Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

Links to the Camino de Santiago pilgrimages are on the navigation links to the right of the web page.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Letting the Light In: An Advent Reflection

On Monday, I posted on Facebook a comment that got some attention from my friends, including a few tearful hugs.

Driving up Lake Ave, waiting for a pedestrian to cross at Elizabeth St. Two 9yo-ish Boys on scooters racing downhill. One sees me and yells out "Ching Chong", darting away, laughing.
I am tired of being told "to get over it". Raise your kids right.

Needless to say, I was caught off-guard by this rude shred of racism. I was coming back from stopping by a store where I was looking at stocking stuffers for my nieces and nephews. The store and my heart were in a Christmas spirit. And I had been marinating in the Advent spirit of waiting penitentially for the hope and Good made incarnate with the coming of the baby Jesus. I was also getting a last-minute item needed to roast a turkey the next day for the Homeless Memorial and Dinner at All Saints Episcopal of Pasadena. And the prior night, I sang with my choir at the beautiful Lessons and Carols evensong service. Needless to say, I was in positive mood.

And then these two boys shook up my Monday.

My last sentence in that post seemed to imply that I had problems with the kids themselves. I didn't mean to do so. I was upset with the parents and other adults in those children's lives who taught or at least enabled the children to say such a pointless, mean remark. The comment was directed not towards the kids but towards us adults.

You see, this wasn't an isolated incident. If this incident happened for the first time in the last decade, I'd be shocked and I'd be glad it was over. Like some freakish accident, I don't expect it to happen again soon. But it's not unusual. It happens to me now, and it's happened to me in the past, and while I'm alive I'll probably have it happen again. Good grief, I can tell you about the fear that coursed through me when I was chased by pipe-wielding guys in gay West Hollywood.

Admittedly, it's not common to me, and for that I'm thankful. It's not common, but it's not unusual. Comments or actions that are based on racism come to me several times a year. And I'm one of the lucky ones because we all know people who experience racism on a daily basis. Well, those of us who have friends or acquaintances who are not in the ethnic majority for their area know such people; a surprising number of people live in segregated enclaves, intentionally or not, where they simply have no opportunity to be in relationship with a minority.

That's not to say that ethnic minorities don't mistreat each other. There's no doubt that there can be as much racism directed from one minority onto another. But racism isn't just a dislike for a minority. It's coupled with power.  So a person of one minority disparaging a person of a different minority class doesn't harm the person as much as a person of the majority, a person with power. Now, a child who calls out names like I experienced typically has no power, but that child represents and is the product of someone who does.  Whether children or adult, these acts are enabled by a society that stays silent about the hurt sustained from the malice. We must dis-enable all who diminish our mutual humanity.

In the past, I've been told "get over it". Well no. No, I won't.

This blog post is a step to "not get over it", to not let it slide, but to call it out publicly. I want to let the light in and shine it on this sickness.

This was NOT an isolated incident. It happens here, in "tolerant" California like elsewhere. I haven't shared these stories in the past, but they happen, and I am just one of the many who experiences unacceptable behavior.

The boys said "Ching Chong". In the past, people have spat out at me "faggot", "chink", "go back to your own country", and "old fat fag"

There have been heroes to help me when these happened. And there are those who turned away.

I am grateful for everyone's words of love and support this past week. I also think that what I experienced was not just youthful indiscretion. I don't think it's just a sign of these political times. I don't feel it's unique to me, to this year, to this location. I don't feel that I'm the only person who experiences this.

I weep when I know this is happening to others. I weep knowing it happens more often and with more physically painful ramifications to others. And I weep when this story surprises my friends. We all suffer, those oppressed AND those who oppress, when these aggressions and microagressions happen. All of us in the human family are diminished.

I have faith that the arc of history bends toward justice. But all of us must speak like the prophets and call out the injustices not just in our lives but in the daily lives of all around us. And all of us must follow and be the shepherd who cares for the fallen, the hurt, the pained.

