What Are YOU Waiting For?

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” . . . What then? Shall we sit idly down and say,

The night has come; it is no longer day??

The night hath not yet come; we are not quite

cut off from labor by the failing light.

Something remains for us to do or dare

(Even the oldest tree some fruit may bear) –

Not Oedipus Coloneus, or Greek Ode,

or tales of pilgrims that one morning rode 

out of the gateway of the Tabard Inn –

But other something, would we but begin.

For age is opportunity, no less

than youth itself, though in another dress,

And as the evening twilight fades away

the sky is filled with stars,

invisible by day.”

– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Morituri Salutamos”,  1874

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How Did the Chicken Cross the Road?? – Day 39 – Melide to O Pino

 

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I’m so close to the end, it just doesn’t seem possible.

My head and my heart feel so full of thoughts and ideas that I hardly know where to begin.

The Camino is the perfect actualization of the idea of “Ask and you shall receive,” but not from God, from your fellow pilgrims.

“Can you grab my hat?”

“Can you get my water?”

“Do you have a euro?”

I have asked my fellow sojourners these questions at various times in the past five weeks. Strangers all. And the questions were always answered with an unconditional “Yes.”

I have been asked to adjust ponchos in the wind, to pick up hiking poles, to watch packs while the owner makes a quick dash into the woods for relief and, yes, to lend a euro to someone whom we both knew I’d never see again.

And I, also, had done all without a moment’s hesitation.

We are all strangers passing alone on a long journey together.

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I saw a person without legs biking the Camino. He was riding a recumbent bicycle powered by his arms.

I saw a blind person walking the Camino. He had two companions hold each end of a long – 10, maybe 12 foot – bamboo pole, one in front of him, one behind. The blind pilgrim walked in the middle, one hand on the pole, and the three of them walked along, chatting, fully loaded packs on their backs.

What a long, strange journey it’s been.

I arrived at the small town where I planned to get my cafe con leche and croissant for breakfast. The two lane road butted up against the narrow sidewalk of the bar and was just at the receiving end of a blind curve.

As I put my backpack down, I heard the loud squeal and angry honking of a heavy eighteen-wheeler, braking just in time for a car that had blindly entered the road. My fellow pilgrims and I looked in the direction of the noise but, hearing no crash, thud, or cries, returned to our activities.

The doorway was crowded as people entered and exited. It was a beautiful morning but threatened to get extremely hot in the full sunshine of the cloudless sky.

I noticed something odd as I headed for the entrance.

A chicken was strutting in front of the doorway.

Chickens and dogs had been the most common domestic animals I’d seen on the Camino. It was fitting that I should see a chicken one last time before reaching the metropolis of Santiago. But I worried about this one wandering into the road. The road was clearly problematic for cars and no doubt for pilgrims (the Camino continued on the other side).  I’d be foolish to take bets on any chicken crossing this road.

Yet, I was transfixed by what I saw next as I waited for the bird to move so I could get my coffee.

A pilgrim leaving the bar picked the chicken up. That’s when I noticed the string  on the bird’s leg. The man put the bird in the top pocket of a backpack which was leaning next to the doorway and which the bird was tied to.

The bird went in – plop – not protesting, with its head sticking out and happily looking around.

Another man came out and lifted the pack to help his friend get the pack on without losing the bird. Then he put on his own. They belted themselves up and, apparently in good spirits from a good breakfast, carefully yet nonchalantly crossed the road.

The chicken was bright-eyed and alert, almost cheerful, as it looked around at the world from the top of the pack.

Poultry in motion.

I stood there, pondering what I had just seen. The chicken literally crossed the road.

Why were they carrying a chicken? Did they find it? Was it a pet? A gift? Had they been carrying it for a long time? Did they always travel with a chicken? What did the bottom of his pack look like? What would they do with the chicken when they got to Santiago? Take it into the Cathedral? Take it home? Set it free? Eat it?

I had walked for 38 days. I had only about 48 more hours on the Camino.

I thought I had seen everything the Camino had to offer.

But the day would still be full of surprises.

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Day 35 – Vega de Valcarce to Fonfria

Since Juan Carlos, Andres and I had spent the night in our own house, we slept as late as we wanted and were out on the road when we felt like it – 0830.

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We hung around the village to return the landlady’s house key and thank her for a great stay in a nice home. As we lingered over breakfast, who should wander up but Christine, our Camino family member who had decided to stay someplace else the night before (missed out on those Spanish movie musicals, tsk, tsk).

