Today I am out of the house and “working” at the library. It’s all fine and well to cocoon at home, but the time has come for me to emerge and return to the world. I can still bring the camino with me.
It’s also time for me to stop avoiding this blog community, all of you who have journeyed with me, kept me company, prayed for me, lifted my spirits, and encouraged me. I wasn’t sure where this blog was going to go after I left Santiago. Where does Michelle go after Michelle Walks The Camino? I’ve been very reluctant to face that question. But now I know.
You can take the woman off of the Camino, but you can’t take the Camino out of the woman. At least not this woman. Every day is filled with memories of people, places, impressions, tastes, smells, and the way my heart is stirred by the Camino. The Camino is in me and it has shaped me in to a new person. So the only place to go is back to the Camino.
This time I will walk the Camino Frances alone. I don’t know if I will carry my backpack all the way again. There’s no pressure to adhere to the dictates of the Camino to receive a Compostela. I will give myself a longer time to walk this camino so I can stop and soak in more of the sights along the way. Walking every day, even if it was only 6 miles took a lot out of me and more than anything at the end of the day I just wanted to be clean, get something to eat, and go to bed. If I’m tired or in too much pain I will try to adjust in order to take time to rest and heal.
I hope you will continue with me as this camino ain’t over yet.
Today I am out of the house, in my workout clothes (including my Camino trail runners), and am about to begin walking the track.
This is a big deal for me. For so long I have sequestered myself in the house venturing out only when absolutely necessary. It’s not as though I have become an agoraphobic. Rather it is that I have immersed myself in the small domesticities of tidying and cooking. Don’t worry it’s not as though I’ve become maniacal in cleaning. 😉
On the Camino my world was large but very slow and deliberate. Now my world seems large and fast paced. There are so many people at the grocery and so many things to choose from.
At home I feel very Benedictine as I fold the laundry or stir a white wine sauce to serve over homemade pasta. It has become my sanctuary with candles burning. My music is my hymnal…sometimes modern, sometimes country, sometimes taize.
And I think about my life.
I’ve been re-reading Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor’s book, Traveling with Pomegranates. I read this about 6 years ago and I was so taken by this memoir written by a mother and daughter that I bought copies for my own daughters. I know my oldest read it but I doubt the other two did since the oldest described it as a “cry-fest”. Nonetheless I still find words to cling to that sadden me and yet illuminate the possibility for hope.
It almost bereaves me to think of unrealized potentials dying inside, the small miscarriages of self.
Tomorrow will be the one month anniversary of my return to my home. I’m in much the same spot I was one month before I left for the Camino. I rarely leave the house unless there is a really compelling reason like seeing our new granddaughter or going to the grocery because cereal for dinner is not a good option.
Unfortunately it isn’t as helpful as I had hoped. Shaia spends a lot of time talking about preparing for your return before you leave. Since I didn’t do any preparation for the return, I feel like I totally failed my Camino. I didn’t write myself a letter to my post-Camino self, nor did I find a mentor to pray for me during my Camino. Although I know I am truly blessed to be surrounded by such wonderful people who prayed me along the way without my even asking.
I have tickets to see Elton John tomorrow night in Pittsburgh and while I’m very excited about this, part of me says, “Eh, I could just stay home and listen to my old albums.”
So what is wrong with me?
I think I have an idea. I think when I leave the house the world is too fast for me. In the car things fly by so quickly that I can’t process what I’m seeing. If I go out for coffee with friends the conversation seems to spin so fast that I can’t keep up with what’s being said. And don’t even get me started on the grocery store. I had a mini meltdown because I couldn’t find the jars of olives. When I did find them it took me almost five minutes to decide which one I wanted.
And just to make things a little more weird…I want to walk, but I can’t seem to get myself out of the house. The world just seems too big and complicated to confront. Truth be told my house even seems too big and filled with too much stuff.
I have to learn how to function in this world, but I don’t want to lose the peace and simplicity I found on the Camino. So I will go to the concert tomorrow and it’ll be great. I hope I don’t get too overwhelmed in the crowd. I’m just going to have to take a deep breath, center my chi, and enjoy the show.