This country and the world should be bigger than this incident. I pray for it. I dream of it. I want to share my stories so we know what we face.

And while I'm at it, I'd like to bring up one more point. I know of too many friends who defensively make self-directed jokes. "Oh I'm Asian and we ARE the worst drivers" for example. It's considered acceptable for a minority to call others in their community by slurs. I know I've done it, as a Filipino, as an immigrant, as a Pacific-Islander, as an Asian, as a gay person, as a guy, as a geek. It's an easy laugh that we can share with each other, a laugh that is not permissible by those who are not of that same class.

I wonder how hurtful it is that this continues, as we perpetuate stereotypes in such jokes. It's really incorporating the hurtful stereotypes into our own community. The behavior can mask a self-hate. In the gay community, it can mask (or perhaps reveal) internalized homophobia.

None of this is holy. Holy is lifting up, not casting down. We don't have to step on each other to bind ourselves to each other. We don't have to step on minorities to build ourselves up.

We can heal this sickness, this sin. To do so, we have to face the illness, or at least face the fears that prevent us from healing. I recently had a colonoscopy where I (finally) confronted a fear of cancer by actually getting a checkup. I remember that same fear when decades ago I went finally for an HIV test. Those fears impair our ability to heal, but we must accept that we can't begin to heal without first facing the realities of the disease.

Every day we forget who we are, forget that we are made in the image of God, forget what life without fear is, forget what love means. I won't get over this unless by getting over it we mean let's heal. Let's remember. Let's love.

So let's use this time to remember. We can remember who we are and what life and love mean. We can pray in this time of Advent for a future that's filled with love and hope, for a chance to heal what was broken, for a promise to end the sickness of sin.

I heard a sermon recently that pointed out that you can have two rooms, one in light and one in darkness. Open the door between them, and the light pours out of the light-filled room into the dark room. And the light-filled room doesn't look any dimmer. It's still just as light. But the dark room is transformed, with almost as brilliant a light as the adjoining room.

As I pondered that sermon, it struck me that you could have countless rooms of darkness, all connected to that light-filled room. We can open the doors to each and every room and they will immediately fill with light. And the room with light itself does not go dim.

Christmas is coming. We await the Light to fill our darkness. May His promise of hope and salvation be shared with all.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Why? First Start with Who?

Who are you?
Who, who, who, who?
Who are you?
Who, who, who, who?
Who are you?
Who, who, who, who?
Who are you?
Who, who, who, who?

I woke up in a Soho doorway
A policeman knew my name
He said "You can go sleep at home tonight
If you can get up and walk away"

- From Who Are You, the Who

I am asked time and again why I walk the Camino de Santiago, why I keep returning. Let's be frank, I ask it of myself almost once a week - twice a day while actually on the pilgrimage.

Often, a glib answer pours from my mouth, talking about pilgrimage and seeking. It may not seem glib to whoever is listening, but in truth, it feels inadequate to me. I say how much I enjoy meeting people from around the world, how I have time to think and process my thoughts, how getting out of my rut opens my eyes, how the art/history/culture/language observations deepen my education, and how all interactions with people along the way introduce me back to God and all Her wonderous joys.

It placates the casual questioner, and there's truth in it all. And, yet there's just so much more to me. It doesn't encompass the enormity of the effect on my soul and growth as an individual. So I've chewed on it some this week.

See, a big party was held at my house a couple days after I came home. It wasn't for me. One of my younger sisters was celebrating her 50th birthday and we were hosting it at our house for her. During the party, more than a few asked how I felt after the Camino and some asked why I did it. Soon after the party, I came down with the flu and I laid in bed pondering more than a few things during my brief moments awake.

Why. Why indeed. I don't think I can answer that question comfortably anymore. I've tried in the past and I'm no longer satisfied with my answer. In truth, it's not easy for me because I think I need to ask another question first.

Who? Who are you? Who who? Who who?