Then, we were off. Up, up and away.

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The walk to O’Cebreiro was challenging but not impossible. The weather was great – I began to wonder if I had seen the last of my wet Camino and should consider zipping the bottoms off my pants. But I also knew we were entering one of the wettest regions of Spain, so, no.

Juan Carlos kept me laughing as he continually underestimated the distance we had to walk – two kilometers when it was actually four, four kilometers when it was ten!!

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Welcome to Galicia.

The countryside reminded me of weeks earlier when I had been a novice pilgrim, making my way through the rolling hills of Navarra.  Alone, alert to the yellow arrows  along the way, I remembered the vineyards I walked through and the mud.

I remembered looking through rain dripping off the brim of the baseball cap I wore under my rain jacket hood as I tried to keep my glasses dry and fog free.

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I remembered the determination as pilgrims, strangers to each other, encouraged each other to the top of the hill which we promised was just around the bend up ahead, and which never was.

Now I was dry and following the arrows was second nature.

I no longer noticed my backpack anymore than you, dear reader, notice the shirt you are wearing right now.

These strangers whom I was walking with could crack the right jokes to make me laugh out loud. I knew I would be missing them all too soon.

We crossed into Galicia and found the stone markers that would lead us the final kilometers to Santiago. Was it possible? Were there really only that many kilometers to go?? Had I really walked all that distance? I still felt so good!

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O’Cebreiro was beautiful, an unexpectedly active village on the top of a mountain, full of pilgrims and souvenir shops.

I was told that the church, Santa Maria la Real, was said to have held a relic of the original Crucifix. I prayed accordingly, wondering if my Saints had traveled with me all this distance so they could get to this place. I told them I was grateful for all the help they had given me on this journey.

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About 15 minutes later I learned that, um, no, there weren’t any cross relics here.

Wrong legend.

It was the resting place for Don Elias Valina Sampedro, (1929 – 1989). He was the parish priest who gave birth to the modern Camino, as a way to help his tiny little parish.

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He knew his village was on the route of the ancient Camino and wanted to try to bring people back to, or at least through, the village. He brought his idea to the local leaders and they said OK, but you’re on your own. So, he went to the public works guys who were working on the roads and got their leftover paint.

That ubiquitous yellow paint.

With permission, of course, he painted arrows along the way to help pilgrims find their way from one end  of the village to the other. Slowly, the arrows extended to the other towns along the way and, well, here we are today, more than  200,000 pilgrims this year alone.

I was ready to call it a day at O’Cebreiro but the family insisted that we continue so on we went.

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I hadn’t expected Alto de Poio to be the highest point on the Camino Frances – I had thought that was O’Cebreiro. But it is, with 1,330 meters compared to O’Cebreiro puny 1,300 meters. Done on the same day at O’C, it is just as challenging.

We stopped for drinks but all we could find were sodas from vending machines. But where was Juan Carlos? We couldn’t find him anywhere. Christine and I waited outside, cooling off, while Andres went to find his wayward brother. Finally, he found him and ushered us inside the local pilgrim office.

There was Juan Carlos, happily surrounded by dozens of old ledgers. He had looked through many, many of them to find one particular one. Years earlier, on another Camino, he had signed his name in the books kept by many places, and this was one of the few places where he could find that book again if he was lucky. He was, and we gazed at his signature and notes from way back then, his past self giving a note of encouragement to this, his future self.

We found the new book and added our names and notes. Maybe one day our future selves will climb this mountain again and remember this moment in time.

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That day, we didn’t arrive at the albergue until after 7 p.m. We each fended for ourselves for dinner and I ate something at the albergue’s  bar while I blogged.

Our big break, however, was in our accommodations.

Because we had gotten there so late and there were four of us, the bunk beds in the main bunk-bed room were taken. The hospitaleros generously opened the overflow room for us and gave us the pick of the beds. But these were not ordinary beds.

Now, class, if you open you IKEA catalogs to the teenagers’ rooms section, you will see those lovely bunk beds that are double beds on the bottom and twin beds up top. Since the four of us were expected to be  among the last to arrive, we were invited to each have a bottom, double bed, to ourselves!

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My bed is last on the left row, closest to the back wall. Christine has the bed across from me, the boys closer to the camera. One purple mat is in front of the shower, the other in front of the bathroom.

