I woke up in the middle of a sound sleep. I could tell because I was in that state of confusion where you’re not sure of where you are. It may have had something to do with the fact that I was in a galaxy, far far away…It was nice to stay in a hotel again, but for now I’ll be back to staying at the auberges for awhile. They definitely enhance the pilgrim experience, the close quarters, shared meals, common reasons for being there. Cormac and I headed downstairs hoping to find a place close by for a little breakfast and cafe con leche.

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We didn’t find anything open so we trundled on. It was already 24 centigrade as we walked the modern streets of Lograno, the sun rising behind the city. After we crossed the bridge, the city streets gave way to parks, and then wheat fields and some vineyards. Then the path wound up by nice shaded park. We turned a corner and a beautiful lake spread out before us. Reeds, calm, grassy, cool.

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We walked out of the park and onto the side of a highway. After turning away from the highway we soldiered on through some healthy vineyards, much larger than before. We were in the heart of Rioja. The blisters on my left foot 2016-07-19 14.16.41were making their presence known. In fact they were screaming “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING WALKING 25 KILOMETERS A DAY WITH A 25 POUND PACK ON YOUR BACK!?

Cormac and I had brunch in Navarette, about half way to our final destination of the day, Ventoza. As usual we met some fellow pilgrims: Pasquel the laughing Belgian, Renee from Paris. I got some much needed cafe con leche and a sort of breakfast sandwich, with a few fried eggs and ham on the local pan cateto. Cormac ordered a breakfast dish but they were out of potatoes and he was a little bummed. The Irony wasn’t lost on me.

We left Navarette, walking along the cobblestoned streets and out onto the highway. I told Cormac to move ahead, preferring to walk a little slower. He had told me that his girlfriend was to meet him in Burgos and walk with him for a week. I was happy for him, a little jealous (I wished someone was meeting me in Spain), but looking forward to meeting Sinead at the same time, maybe treating them to a nice dinner, then parting ways. Besides, it would give me a chance to put myself out there, and meet more pilgrims.

I realized that I had become just a little bit dependent on Cormac. He seemed to like researching the camino bible (John Brierley’s comprehensive guide to the camino- I recommend it) and was always considering where we might stop for the night (those times when one of us would catch the other during the day and end up walking together). I had the guide, but didn’t need to refer to it much because Cormac was doing the work for me. I also didn’t have to take responsibility for decisions which was fine- I was always spending a few hours at the end of the day getting the blog together which leaves me little time to consult Mr.Brierley.

So after I leave Cormac and Sinead, I’ll be on my own. Alone. And I’m looking forward to taking full responsibility for myself, and the decisions I make. I guess it’s a lesson in codependence. And it’s one of the main things I have come here to work on, due to the emotional reliance I had on Amanda, amongst many other things from my past.

A few kilometers out of Ventoza, we began a slow, constant climb. Now the vineyards were expansive, and I could see our destination in the distance. We had decided on staying short (10 k) of Brierley’s recommendation due to the heat and my blisters.

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My blisters were a constant reminder of how I barged onto the camino, with little forethought. Like most Americans I just bought a bunch of shit from Amazon, and I threw it in a backpack that I got that from REI. We are sort of a big, boisterous, impatient, loud, arrogant country. Maybe a little unrefined. But these are things that also help make it great, awesome, wonderful.

Maybe America needs a lesson in grace. Grace is one thing Im learning on the camino. What is grace? The first things that comes to mind is “By the grace of god”. Maybe it’s living a life that is sort of imbued by the hand of god.  Not necessarily the god that’s been transmogrofied into something we can’t understand or relate to. I’m talking more about the god that is best represented, to us westerners, by Jesus I guess. That dude (as well as, it seems to me, most other prophets and “spiritual teachers” – Buddha, Allah et.al.) seemed to have more to do with love than anything else. But as I’ve said before, what the fuck do I know, anyway?

Anyway, I think grace is about leaning a little more towards the spiritual side of us, the light and airy. Maybe even the optimistic (pessimism is so much easier!). As opposed to base, instinctual side of us. The rough part, vs the light and airy. Its the mind vs the heart. Its man vs woman. Maybe in the end it’s about love being the driving force behind our lives, instead of the other things that always distract us.

Grace seems to manifest itself in this way: it’s a bull in a china shop vs. a ballerina. Some of us live more graceful lives than others. The graceful ones are the ones that are positive, the ones who give, the one’s who always have something nice to say. We have to grow into grace. Its kind of like wisdom.

I think I stumbled upon grace, or at least recognized it as such, when I took out my ipod. I thought that maybe grace is taking a breath, looking at your tangled headphones and slowly untangling them instead of pulling and yanking at the chords thinking they will magically untangle. Grace is, instead of hurrying down the camino to get to some predestined place, accepting the fact that you will get to where you are going, even if it’s not to that place you had in mind, which by the way, leaves you more open to the things you can see and experience there.

If you’re lucky you meet someone who opens your eyes to grace. Amanda reminded me of what grace is, which in turn led me to the camino. She’s been through a lot, and still she accepts every day and what it brings, and is working on fixing the scars of the past, helping her kids return to a semblance of normalcy.  I’m hoping that every day here I’ll learn a little more grace. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s not easily found.