And like the lyrics from that favorite song, "You can go sleep at home tonight if you can get up and walk away", I do want to go home to rest, but can I actually get up? Can I actually walk away?

Who? Who am I? Who who? Who who?

And rooted in that question, I think, is Christ asking that question of Pilate. Who do you say I am? Part of my identity is deeply intertwined with that question.

Why? Why do I go on the Camino? I've ended up in Santiago de Compostela five times in three years. I'll have to accept that I might not answer this question until I answer "Who" better. This might mean that I may never know. I'm having to accept this. It really stings to not have an answer to the question of who I am, but I'll keep trying. And seeking.

And in the meantime, I'll stand up. And I'll walk away.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Camino 2017-10-5 The Road Home

The Road Home
Tell me, where is the road I can call my own
That I left, that I lost so long ago?
All these years I have wandered.
Oh when will I know
there's a way, there's a road that will lead me home

After wind, after rain, when the dark is done,
as I wake from a dream in the gold of day
Through the air there's a calling from far away
there's a voice I can hear that will lead me home.

Rise up, follow me, come away is the call
with the love in your heart as the only song.
There is no such beauty as where you belong.
Rise up, follow me, I will lead you home.

By Stephen Paulus 

I don't know fully why this pilgrimage has drawn me back time and again. I'm not from Spain, though some of my ancestors are. It's not the love of walking in and of itself, because I do that at home almost daily. 

I've little interest in walking other famous trails in their entirety. The walking is, surprisingly, incidental. It's a means to an end. 

Like the song says, we are asked to rise up. To follow the singer. To be in the place we belong. Home can be anywhere we want it to be. Home to me the past few years has been to myself, where God has wanted me.

The Camino De Santiago is not the place then but the process for me. In the time on this pilgrimage, I'm marinating in nature, city, and history -- People. Strangers walk into our lives, break bread with us, share a path. And they become less the stranger when they do so. Some become friends.

And if we walk with people from home, we deepen the relationship, tighten the bonds not to each other but to love universal - which allows unity and companionship to grow stronger.

I met up with Julz outside of Padrón . We started early, out of excitement. We only took one break. The 17 or so miles flew by because we were caught up in the moment. Stretches of silent reflection were broken up by outright howls of laughter from stories of our lives. We did this until we finally reached Santiago de Compostela.

I helped Julz check in, wildly coincidentally, at a small pensione that I stayed in when I brought my parents here 2 years ago. We then went to the cathedral where we parted for dinner. But before we did, we stared at our destination. And we processed. The climax and anticlimax of such a trip takes a while to comprehend.

And most of all we realize that we've taken a road home. Our personal home of self. And despite the effort, despite the journey, despite the song, we don't stay there alone. 

We come home so that we can venture out once more. We come home so that we can invite others to join us. We come home so that we can be centered and balanced before we walk set foot again in the trail.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Camino 2017-10-4 Where There Is Despair, Hope

On this Feast Day of Saint Francis, many share the prayer attributed to him. He remains one if not the most popular Saint, given his humility, piety, and endless love of animals and humanity. And he walked the Camino 803 years ago.

My day started with reading his prayer and ended with a Rosario and mass at the Padrón Church of Santiago, with prayers especially to celebrate the feast day. In between those moments, I kept the prayer as well as Saint Patrick's blessing in my heart.

I met up with Julz in Caldas de Reis and we walked the day together all the way to Padrón. We enjoyed lazy rivers, animals of all types, and stunning agricultural lands hugging the hills. We saw the forest as well as the trees, and we talked about it.

We discussed the problems of hearing but not listening, of viewing but not seeing, of touching but not feeling. As I pondered this later on while sitting alone and staring over the river, it occurred to me that the contradictions in Francis's prayer could help address the problems. We are hearing but we aren't listening because we don't let others speak to us. We do not see because we don't let others show themselves. And we don't feel because we don't let ourselves be touched.

