"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Pilgrimage

Love gifts for my Way

After two years of dreaming and planning and studying, I leave tomorrow for Spain. When Patricia first mentioned the Camino de Santiago in a conversation over coffee all those months ago, I'd never heard of it. By the time she was done explaining that The Way of Saint James is an ancient 500 mile pilgrimage route across the north of Spain, I was hooked. When she suggested I join her, I said yes without hesitation.

When I said yes, I didn't really believe either of us would actually get ourselves on the Way. I will never say no to an invitation to adventure, figuring I can work out the details later, knowing that more often than not things fall through. Patricia has kids at home and has never left them before, and I didn't think she could.

At first I was going along just to hang out with Patricia. However, as I read and studied I realized the Camino was beckoning me. Anecdotes would brings tears to my eyes. Pictures would tug at me like silver threads pulling me toward a light my soul couldn't live without. The movie The Way, which I'd somehow missed previously, made me want to get on a plane, get to Spain, and start walking that minute.

Telling Walt was the first hurdle toward making the walk a reality.

I would be gone for 45 days, almost the entire first summer of his retirement. He would be home taking care of critters and yard alone. We were struggling with the transitions created by aging and retirement. I was already leaving for the Canyon for another rafting trip in April. We had a big remodel project planned for early spring. My brother was ill and declining rapidly. Walt's dad was failing. In the face of all of that, he promised his support. And he's kept that promise. He's encouraged me without reservation. He's helped with travel plans, and technology issues. He's sending me off with gifts that will remind me every step of the way that I am loved.

We bought our plane tickets early January this year. From that point forward, everything in life was filtered through the impending pilgrimage. I got serious about getting in shape with long walks, hikes, and yoga. I read books and articles and forums. Patricia and I had long conversations. I told friends, who more often than not looked at me like I'd lost my mind. My enthusiasm eventually won them over, or they were at least kind enough to allow me the dream regardless of their belief that no sane 66 year old woman would walk 500 miles willingly. Even my hip doctor, when I went to get permission to put those miles on my replacement joint, said yes you can, but why would you want to?

Why indeed.

The truth is there is no simple answer. My first answer was that it was an adventure. Later I said I wanted to come back with a plan for how I'll spend the last third of my life. Sometimes I would say I was seeking a connection with the spiritual energy that is a huge part of the Camino. More recently I've said I'm looking forward to enjoying the company of my own inner self with no distraction. I'm looking forward to testing my limits. I'm looking forward to meeting people from all over the world. I'm looking forward to the freedom of simply walking every day, with no obligation beyond self care.

A lot has happened in my life since Patricia first mentioned the Camino. Events that provided opportunities to grow and grieve and expand my heart. It's as if my Camino began the minute I said yes.

Around the time of our Camino beginnings, my brother Mark became seriously ill. He'd been sick for a long time, but none of us knew that until things reached a tipping point where his symptoms could no longer be easily explained away. In the course of these last two years he went from living independently in a sweet little house, to assisted living, to a locked memory care facility, to the hospital, to a nursing home. Visiting him became a cornerstone of my weeks, so I was with him as he declined with a speed that shocked us all. I considered delaying the pilgrimage for him, but the timing seemed out of my control. As it turned out, there was no need. Mark died on May 27 with his siblings by his side.

This week, as I've walked Toby and enjoyed my morning coffee ritual and visited with Walt at the end of the day, I've held the moments as treasured gifts I'm offering to release as the price for this pilgrimage. The comforts of my own bed and newly-remodeled bathroom. The joys of familiar birdsong and flower beds exploding in fireworks displays of color. My beautiful new kitchen. My friends and family. The comforting routines of a retired life. All being left behind so that I can experience something new and sacred and life-changing.

My pack is packed, and within a reasonable weight limit. Patricia and I have been firing texts and pictures back and forth for days now. We are as ready as we're going to be. We'll meet at the airport in the morning, say goodbye for a while to lives and people we love, and fly away to follow the Way of Saint James to wherever it leads us.


You are invited to come along this summer as both Patricia and I will be posting on Facebook from time to time.

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