We had our own bathroom and shower in the room. This was lucky because I had gone to the crowded bunk-bed room to take a shower and went to the men’s shower room by mistake. You may use your imagination to figure out how I realized it was the men’s shower room (not by the tiny little man stick figure sign practically hidden away not in the center of the door).

The community room had comfortable chairs and a fireplace. Pilgrims shared a few bottles of wine. There were books about the Camino and about Spain. There were books about Galicia. The boys showed me a coffee table book of  Santander, their home city.

Night fell. I fell asleep in the security of friends and strangers. But sad.

I was so close to Santiago. Was the adventure ending??

Not by a long shot.

Jeremiah Johnson Would Never Have Lost his Pants – Day 32 – Rabanal to Molinaseca

I’m feeling kind of “Jeremiah Johnson” today.

The latest in pilgrim attire, circa 1870.

The latest in pilgrim fashion, circa 1870.

Jeremiah Johnson was a character played in the movie of the same name by Robert Redford. This character started out as a pretty “green” newcomer to the American frontier, planning to make his way as a trapper or trader or some such thing in the American Rocky Mountains.

There were few people who lived in the frontier at this time, except for the native Americans who were wary of the newcomers who were slowly but surely crowding into their space. Also, the old timers who were doing what he was just starting out to do, and had been doing it for a while.

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Over time, Jeremiah Johnson learns how to fend for himself alone in the mountains. He becomes proficient at trapping and shooting. he can build his fires and keep warm as needed. He becomes a grizzled mountain man, respected by the Natives and the locals.

Slowly, he realizes how much he has learned during his time in the mountain, although he does not stop learning and, yes, making mistakes.

My Camino Family Portrait.

My Camino Family Portrait.

I’m feeling a little Jeremiah Johnson today.

I’ve met an unusual number of new peregrinos today. I’ve also run into groups of people starting out. “I just started in Leon.” “We haven’t had a day of rain!” “Wow! We’ve been walking for two days and it’s so much fun!”

Is it so wrong that I feel like smacking them?

Many of them have sent their packs ahead to the next town so they don’t have to carry them (OK if you have a legitimate physical need),  Walkers arrive by taxi (ditto for physical need).

They carry light little day packs and swing big bottles of water in their hands, spritely jogging up the hills, chatting and laughing.  They’ll get to the albergue long before me and I will, therefore, be unable to find a place to stay.

Yep, I’m feeling grizzled. I could just grunt in answer to their “dumb” questions. I could roll my eyes as they stop along the way and complain about their newly developing blisters. I could smile to myself as they race up the hills, knowing that I will pass them on the way down as they begin to nurse slowly disintegrating knees.

You call that a blister?? I know babies that have bigger blisters than that! And you call yourself a pilgrim.

You call that a blister?? I know babies that have bigger blisters than that! You’re a disgrace to pilgrims everywhere.

I could, but I don’t. Because, like Jeremiah Johnson, I’m still making mistakes.

Let’s put it in another way. The Camino is keeping me humble.

1.   It’s a long, challenging day, 25 kilometers, all of it mountainous.  To add to the challenge of the terrain, which includes lots of loose scree, the temperature goes from 5 degrees to 32 degrees Celsius today.

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It was really cold this morning.

2. I reach the impressive Cruz de Ferro (Iron Cross).

El Cruz de Ferro, the Iron Cross

Shortly after, I come to the highest point on the Camino Frances, the Punto Alto, a heavenly 1,515 meters high and I celebrate the gorgeous view with some water, I spend several extra minutes up there. Why? Not because of the view , which is majestic, but because I can’t figure out the way down. I seem to have temporarily lost the trail. Thanks alot, St. Christopher.

I'm at the top of the world. Now how do I get down?

I’m at the top of the world. Now how do I get down?

3. I run out of money. Not cyber money, but real, honest-to-goodness, hold-in-your-hand, cash. And without cash, you can’t get into an albergue or buy a meal. The only cash machine in town has run out of money. I used my last euro at a wonderful lunch in Acebo. I planned to get more at the next cash machine.

St. Phil, the jokester, whom I haven’t mentioned in a while, decides to play a little trick on me instead and lets all the cash machines along the way (there aren’t many) run dry. Ha, ha.

4. My greatest tragedy happens today. It involves my beloved rain jacket.

Rip my heart, why don't you?

Rip my heart, why don’t you?

5.  After getting some money (several weird turns of events including a *gasp* ride into a city in a real car) I am enjoying my first communal meal in an albergue since day one in France.

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Suddenly a guy bursts into the dining room and frantically exclaims at the top of his lungs “WHO STOLE MY PANTS!!!???”

