It’s just a simple vase sitting on my kitchen counter. It held flowers that were sent in sympathy following the death of my husband’s father. Just an ordinary glass container that once served to remind us of our grief, but now useless as it sits overturned, probably heading to the local thrift store to be repurposed. And yet as the sunrise of a harvest morning streamed through the kitchen door, the most amazing transformation took place. This plain and simple piece of glass became an exquisite piece of art for a fleeting moment in time as it reflected the sun’s rays. Who knew that such beauty was hidden in its simple and functional form? I snapped a quick photo and as the sun rose a little higher, the magic disappeared. I think people are a lot like that vase. Sometimes I feel like that vase. I have not quite found my way back from my Camino experience and feel a little like an upturned vase, waiting for the next thing to fill me up and make me come alive. And yet,upon reflection, perhaps this sense of being alive is not something that happens from the outside, but has been within me all along. All I ever actually needed was the proper light and the insight to see things from a new perspective.
This weekend marks the celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday. I was born in 1967, a Centiennial baby, the year Canada turned 100, so this year marks my 50th year as well as Canada’s big year. I figure if I live to be 100, there will be a bit of hoopla- maybe a local politician giving me a photocopied letter from the British Monarchy, but I figure by that time, if I’m still alive and there is still a British monarch, I’ll be tottering about in a nursing home and more interested in the cake than some crummy piece of paper, so they might as well not bother. To that end, I am taking this year to celebrate my “coming of age” and milking it for all it’s worth, along with my fellow “50 and fabulous friends”. Please excuse the self indulgence! This milestone birthday was one of the reasons I chose to walk the Camino and the experience was worth every minute! I can’t believe I have been home over a month now, as the memories are still so fresh in my mind. One Camino friend (also turning 50, a day after me, and a fabulous photographer and fellow blogger) quoted another pilgrim, saying that the true journey of the Camino begins when the trip ends and you return home. I have found this to be true. Many people have asked me whether walking the Camino was a life- changing experience- a difficult question to answer. I would say it definitely felt like it was, but am continuing to process how it has changed me and wonder if those changes are temporary or lasting. I hope to continue to blog about my experiences for a time, as I still feel like a pilgrim, just in a different stage of the journey, now that I am home (and I still love to ramble!) Thanks to those who joined me on my Camino journey- feel free to comment, ask questions, keep following, or sign off!
On a final note, having returned home, I have come to see with fresh eyes the beauty and freedoms we have here in Canada. We aren’t perfect, and still have much work to do and many challenges to overcome when it comes to truth and reconciliation with the Indigenous people of Turtle Island (North America), but for me, there is no country in the world I would rather live in! Proud to be Canadian 🇨🇦
I find it rather amazing in life that some things happen at precisely a moment in time and place, and have such significance, that it proves that there is a force greater than ourselves, greater than mere coincidence, that accounts for the things that happen in our lives. After almost 40 days away, this rainbow was the sight that greeted me the moment I awoke when we reached home after being picked up from the airport by our kids. It was the perfect ending to a soujourn that took me across the ocean and into the deeper parts of myself that were in need of attention. I am still processing the many experiences I had along the way, but can say with certainty that I received what I went for, and have experienced the healing I was seeking. How these changes will manifest themselves in my life is a story yet to be told, but I hope that as I gain insights, I will be able to continue to share them with you. Thank you to those who kept myself and my family in your thoughts and prayers. I also held you close. It is good to be home and see with fresh eyes the beauty of our country Canada, and the love of family and friends. Thanks for following along on my Camino.
The other day I experienced three examples of “donativo”, basically the concept of take what you need, and give what you can. My friends and I encountered a woman who has gained some notierty along the Camino for offering passing pilgrims fresh, warm crepes. I was actually following her dog (trying to get a dog fix- missing my 🐶 🐶) around a corner when she appeared with a plate of crepes and offered them to us. I was feeling a little peckish at the time, and the offer was just what I needed, right when I needed it. Mere minutes before, we had meet 3 older French men on the road and they too partook in the love offering, a little taste of home, no doubt. That same afternoon, I was passing by an open doorway, and saw a table laden with snacks and drinks, fruit and nuts, again offered donativo. I stopped and was warmly greeted by a handsome group of man, women and two young girls enjoying a pasta meal, which they offered to share. I declined, but noticed some art on the wall and they invited me in to take a look. Tucked away in a small nook was a sign that read, “Many small people, in many small places, doing many small things, can change the world”. My camera had died, so I couldn’t take a picture, but I mentioned it to the group. The older of the two girls helped me comit it to memory (took a couple of tries), and seemed proud to demonstrate her Spanish skills to her uncle, an Auzzie now living in Galicia, by repeating it in Spanish. They were in fact demonstrating the very concept of the words! The same day, I also stopped at a small stone church along the way to take a moment to pray. It was early morning up on a mountain, and the cloud cover gave the church and grave yard a haunted look. However, the gate was open, so I went in and told my friends to go on. The interior of the church was surprisingly warm, candles were lit, but no one was around. I spent some time praying, and then crying (seems to be a thing for me now- a daily cry- I think I have the “gift of tears”- my priest friend assures me that that’s ok, as long as I make sure I rehydrate afterwards!) As I turned to leave the church, I noticed a small table and was shocked to see, get ready for this, a $1,000,000 bill! I’m not joking. It was bluish and had the face of a bearded man. I should have taken a picture! The first thing that popped into my head was Mike Myer’s Dr. Evil character saying, “One million dollars, bah ha ha”. So this is the way I see it- either someone has donated a huge sum of money to that little chapel, or that money is not worth the paper it’s written on! If the later is the case, toilet paper is often in short supply along the Camino, so perhaps the next person to come along might just take what they need- donativo!
