Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Camino 2016 05/31 - When every step is a thank you

I had a great American style breakfast with Iri and Luke. Then off I went around 7:15am. Though I did have a bit of an upset stomach throughout the morning, things settled down and I had some good distances and pace. My blisters seemed under control, I made excellent speed up a steep hill, and soon found myself in a large expansive forest of oaks.

While in the forest, I passed a vendor who gave away food and hand squeezed juice donativo (for donation). I got a banana, donated a euro, looked over her various totems there in the middle of the forest, and tarried on.

Later I encountered a monument to the Spanish Civil War. Not only did it memorialize the casualties, it served as a tombstone to a vast unmarked shallow grave discovered during the conflict. I prayed for the victims of that and war who are killed or driven from home in fear and violence.

I chatted briefly with many: Michaele and Flavia, Nicole from Haiti/Quebec (who again was stopping at every church to pray), New Yorker but originally from the Domincan Republic George who has been hanging out with other New Yorkers Wei and Wei, various older French travelers, a young man with his music headphones on, and something like Michael from Poland.

I got to San Juan de Ortega in good time, grazed on some chorizo, cheese, and bread for a picnic. I watched as a high end cycling tour group of mostly Americans set up a rather fancy picnic. I tried to not be judgmental but I find it hard to imagine a humble, prayerful pilgrimage when you have caterers at your ready. I try to recognize that just as the beach is shared by quiet seekers and sports fans, the trail by hikers and cyclists, the cathedrals by the faithful and the tourists, so too must the Camino. But it is a distraction when you see those with different intentions.

As I was ready to leave, I ran into Linda from San Diego again. She's such a trip. She knows everyone on the Camino. I discovered she's a retired physician and I learned more about her recent first time experience volunteering for a couple at a small donativo albergue on the Northern Camino. Antonio caught up with us and the three of us continued to Atapuerca, another 6-7km.

We found a couple stone and grass labyrinth just at the summit before descending into the village Agés. Linda, the labyrinth coordinator at her church, and I were thrilled and walked it. 

We checked in and ran into Iri and Luke. Boy they are fast walkers. Also, I finally met Denise of Long Beach who people wondered if we traveled together. After laundry and a short rest, a group of us went to take a tour of the Atapuerca excavation site.

The guide gave a lot of detail but spoke way too fast for me. I caught this and that sentence but I really need to practice  listening to fast talkers. Nonetheless, it was fascinating to see this slot canyon where the first human beings migrated into Europe. The excavations go on during the day and it's during the night that we can visit without interrupting them.

Had a delightful dinner with Linda, Uli (from last night), and Gies (pronounced Hees) from Holland. It was lots of fun and he, an avid cyclist and town councilor, described his greatest accomplishment of bringing the Tour de France through his small region or county a couple times.

And then he got serious. When he sensed we were faithful types, I think, he offered why he was walking the Camino. In short, less than six months ago he was in a 3 week coma from a bacteria while vacationing in Curaçao. He lost 40 pounds and his wife was three times told he would not live. He did, returned to the Netherlands, and began a physical therapy to recover lung capacity and strength. 

Five weeks ago, he was deemed healthy again. And when he was deemed healthy, he went and bought tickets and was on the Camino by himself less than 3 weeks later. He finishes today in Burgos and will on Friday meet his wife in Madrid for a week of vacation and celebration.

I cannot imagine his journey. I was nearly in tears as I realized that his Camino was an unabashed walk of gratitude. He wasn't sure if he was thanking God, his nurses, his family, or what. But it was all about thankfulness. When he gets to Burgos, he decided, he will put down some thoughts that he's been pondering and write a poem to his many grandchildren about his love for them and his gratitude.

A Camino of thankfulness. I feel like I broke bread with Lazarus last night and my soul feasted.

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Monday, May 30, 2016

Camino 2016 05/30 - Empty Nests

Though today was filled with farms, I had a final breakfast with Daniel when we coincidentally came in for the same hearty meal. We bid goodbyes and walked our own separate Caminos. 

30 minutes later I helped an older French woman (who had taken a break) with putting on her backpack. I wondered who helped her every morning. An hour later I walked with  Nicole from Haiti and now in Quebec, who also visited Lourdes, went to St Jean by train, and will visit Fatima after her Camino. 