Cormac and I arrived in Ventoza as it reached 33 centigrade in the shade. The auberges wasn’t open, so we sat down on the street and commiserated with our fellow pilgrims. It may have been hot, my blisters screaming insanities, but it felt good to arrive. Every day on the camino is a day of departures and arrivals. There’s no need for goodbyes. As in life, you move on, realizing you may cross paths with that person again, or not. The difference is that when you’ve thrown your soul to the universe and decided to walk 470 miles across Spain, the moments you spend with others on a similar journey will stay with you forever.

pick a lucky star
be it near or far
just pretend on the long nights that i’ve gone away

i can see it too
and wish the same as you
a different star for every long night that i’ve gone away

how many tomorrows do we have
how much precious time
how much precious time       -Darden Smith

A story, maybe it’s about grace, maybe it’s a little magical, or maybe it’s just a story. It is a story about those worse off than you and I.

Anyone who’s reading this is probably fine. You probably have a decent job, are making your way in the world. I’ve always thought I had empathy, and for some reason I would always stop when I saw a group of handicapped people walking the streets of my hometown and wonder how they coped with living in this crazy mixed up world.

So one morning I was in New York (Janice was from New York and still had a small place there when we got together) and I woke up with a fully formed concept for a Public Service Announcement for the Special Olympics in my brain. I have no idea where it came from.

I drew out a storyboard (I’m not a drawer- I used to be but looking back I realized it was always a struggle, between my right and left brain). But I did it. It meant something to me for some strange reason. I filed it away and went back to California, to work.

I had a director who had done work for Nike, did sports stuff. I arranged to get a free 35mm camera. This was in May, most of the Special Olympics were over for the summer. But I found a Special Olympics in Vancouver and convinced them to let us shoot there. Myself, the director, an Assistant Cameraman and my brother drove from Seattle to Vancouver and shot footage.

Later, a sweet friend edited the footage together for us. We called the agents in town and found a biker who was getting started doing voice overs and he laid down the lines I had written. We cut it to an Enya song, in fact the same song that was used in a Ron Howard movie. This was at a time when you paid a lot of money to use a popular song in a commercial. Somehow, my brother got ahold of Enyas’ people and they gave us permission to use the song for free if it was ever broadcast.

Part of the reason we did it was selfish: it was a spot we could put on the directors reel to sell him. We sent it off to Vancouver and got a nice note in return. Life moved on. 2 years later we got a call from the new director of the SO in Vancouver. It seems he found our PSA sitting on a shelf. He said that the concept was exactly how they had decided to portray these athletes: not someone to feel sorry for, but as heroes. Which is exactly what i had written. Not by any plan, it’s just what the universe had communicated to me that morning in New York. It ran for two years. They sent me a sweatshirt that I still wear to this day.

I don’t know what opened me up to hearing the voice that gave me that idea. I sure as well wasn’t interested in listening at the time. Like many of us, I was fighting against it, refusing to grow up. Its taken me a long time to really start that process. So now i would just like to give thanks: to Mike, to Gary, to Chuck, to Jennifer, to that Biker, to Enya, to the SO who unwittingly gave me a chance to grow, at least a little bit. I have no other reason to tell this story than maybe to pat myself on the back. Oh, well…maybe to remind you, gentle reader, to give a little, to reach out and lend a helping hand next time you get the chance.

After 4 or 5 months Amanda and recognized we needed to be apart. At least not as dependent on each other as we had been. In fact I suggested I shouldn’t stay over as often. That worked for a few days and then we were back in each others arms full time. Amanda was dealing with so many things at the time- getting a career going, dealing with her kids who had been damaged by the divorce and a MIA father. I tried to help, but Amanda is the type of woman who needs to fix things herself. She finally found the strength to begin to distance herself from me and the dependance she had on me. This is what i wrote in my journal at the time:

We both needed each other. And I loved/love it. Im sure you didn’t intend it, but somewhere in the back of your mind you thought I could replace your husband. But I can’t. And I think you see that now. Which is part of the reason you are re-prioritizing. That and work. You’re picking yourself up and getting back to the you that you used to be- someone who was self-sufficient (even though you were married), someone who felt true and authentic to by taking 100% responsibility for yourself and your kids lives.

It’s nothing you were trying to do. It’s just who you are. And it’s awesome and an utter necessity that you are getting back to that place. And then there’s my journey. I am seeing through the fog, looking at the banks across the river. I think I’ve figured out a few things about myself and us. I am still working on becoming stronger. Don’t get me wrong, I am much stronger than when I met you. As we got to know each other you saw some of my weaknesses. And being the nurturer, you held me. And helped me. And help me still. Even when you don’t know it. Im not like you. I can’t shut things on and off.

I still have some work to do. I think I have a handle on my where I need to go. And some days I am so good. I can do anything. And then I fall. And then I have to crawl back up. During that time I can’t offer you all of the strength you might need. But Im getting better. One day soon I won’t need to crawl back out. I will have healed. That may not soothe you at this moment, but I hope you’ll wait.

I was a necessary, welcome part of that old you. You needed me, I needed you. And now we’re both changing. And for the better. Back to where we started, trying to find our authentic selves. And I guess I question whether or not there is a place for me there.