Today I received an email from a dear college friend. He’s not just a college friend; we were part of a group that traveled to France to study at the Institut de Touraine in Tours, France. I remember this as a very happy time. We were Americans struggling to become French. Our love of the language, the country, the history, and yes…the wine bound us together in a way we could not on our college campus. My friend has diligently kept track of us. This is what he said…
I am writing you in celebration of the memory of our 40th Anniversary of studying abroad in France. Every year when the Feast of All Saints arrives (Nov. 1st), I think of that weekend in 1979 when we all got to take our first independent trip. In my case, I went to Paris for mass at Notre Dame. Maybe I’m getting old, but those are very happy memories for me, and I hope the same is true for you.
I too remember that weekend. I took the train to Paris to spend the weekend with my cousin Henriette. He then catches us up on his life and invites us to share and to invite others, whose addresses he may not have, into the group.
This feels less like “catch up” and more like a spiritual exercise. I suppose I could reply with what I’m “doing” but that seems trivial. And if I am to respond with who I am…am I version michelle1.0 or version michelle61.0? Am I the sum of the children I’ve produced coupled with their accomplishments and the children they’ve produced? Or maybe I could list the degrees and certificates I’ve attained.
I’m no longer employed since I left my job to train for the Camino. And while I’ve never had a high level job I’m sure that I use my business degree and seminary degree every day…mostly in conflict resolution, scheduling, and praying for Divine guidance.
I know the Camino changed my body. My clothes fit differently and I have planters fasciitis in both feet. And I have pushed my body to attain geographical heights and distances I did not think possible.
I know that my heart and soul have been changed but I cannot describe those changes in words.
Here’s what I do know…
I am not fully who I was and certainly not fully who I am becoming.
Yesterday I drove to Pittsburgh to visit my daughter. She’s borrowing my backpack and in a couple of weeks she’s going to hike to Patagonia. It was exciting to talk with her about the Camino and her upcoming adventure.
Today driving home (4.5 hours) I was bombarded by the sight of so many trees along the highway and with the change of colors, bright copper, dark rhubarb, Pinot noir and marigold. But it was overwhelming. It was like a smorgasbord of food and I was going so fast grabbing everything and stuffing my mouth as quickly as possible until I felt sick. I wanted to stop and walk along the path and get close to the trees so I could trace the veins of the leaves. I thought of the buffet and savoring the taste, sight, texture, and smell of everything so that at the end I might be almost full and yet left wanting more.
I’m getting dressed this morning to go to Sunday school and I went to get one of the two tee-shirts I bought in Santiago as a souvenir of my pilgrimage.
I chose these shirts because they aren’t your typical touristy shirts. You know, the kind of shirt that says “I walked 790 km” and has a road sign on it. Plus I really wanted something to wear that wasn’t the blue shirt or the orange shirt.
Back to this morning…I couldn’t wear these shirts. I’m going someplace where people know I walked the Camino and even these shirts seem to scream “tourist” not “pilgrim”. I put on my necklace that I bought at the 100 km mark
and even that I have carefully tucked beneath a scarf.
This feeling seems connected to the fact that all week people have been asking me, “How was your trip?” And I don’t know how to answer. For one thing I feel like I’m still on this pilgrimage. For another the essence of the Camino, for me, cannot be distilled into a 140 character response and to say “the food was great” or “the country is beautiful” seems to reduce the Camino to little more than a “vacation”.
So what should be an easy task (getting dressed) has become for me a small light into a spiritual question.
How am I supposed to put something away that never had a home?
Seriously I have a stack of clothes (albeit a small stack) that have never lived any place other than my backpack or on my body. There’s no spot in any of my drawers or closet for them. I’m not saying that my drawers and closet are so overflowing with clothes but this particular stack of clothing has never “belonged” in those places.
I can’t ignore it or get rid of it. These articles of clothing kept me warm, cool, covered, and protected from the sun, rain, and wind. I wore those two tee-shirts to walk, to dinner, and to bed. I lost my lime green hat on the Camino. That was supposed to protect my head and make me visible in a crowd. I can’t be that callous toward the orange hat that stepped to take its place.
And what about my non-clothing stuff? Where is my headlamp supposed to live? And when should I use it? If I get up before dawn I can just flip on a light. Even if I go outside I have lights around my home so I can see where I’m going. I suppose I could keep it by my bed in case of a power outage. I did use my headlamp in Carrion when the apartment we stayed in blew a fuse and it was pitch dark outside at 7:00 am.