I have mentioned before how friendships are quickly made and deepened on the Camino. One person that I have been “tracking” with is a man that I would consider a “character of Camino”. I have mentioned him several times already, as he has offered me snacks, food and company on numerous occasions. We run into each other every few days. He is an extraordinary man. I am quite certain he has asbergers, as he has a keen intellect, speaks at least 4 languages, sings beautifully and is at times blissfully unaware of social conventions, making him honest, open and joyful! His pack weighs 16 kg, a fact that he is quite proud of, while the rest of us are challenged to carry 10kg. He is the cantor at his monastery and carries song sheets and even a tuning fork. He is never without a beer, a Fanta and water, which adds another 1 kg, he proudly boasts. He has been known to sing aloud in the early morning, and given that he rises at 5:30 am, his lovely voice is not always appreciated. The other night, after we had spent some time singing together on a sheltered porch while the rain poured around us, he spontaneously offered to oil the feet of myself and another woman that had been singing with him. He ran up to his room and came down with a large tube of arnica oil. He took my feet in his hands and rubbed them, as we spoke about how Jesus had washed the feet of the disciples. When he finished, he kissed my blistered, callousled, but now perfumed foot. After he had oiled the feet of the other woman, she in turn massaged his feet and hands. It was a beautiful picture of love at its purest. Yes, men and women can be friends, giving and receiving love in all it’s beauty. Thank you Brother Sebastian. You are a beautiful man of God.
Ok, so it may be totally cliche, but today as I started walking, there was a proliferation of roses along the path and I did in fact stop to smell them- numerous times. As a fellow pilgrim passed by, I called out, “If you haven’t stopped to smelled the roses, you’re walking too fast!” He did in fact stop and sniff and that’s when I took his picture. He told me he was from Holland and had been waiting for 37 years to walk the Camino! I shared that, though I am Canadian born, it is Dutch blood that runs through my veins, as my parents immigrated to Canada from Friesland as children. I told him I walk the Camino like a Frisian workhorse, just keeping a slow and steady pace, whether it’s up hills or on the flat, but getting there in the end, job done! He told me he thought Frisian horses the most beautiful. I took it personally! I did a long walk today, the last part on my own over the mountain. We are in hill country now, and was reminded of the song, “I lift my eyes up, to the mountains, where does my help come from? My help comes from you, Maker of heaven, Creator of the earth. Oh how I need you Lord, you’re my only hope, you’re my only prayer. So I will wait for you to come and rescue me, come and give me life.”
The path seemed to stretch on forever, it was starting to rain and I was beginning to worry about where I would stay the night. As I looked down on the town from the decent, it didn’t look very inviting. However, as I made the last turn into town, red roses hung over a whitewashed wall and I felt assured that I would be ok. The day of the roses! The parochial (church) Alberge was the first one I came to and I saw a familiar face- a woman from Germany, about my age. Then, a young pilgrim welcomed me in and explained the hospitalier was at dinner, but was very kind and welcoming and that I should make myself at home. I was invited to join in on a pasta meal with my Bavarian monk friend, who has been so quick to offer hospitality and some liquid cheer when we meet each other. Such small but significant gestures gave the place a warm feeling and I felt like I was home, at least for the night. That feeling if home was augmented later with the shared gender washroom facilities. With very little space to put ones clothes when they shower, I was quickly trying to get dressed while no one was around. I was just pulling up my pants when the door opened and in walked a man. He made a hurried escape, and I gave an em-bare-assed apology for flashing him. As luck would have it, as I went back to my room, he was my bunk mate for the night! I joked, “Oh well, I guess we’re family now!” Feels like home.
