Picture this, if you will: a dumpy middle-aged woman with frizzy hair and a distracted look in her eyes. It’s been a hard few years. There’s been sudden death, shocking confessions, unexpected babies, invisible braces, multiplying dogs, grumpy cats, enthusiastic yoga, painful spines, drunk people, depression, doom, gloom, and menopause. What’s a person to do? Especially if that person is me?
Well, she could teach her three dogs to trot alongside her bicycle. You know, for giggles and that other stuff. Check. How about something simple, then.
Take a walk.
I’ve been a walker for a long time. It makes me feel good to get outside in the sun and fresh air, dogs at my side, meandering route in front of me. The motion, the movement, getting somewhere even though I’m going at a slow pace, is addictive. I live in a valley with hills all around, and I’ve been up and down most of them. There’s something new around that winding corner – blooming monkey flowers, a wary coyote with wizened eyes, a cairn of rocks, a trickling stream. The quiet is holy, and it makes a sound of its own. Like a sleeping baby’s breath. Gentle and alive.
The solution to this funk is a walk, then.
Well, except that there’s just a little more to the story.
The walk is in Spain. And it goes for 500 miles.
Dad has a penchant for philosophical discussions around the dinner table. A thwarted scholar, he can still recite poetry he learned in third grade. As I was growing up, topics of conversation involved politics, religion, regrets, adventures, life, death and the meaning thereof, and more. In the 50’s Dad was in the army for two three-year stints. For him, military service led to European adventures otherwise impossible for a backcountry boy of humble means. His tales of carousing in the Netherlands, Germany, Spain and rural France made a lasting impression on me. This, coupled with family cross-country road trips to the summer-lush East Coast cemented my love of travel early on.
Also from him I learned about human nature. Something which hasn’t changed for thousands of years, despite our vaunted technological advances. But despite the grasping, greedy, lustful, murderous things people do every day, there’s more inside them. Dormant capabilities. Dormant greatness. What brings it to the fore? Usually some catastrophe or another. A disaster, like 9/11. The ugliness of a terrorist attack on US soil was mitigated by the many kindnesses of rescue workers and everyday people toward one another, at least for a while.
A war, like World War II, also brings greatness out. Just think of it. If there was no war, would General George S. Patton be remembered with honor? The commander of the European theater, famous for quotes such as, “Courage is fear holding on a minute longer.” No, probably not. He would be another nameless, faceless soldier. But the times called for a hero. A man to lead others, to do the undoable. So he rose to the occasion. In doing so, he became one of the greatest generals of American history.
Rising to the occasion. I liked the way that sounded. Like a caterpillar, you’re hatched small with a fierce hunger that makes you beeline it for munchy-looking leaves. Or pizza and chocolate. You balloon up, cells zipping around, time passing until just the right moment. You spin that chrysalis, and rest within, waiting quietly. Cogitating. Developing. Looking for that perfect moment when you can split through that chrysalis and unfurl your delicate, colorful wings and fly away.
I don’t have beautiful wings and furious mating awaiting me when I burst out of my shell this time. Those days are gone. But I do have an unwalked road ahead, untrod stairways, a joyfully prodding Spirit within that says, “Go, now. Carpe diem. Seize the day.”
So I seized it.
I booked a round trip ticket to Denmark. From there, I will take another plane to Barcelona, then board a bus or train to reach the beginning of the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage route of around 500 miles to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compestela. This route has been walked by pilgrims since the Middle Ages. In early April I will join these pilgrims.
Better to ask: why not? Leaps of faith don’t need an explanation to those of us who have learned to act on them, to trust them and gain the hidden and unknowable rewards they bring.
I will post to this blog when I’m on my trip, and before as I prepare. I can’t promise long, thoughtful posts every time. But I can promise reflections, and distances walked, and sights seen, musings, and maybe a laugh or two. It may be messy. It may be wonderful. It may be both at once or neither. Life’s like that, it seems.
At least for one who’s in the process of rising to the occasion.