I feel totally flummoxed by this conundrum.
Right now everything is neatly stacked and sitting on top of the dresser. Even being folded and stacked seems totally out of order. These items have been living in my Lilliputian sleeping bags*. Those I know what to do with. I’m sending to my daughter to use on her trip to Patagonia next month.
I guess for now I’ll have to keep pondering this issue.
A place for everything, everything in its place.
*By the way when people asked me what “Lilliputian” means I confidently related its from the book Robinson Crusoe. My new friend Viv boldly retorted, “You mean Gulliver’s Travels”. I stand corrected 😉
On the last day walking in to Santiago I didn’t know what to expect. I was told by other pilgrims that it is an emotional experience to arrival into Santiago after journeying from St. Jean Pied de Port. Even pilgrims who walked just the last 100 km said it was a big deal.
All day long I thought I would have an urge to hurry, to get to Santiago as soon as possible. I thought I would feel like tearing off the wrapping paper of a long hoped for present. And yet it wasn’t that way at all.
I walked with my friend Viv, one of the walking wounded so we took it slow. You might even say we tarried along the way. I waited for that sense of urgency that never came. Instead I had the feeling that Santiago was saying, “Take your time. I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be here when you arrive.”
And so suddenly there I was in Santiago in front of the cathedral. The appropriate pictures were taken and familiars faces emerged all asking the same question, “How do you feel?”
The next day after being told a horror story about crowds at the pilgrims’ office and long waits to get our Compostela we set out to brave that trial. And still nothing stirring within me.
The Pilgrims’ Office is very serious about examining the credential to make sure that you have acquired the appropriate number of stamps in order to qualify. When I received my Compostela I was confused because my name was spelled “Michaelde”. So I asked about it and the woman said that is the Latin spelling. Ok. But then I looked at my last name. It was spelled incorrectly! And all of a sudden tears welled up in me from the depths of my gut. I walked 500 miles and my name is spelled wrong! I started to cry that big gulpy sobby cry. I managed to point out the error but I couldn’t stop crying. It was as if all the emotions of the past year of preparation and walking converged and came pouring out of me. It took me 10 minutes to get myself under some kind of control. A day later I still feel as if I’m in some kind of a post-camino daze.
I don’t have a picture of my Compostela because it’s packed away in a mailing tube but I will post one next week. For now I’m going to take some time off from posting but I will continue to write as the Camino continues to unfold within me.
My Camino friend Viv bought herself a beautiful silver ring to commemorate her Camino journey. It’s lovely and has all the Camino symbols around it: shell, arrow, even an umbrella for those rainy days. It was so beautiful that I decided to get one also.
When I looked I picked one out with all the symbols. However on the other side of the ring is the word Ultreia.
I didnt notice this word until after I had picked it out. I asked the shop owner what it meant. He didn’t speak any English but he gestured a lot and said “Camino” several times so I figured it was some variation on “Buen Camino”. Ok, I was more interested in the Camino symbols so I thought I’ll just wear the symbols side up.
When I got to my room that night I sent my friend a picture. I wasn’t paying attention so “Ultreia” was prominent. She texted back and asked what it means. I did a little research and found out that it another greeting on the Camino. It’s meaning is “beyond”. The real sense is to encourage a pilgrim to go “beyond” the physical act of walking the Camino.
If you click on the word “Ultreia” it will take you to a link with a better explanation than I can give.
But getting back to the point at hand (or finger I guess), I like it. Ultreia. Go beyond just walking Michelle. Go beyond.
Only two more days of walking. Tomorrow I will reach Santiago late in the day. I don’t know how I will feel.
It seems that the closer Santiago gets (or rather the closer I get to Santiago) reality crowds out the imaginings and leaves me with…something undefinable.
I look around the breakfast room this morning. It’s filled with other pilgrims. Some of them are chatting happily and others are silently contemplating their breakfasts.
I started this journey on September 1st and suddenly Santiago is in sight. I have to say “Santiago”. I can’t say the end or the goal or anything that implies that this journey is finite. I think Santiago is just a pause along the way.