Then I walked for a spell with Justinia from Poland. She dreamed of the Camino for years but waited until her son was old enough to move away.

I paused in a village to update Teresa on Daniel. She's from South Africa and briefly walked with Linda, Daniel, and me. In fact, he gave his space to her when he decided to continue on last night. She is finishing her final leg of her Camino at the age of almost 70, having done St Jean to Logroño and Sarria to Santiago previously, as a gift from her now grown son.

Then Antonio from Portugal walked with me. I again ran into Michaele and Flavia walking into Belorado. And as I was finding my albergue, Diane and Claude appeared and we joked about who was stalking whom. I checked in and found myself in a room shared with 5 others, two of whom are young adult brothers traveling with their father and sister.

The rains came while I rested in a delightful albergue Cuatro Cantones in Belorado. Before the rains, I was able to visit the church built into the side of a cliff.

Assigned to a wonderful table for the pilgrim's dinner. Iri and Luke in the front of the photo walked from their from door in Belgium, are from the Netherlands speaking part, and began their walk after their eldest graduated. Uli in the back is a musician/farmer from Bavaria and is in my dorm room (only woman, 5 guys). We had great talks about Camino, kids, and politics.

Today's pictures were mostly fields but I was enchanted by the nests of the storks on the church built into the cliff walls. For some reason, today's journey had a recurrent theme. The storks took over the top of this church as they were nesting. I wondered how many eggs or chicks  were up there as they labored to provide for life.

And at some point, they then migrate to a place of nourishment, fulfilling flight patterns burned into their very being, doing what they were meant to do, on faraway journeys, leaving the nests behind.

And tonight I thought of all these pilgrims who waited until their kids were old enough before they too began their journeys, seeking nourishment, on faraway journeys, leaving their nests behind.

May you one day spread your wings... And soar!

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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Camino 2016 05/29 - The Healing Water of Lourdes

It was a gorgeous day. Slightly cool, mostly gentle breezes, photogenic clouds on the horizon, gentle slopes. I chatted with Michaela and Flavia (a physical therapist, truly useful on this journey) of Bologna out of Nájare. Then their friend Luticia from near Venice but studying in Galloway Ireland walked with me to Astorfa.

After a chocolate Neopolitan and orange juice, I walked on and almost immediately ran into Daniel. He's from Oxford and did several research trips to Quito. And he's got cerebral palsy which forced him to walk on crutches. He began May 5 from St Jean and hopes to finish by July 25, on the feast of St James. A converted and devout Roman Catholic, he will need to do almost 7-8 miles per day to arrive on time.

We got along so very well. Although I walk quickly usually, and was walking slower to be careful of blisters, I slowed tremendously to walk with him... And barely noticed. We talked of pilgrimage, faith, Lourdes, Fatima, Our Lady of Guadelupe, fear. He seemed genuinely kind and happy all the time. We talked and walked for several hours.

During that time, as people passed us, we would Buen Camino folks and they would smile and give him the thumbs up. He extruded the nicest out of folks as they, perhaps like me, realized that our discomforts and challenges on the Camino paled against his. 

It's not a race. But we recognize privilege and courage when lacking it when we see it. And he counts himself lucky. Felipe from Argentina stopped and since he sent his pack ahead, offered to take Daniel's backpack to his destination albergue. I fought back the tears.

While I tried to help Daniel by blocking others from seeing him do what we sometimes have to do in public on the Camino, Linda from First United Methodist at San Diego introduced herself, saw my labyrinth rosary, and fell into conversation with us. Linda heads their labyrinth ministry. She just gave a talk for the American Pilgrim on the Camino society about labyrinths. 

We walked until Cirueña, a folly ghost town of lovely homes mostly empty because of government over confidence in building homes in the middle of nowhere. There we left Daniel with a South African woman Teresa looking for a place. Daniel decided he wanted to rest and lunch and press on to where Linda and I were staying. As it turned out he gave up his room to Teresa.

So we said goodbye. But first let me share something that happened with Daniel and Linda during the morning. I mentioned that I had Lourdes water to share with others. Daniel's eyes lit up. We said a prayer on the trail, and I gave him a sip. He dipped his head so I made a blessing with the water on his head and rubbed some into his bruised hands. He seemed genuinely happy to share in the waters brought forth by Our Lady of Lourdes.

