For the past couple of weeks – ever since I saw the first autumn blooming crocus in a patch of grass on my way to work – I have been thinking a lot about this third year anniversary of my walk on the camino. This anniversary has felt like one of those birthdays that seemed to start early and stretch on, with camino reminders and camino like thoughts popping up everywhere. And in those reminders and thoughts were both joy and sorrow.
Many of my thoughts focused on the loss of my brother and father.
I left for Spain on the 16th of September 2009 and started my walk from Saint Jean Pied de Port on Monday, September 21.
September 16th (2002) is also the day my father died, and while those two events have always been linked in my mind, this year it has been much stronger, both because it is the 10th anniversary of his death, and because of the recent unexpected, and devastating death of my younger brother. I feel like I have been wrenched out of my day to day life, and have experienced something like the wide open spaces of the meseta, empty and alone on one hand and filled with intense feelings and love on the other.
As I think back over these two very important men in my life I am struck by how much a like they are and how much they are different. Both loved tinkering with – well just about anything. In their very different ways they shared a strong appreciation for the people who keep things going, and the pride they took in the work they did. I remember how proud of my father I was, when he, as the newly hired missionary responsible for repairs, was surrounded by doctors at the small hospital at Vanga. I realized clearly how important his work was. Without the work he did, clean water, sterilized equipment, communications with the outside world would be much more difficult. I’m sure I never told him that I was proud of him. But he told me once, how proud he was of me. I was 17 and getting ready to go to college. I remember feeling that day shocked it was so unlike him to verbalize feelings, and he saw me on the verge of adulthood, he would never look on me as a child again.
These thoughts of loss brought to mind others who have lost family and friends and how they have dealt with it. I thought of Beate and her description of how the earth fell from beneath her feet when her mother died. How the camino helped her get re-grounded. I began to walk every chance I got. I thought of Anna-Maija and the huge yellow sunflowers at her husband’s funeral.
As has happened so often in the last three years, I remembered many other camino conversations about family, change, loneliness, appreciating the small details that reveal that ordinary life is extraordinary. I treasure the conversations and the people I had them with. And other conversations and interactions that they have inspired since.
I thought about how my definition “camino” – which originally focused on the walk and those that shared it with me in person and via my blog/email has expanded dramatically. As Martha from the American Pilgrims group has said: The end of the camino is really only the beginning. I remain intensely grateful for those who I met in Spain. I love that I have been welcomed into the homes and shared the families and friends of the people on that journey who I have had to good fortune to see again: Guylene, Beate, Veera, Wolfgang, Dan & Christel, Michel, Michelle, Anna-Maija, Layla & Suni. These post-camino experiences have been as precious as my time in Spain.
The camino as “the camino” pops up more and more in daily life. Recently I spent a lovely evening with Kathleen and Jan and Candy. We all walked together in the Lake District of England one year, and another year Jan, Kathleen, their two boys, our friend Louise & I all spent an idyllic week at a small 17th century french farmhouse perched on a hill in Auvergne. We talked about our voyages together and then turned to “the camino”. After seeing “the Way” Candy’s youngest son would love to walk it with her in the next year or two. Kathleen’s sister Eileen is thinking of walking the camino for her 50th birthday. We became friends when she lived here in Olympia for several months a couple of years ago. She called from Hawaii the other day asking all those pre-camino questions – what kind of pack, shoes, clothes…. if I only have a limited amount of time what part should I walk. (My answer is always “Start at the beginning and go as far as you can with the time you have. Enjoy where you are every minute and let the camino guide you. When there you will know what is right for you to do next.”)
My camino also continues as many camino companions share their further camino adventures with me. The last two falls I got postcards from Michel as he finished yet another Le Puy-Fisterra camino! I wonder if he is en route again. This Saturday I got a postcard from Guylene and her daughter Claire from Muxia, as they walked the Santiago, Fisterra, Muxia loop. For Guylene the final un-walked leg of a camino that began years ago in Le Puy.
That same Saturday I did a walk and dinner with the Seattle Chapter of the American Pilgrims on Camino in Seattle. A great opportunity to meet with others who have walked – and often gone back as hospitaleros.
And just today, an email from Norberto. As he says “Hace ahora tres años del camino y si, Si, mi mochila me vuelve a atrapar, ire hacer el camino del norte hasta santiago y finisterra…”
I know just how he feels.
I can’t believe that after 3 years I feel just as excited, moved by and grateful for the camino now as when I did it.
4 August 2002
21 September 2012