Yesterday was a challenge emotionally and thanks to all of you who offered supportive words. As I mentioned, reaching the Cruz de Ferro (iron cross) can be a time of reconnection with what first brought us to the Camino and it has been that for me. I know I am here to do some introspective work in my own life, involving healing from past hurts, not an uncommon theme for many of us pilgrims. I spent yesterday crying my way up the mountain, and today crying my way down. Please don’t be alarmed by that. Tears are healing and I am at peace. It does make walking a little more treacherous though, as loose gravel on a downhill slope and clouded vision are not a great combination! Alas, I made it to my destination safe and sound. I took my time walking the trail, being deliberate about slowing down to think and meditate. I felt like I was strolling the Camino- “no deeds to do, no promises to keep” (Simon and Garfunkle anyone?) It’s amazing that when we slow down, that nature can speak to us, if we choose to listen. I saw the beauty of creation in a bug today- no ordinary bug was this, but a multi-coloured, iridescent shit beetle (not its actual name- but a good descriptor, none the less). As I took the time to wonder at the beauty of this little creature as it feasted on some horse offal along the trail, I was impressed with the amazing variation to be found on its tiny, shiny life. (you can see my reflection if you look close)I mean if God can put that much beauty into a bug that feasts on shit for a living, how much more precious are each one of us beautiful people to Him? Makes you think….
Today was Mother’s Day and I was delighted to receive messages on my phone from my children when I reached my first cafe of the day. When I got up this morning, I didn’t realize today was the day I would reach the Cruz De Ferro, an iron cross at the top of a challenging mountain climb. Pilgrims often leave a token or stone from their home country and perhaps reconnect with the purpose of their journey. I brought a small pink granite rock that I had looked for as I trained on the country roads at home. I was looking for a smooth, pink stone to represent home, but when I finally found the right one several days before I left, it was heart shaped as well! Ironically, as I packed my knapsack this morning in the semi dark room, I took a last glance back at the area I had been and saw my stone lying there. How it got out of my coat pocket did not make sense. However, as the day progressed, I realized that Mother’s Day and reaching the cross would coincide and I took time to remember my own mother, whom I still miss intensely, although she has been gone from our lives over 3O years. Time does not diminish the love I still have for her and the beautiful person that she was. She loved people and I consider it a great compliment when people tell me I am like her. I think the relationships we have and the people we love take a little piece of our hearts that we never quite get back when they leave, especially when our farewells are forever. Our heart longs for wholeness that it will never obtain until reunited with our loved one, either in this life or the one beyond. I think that each farewell on the Camino is like that as well, although in six weeks feelings are intensified, as time is short and we know endings are part of each beginning. Those with whom we have connected take a piece of us with them, and the heart longs to reunite and be whole again. Fortunately, the heart’s capacity to love is perpetual and we keep on loving and opening ourselves to new experiences. However, each farewell reminds me of my forever farewells and comes with a certain sadness. It is the cost of being open to loving others, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I have reached the half way point in my journey and already I notice that thoughts and feelings are shifting. It is said that the first third of the Camino challenges the body, the second one’s mind and the last third, the spirit. My body is well. A cold that has been threatening is staying at bay, a sore tendon benefitted from some rest in Leon, and I am comfortable walking longer distances. However, I did a shorter day today, as the past two days we’ve been walking in rain and wet feet lead to blisters if one isn’t careful. I also chose to stay with a fellow pilgrim who is just getting back on her feet after some knee issues. That may sound altruistic, but I love her company and did not feel like being alone on a dull, rainy day. We sang songs together as we walked, to pass the miles. We are staying in a warm and inviting alberge, with a fireplace to warm us, walls decorated with pilgrim art and soft music playing in the background. Balm for my soul. We had a wonderful time reconnecting with friends in Leon but now several of our friends have gone on ahead, and we are unsure if there will be any more happy reunions amongst us, as obligations to schedules and returning back to our respective lives draws closer with each passing day. While there are still sunny days, mountains to climb, novel experiences and other pilgrims to meet along the way, I find myself already reflecting on the “good times” and relishing the memories of the friends who have touched my life for a brief moment in time. Walk on dear ones, missing your company. Buen Camino.
I have reached the half way point in my journey and already I notice that thoughts and feelings are shifting. It is said that the first third of the Camino challenges the body, the second one’s mind and the last third, the spirit. My body is well. A cold that has been threatening is staying at bay, a sore tendon benefitted from some rest in Leon, and I am comfortable walking longer distances. However, I did a shorter day today, as the past two days we’ve been walking in rain and wet feet lead to blisters if one isn’t careful. I also chose to stay with a fellow pilgrim who is just getting back on her feet after some knee issues. That may sound altruistic, but I love her company and did not feel like being alone on a dull, rainy day. We sang songs together as we walked, to pass the miles. We are staying in a warm and inviting alberge, with a fireplace to warm us and soft music playing in the background. Balm for my soul. We had a wonderful time reconnecting with friends in Leon but now several of our friends have gone on ahead, and we are unsure if there will be any more happy reunions amongst us, as obligations to schedules and returning back to our respective lives draws closer with each passing day. While there are still sunny days, novel experiences and other pilgrims to meet along the way ahead, I find myself already reflecting on the “good times” and relishing the memories of the friends who have touched my life for a brief moment in time. Walk on dear ones, missing your company. Buen Camino.