Later on, Linda asked for some when I offered. She had the waters poured into her hands. She sipped. She crossed herself with the water.

Today, the hard to explain feeling of a call to bring the waters to those on the Camino was quenched. Not sated, but quenched. I felt like I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing.

Linda and I happened to be staying at the same Cistercian Hospederia. Our walk together was deep and touching. It seemed a shame to end it with details like staying overnight somewhere. The old nun was awesome checking us in. Very precise about us knowing the way to use the high tech keys and the rules. I napped. Even though I could have been done hours earlier, I wasn't tired. So I walked around Santo Domino de la Caldeza to take pictures and heard a voice calling me from above. It was Diane and Claude from Ottawa. They were on the third floor of the former Franciscan monastery now parador (first class hotel). They've clearly modified their trip much to deal with her blisters. They had already eaten and we're going to sleep early for a good rest. What a lovely way to end my day, or so I thought.

My Limping returned so I don't think I can wear sandals around town after all.  So I turned to the cathedral and there's Daniel. He did walk on. He mentioned that he found out mass was at 8 and if I'd like to eat then pray with him. We agreed to meet at 6:45 with Linda.

In the cathedral I saw good art and most importantly the chickens that they keep in the east transept above us. There's a story of about chickens and the merciful saving of death for a foreigner by Santo Domingo so chickens are in cathedral, albergues, logos, etc.

We met up with Daniel and Corolla, a successful artist and property owner from Germany, who after her husband left her now does village water cleaning training in Uganda. It was a nice pilgrim's menu. I did not notice until later that in this town, I ordered a roast chicken without any sense of irony.

We were late to mass but that's ok. It was a fitting way to end a perfect day. We said our goodbyes but before we did, as we walked out of the church, I overheard Daniel give alms to a beggar and ask him if he was safe.

I may have shared the water of Lourdes, but I was the one who felt healed.

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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Camino 2016 05/28 - Healing is a Camino

Healing is a Camino pilgrimage. We venture out, seeking beauty and life, with promises of adventure. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the destination is the goal, but in fact there are many ways to get there and it's your frame of mind throughout that matters. You cannot heal if you cannot trust and you cannot trust if you cannot hope.

On this pilgrimage we may not ever make our goal. That might not the taste in our mouth we want. Not this time. But we try. A little bite at a time. As people on a journey, pain will follow.  We take what in the past we would have called shortcuts. We try to avoid what we considered "weak", but there's no room for pride on this Camino. We all are equal, we all face the same challenges no matter how we start.

Two years ago, I mentioned watching Ema push her child across the Camino. I read about a paraplegic and his best friend as they went along the Camino. I spoke of older pilgrims who kept trying.

The similarities go on and on. And in the end, the ability to make the journey is giving up control. No matter what ways we take, we think we are in control. Control is a false idol that comforts us, gives us a feeling that we are strong and wise. But control is full of pride. It can drive you to the end, reach Santiago, find healthiness, but only for now. It's false because the journey never actually ends. Someday you must turn around and go home. You cannot control your Camino, just work with it.

Today's prayer set contains Romans 5:3-5 "And that's not all. We are full of joy even when we suffer. We know that our suffering gives us the strength to go on. The strength to go on produces character. Character produces hope. And hope will never let us down. God has poured his love into our hearts. He did it through the Holy Spirit, whom he has given to us."

We can be full of joy without suffering. But it's a shadow of what we could be. Our metal won't be tested; the strength may not last. Ultimately we find we don't have a reserve of hope built up. It's not something we control. It's something we accept.

I saw Claude and Diane trying to find a place after her blisters forced them to skip a couple cities. I did the same thing a day earlier and am praying that I am ready with shorter distances per day. Since I'm a day ahead, I was surprised to run into an older Irish couple here in Návera, the one time capital of the kingdom of Navarre. They had taken the bus because after a day's walk into a city like Logorño, there were no rooms this weekend. They took the bus here to get a room for a couple nights, will take the bus back tomorrow to Logroño, and walk here. 

Did they control their situation? No. They must accept room availability, Sunday bus schedules, weather. They managed things as best they could. And they were joyful.

We attended mass together as we ran into each other, ringing a bell three times (For Christ, for Mary, for St James) together, breaking bread with the one who gives us hope. We broke bread on our knees.

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