Day Ten. One direction.
It was another day of rain, but I actually loved being out in it. It was steady, and only a few times was it a downpour, but my poncho and my backpack rain cover worked beautifully. Lots of pilgrims were out today, all of us plastic-draped, some even with umbrellas. There is solidarity when everyone is suffering together, and compassion seems to be at the ready. I was having trouble getting my backpack rain cover on, and in the midst of one of the few furious downpours I had four people coming to my aid.
I came across an Austrian couple who were clearly confused about the direction of the Camino. I have a pretty good guidebook which describes every turn--especially those that are not well-marked. I was able to help them out, and they were so grateful that they insisted I take their Camino shell. The scallop shell is the symbol of the walk--it's painted on trees, sidewalks, tiles. I read that the French call the scallop 'coquille St Jacques' (James), and that during medieval times it was carried by pilgrims on the Camino as a handy and light replacement for a bowl as they obtained food along the way. I've been wanting to get one of those shells since I started, but didn't know where or how, and my act of kindness got me one! It reminded me of my mother, who always said that an act of kindness is never wasted and would find its way back to you. Now I have a bowl for my food!
It was my mother who opened my eyes to the wider world beyond my own. She never traveled to Spain or anywhere in Europe, not even to Ireland. You would think that as one of eleven children to a mother they all called a saint (I never met her) that she would have wanted to visit the homeland of her ancestors. Part of it was the money, I assume. We didn't have a lot. But my mother was very much aware that my sister and I should know and see that there was a world beyond New York. My sister spent a year of college in France, and my first visit to Europe was in high school, with the Latin Club (believe it or not!). It wasn't so much that I liked Latin, just that they had a trip to Italy, and my mother encouraged me to go. She wanted to raise my horizon level, to get some perspective, and I have been grateful to her ever since. Daniel Boorstin, a noted American historian who wrote The Discoverers, wrote about what traveling used to mean in the world, how it was a serious effort. "The traveler was always active. He went strenuously in search of people, adventure, experience. The tourist is passive; he expects interesting things to happen to him. He goes 'sightseeing'." My mother, I think, didn't want me to be a tourist.
Each semester for years I would hand out a paper with the syllabi of my courses which said: 1. There is an absolute truth. 2. No one knows the whole truth. 3. Everyone has a part of the truth. 4. In your life you should strive to acquire as many of those parts as you can. 5. You will never achieve the whole truth, but you must strive to find it, passionately. That was the lesson of my mama, which I learned since sitting on her lap as a child. It's about walking through life with your arms wide open, seeing everyone and every experience as a moment of learning, when you can acquire one more of those pieces of the truth. Of course doing so has a cost. It requires that you be humble and that you acknowledge that "I don't know", and it makes you very vulnerable. Just take a look at the ultimate stance of openness to the truth: Jesus on the cross.
On the Camino there is just one way to go--onward. There is no going back, you are always heading for the final destination. The shell's bottom always points forward. And of course along the way, you grow bigger and wiser with regards to what you know: how much you really need on a journey, how your body speaks to you, how to really see and listen what is all around you. One direction: like the boy band, like the name of the church that Robert Duvall creates in the wonderful movie, The Apostle. One direction is what the Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin saw as the movement of all of evolution: all of life and all history moving from the simplicity of single celled organisms to self conscious beings to a spiritual final 'Omega Point', accumulating greater and greater complexity, where everything and everyone becomes One. With many stumbles along the way, open arms moves you in that direction, with the ultimate goal that you transcend yourself.
The Camino may at times feel way below that lofty goal, especially when you have a day like mine turned out today.
I knew it was going to be a challenge, but not that much. Today's walk was 34 miles, and I'm pretty sure that's the last time I do that! I've completed 198 miles now, and I've been averaging 19-20 miles a day, primarily so that I have some time at the end to spend in Compostela de Santiago, the destination goal of the trip. So I've pushed it a bit. A few days it was 25 miles, a few less than 20. What I didn't realize when I set out this morning was that I would have to climb TWO mountains--up and down-- in those 34 miles, and it was a killer. One of the mountains was 1400 feet. As I got to the end of today--really late, and after 14 hours of walking, my toes and my hips were protesting greatly. In fact, I called for a taxi when I entered the goal city of Gijon. It was already 11:30 and I was dying and I was afraid I wouldn't be able to get into my hotel. I stopped at a restaurant--the Spanish eat dinner at 10-11pm at night--and the owner (who spoke English thank God) was so wonderful in calling for the cab, and then waiting for it with me out in the rain. When I got to the hotel there was a night manager (thank God), and in the room was a wonderful hot shower (thank God), and a delightfully comfortable bed (thank God).
Thank God for the one direction I'm going in.