Day sixteen. Cloud of unknowing.
The weather report on the TV in the pensione was of course in Spanish, but I know what a gray cloud icon means, and that's what the weather guy was pointing to for today. Out the window, the skies seemed to confirm. Ok, I've done this before. So as I gathered my stuff for the backpack, I placed my rain poncho in a convenient spot for quick access. Within minutes on the Camino, I was surrounded by fog, and a faint mist. Was It the beginning of rain, or was I just 'feeling' the cloud in which I was now inside? The fog enveloped the surrounding hills, clung to the forests of trees on the hills, and made invisible much of the landscape through which I was traveling.
When I was a little boy, I took my first ride on a plane, and the part I was most excited about was that I would get to see what the inside of a cloud looked like. Lying on the ground, I looked up at the beautiful and amazing shapes of the clouds above my head, and imagined that within them were cottony rooms of floating dinosaurs and dragons, old men with long white beards, good witches, white rabbits and lots of other odd things. But looking out window of the plane, when we entered the magnificent clouds, it was just... gray. It looked like fog. What a disappointment.
It took me a while to realize that fog was just a grounded cloud. It can be annoying, obscuring every good thing you want to see. It can be dangerous, hiding perilous drops off cliffs or an oncoming car, or a murderer! But there is also something inviting about fog, beckoning for you to enter into the mystery within, the excitement that you will find something unexpected and incredible.
Some pilgrims along the Camino in medieval times would have been aware of an anonymously written book entitled the The Cloud of Unknowing. The writer of the book speaks to his student, who is trying to discover what God wants him to do with his life. The teacher suggests that the only way to find the answer is to strip himself of all thought, to take on a ' cloud of forgetting' of all his worries, fears and planning. That, the writer says, is the only way to enter into the 'Cloud of Unknowing' where Love will show him the way.
Looking at the fog today, I thought about that book, and how for many people the Camino promises an answer to what they are looking for in the fog.
Martin Sheen was in a movie about the Camino. It was called The Way. He plays a father whose son was killed in an accident shortly after beginning a Camino pilgrimage. He goes to collect the ashes of his son, but then feels he should complete the walk for his son, from whom he had been estranged. As he departs, he appears to be using the walk to deal with the estrangement and his grief. Along the way, he meets three other people who are looking for something too: a Dutch fellow who is walking the Camino to lose weight and to prevent a possible divorce from his wife; a French Canadian woman who is trying to give up smoking and deal with a broken relationship; and a writer from Ireland who is trying to overcome 'writers block'. All four are in the fog, hoping to emerge into a clearing where their issues will be resolved. But at the end of the pilgrimage, it is clear that none of them got what they thought they were looking for--but all of them got what they needed.
Today I met a friend named Carlos. He is 25, and Spanish, and he is walking the Camino like me, alone. I I encountered him along the path after the fog had finally been burned off by the sun. (No rain after all.) I could immediately tell that this was someone with a good heart: he had stopped his walk to feed a kitten who had wandered onto the Camino. I was touched by the gesture and took a picture of the two, and I think I said something and Carlos immediately responded in English. Within moments we had introduced ourselves, and after I mentioned that I was a filmmaker, he immediately launched into his favorite movie, The Great Beauty, directed by Paolo Sorrentino, a movie I also love.
That sparked even more conversation, and we walked together the rest of the way to our day's destination, Vilalba. I had tons of questions to ask him about Spain--its politics, its history, its economy, its movie and TV fare. He is a very bright guy, extremely thoughtful, and he is a good listener as well. But we also touched on some of our reasons for doing the Camino. In some ways they were not unlike the characters' reasons in The Way. Carlos is trying to figure out what he is going to do with the next phase of his life, and so am I. We're kind of walking in the cloud of unknowing, and I suspect that in some way we will both find something a little different than we expected when the fog is lifted.
I look forward to walking with him again.