She’ll let you come just far enough
So you know she’s really there
She’ll look at you and smile
And her eyes will say
She’s got a secret garden
Where everything you want
Where everything you need
Will always stay
A million miles away – Bruce Springsteen
And so it goes. Life presents itself with wonderful possibilities, but with great distractions. And we have to push aside the distractions to recognize, and give our hearts to the possibilities, the things that will give meaning to our lives when all is said and done. And the only thing that can do that is love. Love for others. Love for ourselves.
Thanks Mark. He casino feels like a distant dream for me. Thanks for helping me to escape through your words and “walk” the last steps of the journey with you. You are a great writer, keep it up. Be good and if you can’t be good….be good at it ☺. Chat soon.
Mark, truly an inspiring account of a journey many of us want to take, or need to take. Reading your “31 Days” has inspired me to take time to recognize my own journey and to enjoy each step, even if I stumble. I hope to walk the Camino next year and to have the courage to do so as you did….May the Universe open itself up to you and grant you strength and peace…May your next step be strong and that you will always keep walking forward….
Jeff, Thank you. Gratitude is probably one of the main lessons I’ve learned from my journey. And as Im sure you’re aware, It’s only when you stumble, fall, and are laying on the ground looking at the dirt that you can see the lessons you must learn. Ideally, I’ll get someone interested in this blog/book. If so, I may need to retrace a few pieces of my trip, and I can walk a few kilometers with you. As I’ve said though, the most valuable lessons are those you learn traveling alone. But as I’ve also said, none of us can do it all alone. And thanks for calling what I did courageous, but as I’ve said, I simply never had a choice in the matter. And indeed, I am getting stronger, with the help and support of others such as yourself. Hey, if I can do it, anyone can! So, just take a little step towards your walk on the camino every day from here on out, until you step off the bus in St. Jean. Thanks again for the kind words.
Thanks Cormac, for the kind words. I’m trying to figure out who should play you in the movie version of the book. Maybe this Dylan Moran guy. He’s a comedian, I figure he can make the donkey jokes really sing. Take care. As my dad used to say- take it easy, but take it.
Thanks for the kind words and finishing the journey with me. Hope you and Sinead are getting on well and the road that is life is not only showing you the potholes, but the beautiful sunrises cresting over the hills and the soft warm rain falling on your brow, as you travel it. For these are the things that teach us, and that are, life. But then again, what the f*&k do I know ;)? Take care until I be buying you a beer one of these days over there in the land of saints and scholars…