I tripped a wire twice with Julz with my comments and questions. The first went by and nothing happened; I felt something could be said but wasn't. The second time, we shared tears again like yesterday. In the baptism of tears, we washed away the despair, and - it felt - invited hope.

We chatted with lovely Andre and Ana from Portugal during a snack break at a coffee shop. Ellen walked past and we set a dinner date in Santiago for tomorrow night. And we smiled at familiar faces that come and go at the different places people meet. It's fleeting and yet it's meaningful. 

I wrap up this penultimate walking day with a confession and the prayer. We are so easily focused on the hatred, injury, discord, error. On the doubt, despair, darkness, sadness. I go there like everyone else, and it doesn't feed me. It's a sin I work on by accepting that I'm not brought closer to God when I dawdle there. What feeds me is to console, to understand, and to love. Because it's not about me then. It's about gratitude for having first and second and third chances, and saying thank you in the only way I know how.

Walk with the one who feeds us, and live a life set free.

Prayer Attributed to Saint Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

Grant that we may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are brought back to eternal life.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Camino 2017-10-3 When Doves Cry

Only two more walking days! By Thursday afternoon, I should be coming into Santiago de Compostela. This fifth Camino pilgrimage will be completed, and the journey ends; this fifth Camino pilgrimage will be completed, and the real journey continues.

There's no way, as you pack your stuff every morning, that you can truly know what your day will bring. For most of us, it's planting one foot in front of the other, an instinct we've done since toddlers. For others it involves equipment or assistance. I packed up thinking I'm getting really close and in my original plans was going to do this three days in two. 

I'm glad I changed plans because I like how things turned out. Met and chatted with some interesting people at the albergue. Walked more slowly than I am inclined to do. Saw things that might not be seen.

I left Pontevedra with a quick reminder to be alert. A couple of older German guys whistled at me to notice the arrows after I crossed as I was more interested in the nice view of the Ponte de Tirantos bridge than the Camino route. It's hard to hear sometimes when you're in your own head; I remembered to not feel embarrassed but to think of them as angels telling me showing me the way, my Camino from Lourdes had messenger angels and this Camino was no different.

I walked alone for an hour before I ran into Julz from Australia. You may recall her in yesterday's blog as the one with a backpack that needed adjustment. I asked if she was doing better and she was. She's still adjusting the straps but the feel is much better. We began to walk together and, as it turns out, we walked the whole day to Caldas de Reis.

We stopped at a lovely cafe and sat under an arbor of grape vines, sipping orange juice. She cracked up when I brought out potato chips. I said normally I have to refrain from the salt because of my blood pressure but on Camino I need the electrolytes. She thought it was great that we both love potato chips and that no wonder we get along so well.

Throughout the day we enjoyed the views, uncountable chestnuts on the ground, and grapes. Some of the grapes on the vines were so juicy and beyond delicious. At another rest break, we pulled over briefly among the oaks and chestnut trees. I chatted with some older French Camino walkers who pointed out that the chestnuts were a favorite stuffing for their Christmas turkeys.

We got ever closer to Caldas de Rei, with signs showing that we were also getting oh so close to Santiago de Compostela. We almost passed a special park that Jorge told me about and she found out from a tourist office. Ellen, from Bend Oregon, had had dinner with Julz back in Arcadia (between O Porriño and Rebadela) and ran into us. She had just come from the waterfalls so Julz and I turned back and went over a few hundred meters to the falls.

They were lovely cascades, flowing even at this dry time of year. The water was cool not cold. We took off our shoes and I went right into a spa tub like hole in the rocks. The water was heavenly.

She and I enjoyed the cleansing waters. Julz found them healing and laid back into the waters. I immersed myself fully and felt like a new person. Water, by immersion or by sprinkles, can do that if you believe so.

After the hourlong detour, we continued on to the last bit. Her albergue was 45 minutes away while mine was 1/2 hour past hers in town. I mentioned in passing the stone I left behind every time at the Cruz de Fero. Since this Camino didn't pass it, I still brought a stone and will leave it at the Cathedral.