In the moment of silence that followed, I realize that the pair of pants he is holding up as an example of his stolen pants are MY pants, which I had washed and hung to dry outside. Then, he disappears, along with my pants.

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My goodness, my goodness.

Thank you, Camino.

Thank you, Saints.

How dreadfully boring my journey would be if I actually did have everything/anything under control. Instead, I chuckle as I write in my journal and review the day’s events.

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Camino minus 1 – Paris to St. Jean Pied de Port

Tired? Yes, we did not get enough sleep last night.

Sad? Yes, I hated to say goodbye to DH on the train platform in Paris.

Anxious? Yes, more than a little. 

Our transition from hotel to train worked out very well. I had packed and repacked last night in the hotel,so this morning was just a quick wash and wear (the same clothes from yesterday). I has been raining for two days so some items are humid, but nothing major. We bought my last set of tickets yesterday, having made a dry run to the train station the night before.

His train leaves in 3 hours for Germany.

On the high speed train to Bordeaux, I know that there is another pilgrim somewhere on this train. She  probably got off the plane last night at CDG, spent the night in Paris, and is more unsure than I am about where she is heading. Although perhaps the other pilgrim has done this before and this is old hat for her. I will recognize her by the big packpack she will have when she gets off the train and rushes to the train from Bordeaux to Bayonne at 1232.

The view outside the train window is as foggy as my thoughts af the future. My pack is so heavy -I know I’ve made packing mistakes but could not see what else to leave with DH to take home. 

I’m hoping for my entourage of Saints to help me get safely through this first day.

Time will tell.

Camino minus 10 – Big Tess, Plus a Cute Photo

I’ve found another “wing man” for my journey.

Big Tess is going with me. Big Tess, whom my DF calls “Big Theresa,” and is otherwise known as St. Teresa of Avila.

If you read about my man with superpowers, you may have an idea of the type of person I’m looking for and Big Tess fits the bill

She was born in Avila, Spain on March 28, 1515. When she was a child, she convinced her older brother to run off with her to the “land of the Moors” where they could sacrifice themselves for God. Their uncle found them before they even got out of town and sent them home. Some people see this as an indicator of her early devotion to God.  However, I agree with those who think it shows her ability to get into trouble.

She was a typical teenager who loved to read romance novels just like her mother. Her teenage focus was not on God but on boys, clothes, and flirting. Her Dad, who was pretty strict with the ten kids and with his own wife, got fed up and sent her to the local nunnery.  At first, Teresa didn’t like it, but soon realized that the convent wasn’t as strict as her Dad had been!

She got very sick with what appears to have been malaria and spent years recovering. She stopped praying! Can you imagine a saint who stops praying? She got stuck and just couldn’t do it. She said she often died a thousand deaths waiting for prayer time to end so she could get back to better things.

Sorry, but that’s no way for a saint to talk. But, it does make her rather interesting.

She says she finally got back into praying but it was “definitely not easy.” And she decided that the life in the convent, which sounds more like a 1950’s sorority house than a convent, was way off course for her. In those days, the more you could bring to the convent, in the form of riches and influence, the more you were liked at the convent. Men came by, nuns wore jewelry, etc.

Can you spell Reformation?

She decided to bring an end to all that. And, boy, did that make the townspeople mad! They threatened her, denounced her. And this was going on during the Spanish Inquisition, so don’t think she didn’t have a run-in or two with those guys.  “A restless disobedient gadabout who has gone about teaching as if she was a professor” is how one adversary described her.

“May God protect me from gloomy saints,” was her answer  to those who felt her proposed way of living –  based on poverty and prayer – was too far out for a religious life. But she also realized that this brush up was good publicity for her new religious order, the new and improved Carmelites. People read her writing and heard about her and soon she had women lining up at the door to join her.

She wrote alot and some of her greatest books includes her autobiography (The Life of Teresa of Jesus), El Castillo Interior (The Interior Castle), and the Camino de Perfection (The Way of Perfection) http://www.ccel.org/ccel/teresa/way.titlepage.html.

The story goes that she was once riding a donkey to a town where she was starting a new convent and the donkey threw her off, getting her clothing all dirty and giving her some lumps and bumps. She got up, dusting off the dirt and complained to God. God jokingly answered, ‘That’s how I treat my friends.”  “No wonder you have so few,” she responded.