The stone represents the burdens we carry in life, the heartaches and pains, the luggage that weighs down our backs. They're so small, yet we feel their weight getting heavier with each passing step. I leave the stone during the pilgrimage to release the weight, to give myself some relief, to leave the stone at the foot of the cross so that Christ can carry the burden for me.

I explained this and realized Julz was in tears. We wept together even as other pilgrims walked past us. I reached down to the ground and offered her a small stone to carry.

Julz found her albergue and I continued on. I had a pleasant dinner of fried fish and clams in spaghetti that tasted like paella, along the river bank. Ellen walked by and I thanked her for her reminder. I then caught the Rosario and Mass at the church.

Doves are symbols of hope and peace. They bring with the rainbow a promise beyond the storm and flood. We don't expect them to hurt. And like Prince's song When Doves Cry, it jars us when they do. But no creature or person goes through life without tears. That's part of living.

And yet the dove even in tears can be full of hope. Somewhere beyond the rainbow, there's always hope.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Camino 2017-10-2 On Pain, Confusion, and Planning

I awoke to the news in the USA. I was immediately concerned because it's the type of concert that relatives like to attend. As it turned out, a cousin and her family were staying at the hotel as they like to do. And their daughter was at the concert.

As I got ready for dinner, I found out they were fine but in a hotel lockdown then out of lockdown. The pain and confusion of those hours was likely as frightening as any we ever want to experience. 

I hope they and the country respond. Because we can't keep asking for thoughts and prayers, asking God for mercy, when we don't take responsibility for our own transgressions. Yes we ourselves aren't immediately responsible but our pattern of actions and inactions facilitate transgressions to be done.

I just described on my blog for the past few days how I've had to change my plans and not be so insistent on doing it a certain way. Because I was getting pain and feeling the coming of blisters, I had to start walking differently. Have you tried to relearn walking? 

It's hard.

But I know some who suffered medical crises and auto accidents who have had to relearn to walk. And I have the luxury of doing this at my choice. That's what a sensible person does. They plan ahead. 

"For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’" (Luke 14:28-30)

I wanted rest days. I needed rest days. But with rising temperatures and weather change, I knew I had to plan ahead. So I walked much further while I could for a few days. Now as the weather turned hot, I can walk and be done by midday and rest during the heat.

That's laying the foundation so that we can finish.  

So on Oct 2, I walked from Redondela to Pontevedra and had a lovely time. I left later than normal. Right after 9am. And I finished without even needing a break at 1pm. In the meantime, I chatted with some wonderful people.

A father and young daughter were walking from Valença. They were from South Korea and were excited to see another Asian on the Camino. Actually there are many. In fact, in my room at this albergue, 4 of the 6 beds have Asians.

I met Alain who is a government official from Quebec near Ottawa. He's in the bunk bed with me and stretches with yoga to prevent back pain.

There's Jules from Australia. I saw her way ahead of me and was bothered because her backpack was not adjusted right for her height. Fortunately she's at my albergue and I asked if her pack felt ok and it didn't. So we are adjusted it so that she can finish her trip with less pain.

I had been asked to take a bunk bed so that older folks could be in lower bunks, even though I got there first. Not a problem.

All this was so much more fun to me than the pain and mental confusion I was experiencing the last few days. 

Maybe all these things are coincidental, but it sure seems like we are capable of adjusting and resetting our plans so that more people can be included and we ourselves can be happier.

Ok there are limits. I walked around town and saw some amazing architecture. But I didn't check to see hours of businesses. Spain usually is up really late so I didn't expect that I had to ask. But a restaurant with supposedly good Navares (razor neck clams, my favorite Spanish dish) turned out closed in the evenings. And by the time I finished dinner and walked over Smooy was closed. They're my favorite froyo chain.

I turned out ok though. I let the desire for froyo guide me to a gelataria. And instead of ice cream I had a crepe stuffed with bananas, fudge, and caramel. 

I think I did alright.