One of the convents she started is in Burgos, a large city in northern Spain. I will be passing right through Burgos on the Camino and had intended to stay there an extra night because it has one of the most beautiful Cathedrals in Spain. I wonder if I can track down Tess’ convent?

After starting the convent in Burgos, she continued her journey to Alba de Tormes, where she got sick and died on October 4, 1582.  She was canonized soon after her death but was not made a Doctor of the Church until 1970, along with St Catherine of Siena – I believe they are the only two women Doctors of the Church.

I think Big Tess will be good to have along. She isn’t a barrel of laughs, but she seems practical and confident. She believed that, if you did something wrong, don’t punish yourself – change! She wrote that the best prayer is prayer which leads to action. She knows it can be difficult to pray and  will have my back.

What would she look like on the road with me? Maybe something like this:

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I can use someone like that.

Camino minus 11 – He’s Got Superpowers!

I like St. Christopher, but not for the reason you think.
St. Christopher is an obvious choice to take as my “wing man” on my Camino. He is the patron saint of travelers. When you see his picture or statue (look for him on dashboards) he is the tall man holding a child on his shoulders.

But for me, alas, he raises many questions. Let me review his story for you.

Legend has it that he was a very large man – tall, not fat. A little over seven feet tall, by some accounts. He wanted to serve the greatest there was, so he decided to serve the King. But, one day, he saw the King bow down and cross himself. When he asked why he did that, the King told him that he was afraid of the devil.

So, Christopher says to himself, Hey, Here’s a guy even the King is afraid of. I’m going to serve him! So off he goes to find the devil.

Soon, he comes to a dark, scary forest. He’s a big guy, so he isn’t afraid, but soon he finds a band of robbers. They’re pretty bad and one of them calls himself the devil. St. Christopher says Aha, I’ve been looking for you! And he joins the robbers. But, one day, he saw the robber who was called the devil bow down and cross himself. When he asked why the devil did that, the devil said he was afraid of Christ.

So, St. Christopher says to himslef, Hey, here’s a guy even the devil is afraid of. I’m going to serve him so off he goes to find Christ.

Soon, he meets a hermit living in a cave by a river. He asks the hermit if he knows where to find Christ. The hermit says, Sure, and begins to teach St. Christopher about Christ. Pretty soon, Chris becomes a Christian.

How can I serve Christ? Christopher wants to know. Well, the hermit says, You can fast and pray. Christopher thinks about it and says, No, I don’t think I can do that. Is there anything else I can do? The hermit thinks and says, You’re big and strong. Why don’t you help carry people across this river. Everyone always has a hard time doing that. Christopher says, Great and so begins his job as traveler carrier.

One day, a child comes along and says, Hey, can you get me to the other side and Chris says Sure. But halfway across, while Chris is carrying the kid (you know who) on his shoulders, the child gets really heavy and the river gets really crazy. He has to work really hard to get the kid across but he does.

Once on the other side, Christopher says, Wow, kid, you were really heavy to carry and the kid says, Oh,yeah? Well, I’m Christ and I carry the sins of the world on my shoulders! Then he disappears!

The end.

O.k. I have a few problems with this story.

1. Why did people cross the river at the worst part of the river. Why didn’t they just go to a better part of the river and cross?
2. Boats had been invented. And rafts. So why did Christopher have to walk people across? Why not ferry them?
3. Didn’t anyone think it was weird that this little kid needed to cross the river by himself? There were no adults with him? Even in olden days, people took care of their children and didn’t let them travel alone.
4. Didn’t the hermit get mad? I mean, there he was, fasting and praying and living in a cave and who does Christ show up to? The new guy!

But here’s what I like about this story.

Christopher made up his own mind. He used his eyes to observe what people around him were doing. He thought the king was the greatest, then the devil, but changed his mind based on what he saw. He had no problem saying, Well, I guess I was wrong and continuing his search for truth.

When the hermit told him how to serve Christ, Christopher knew enough about himself to know that there were better options.

From a Church built on obedience, here’s a saint who says, humbly to be sure, Well, yes, I understand what you’re saying, but I think there might be a better way for me to serve Christ.

Mother Theresa taught school in India for 20 years, then decided that a better way for her to serve would be to be with the poorest of the poor. She got push-back from some of her superiors but she knew better than they how she could serve Christ best.

That’s why I’ll take Chris with me. He was practical and reality based. He trusted his instincts and wasn’t afraid to keep looking for the real deal.

And he has that superpower of getting through rivers.

Yes. I can use someone like that on my team.