travel, Uncategorized

Fear and Loathing on the Camino de Santiago

I had no more booked the airline ticket for the Camino de Santiago, filled with excitement, when it reared its ugly head: fear. And by fear, I mean:

FEAR

First, I became certain that I would die. Why? Well, the son in Martin Sheen’s movie on the Camino, The Way, died en route. Certainly I would, too! Sure, there were all these statistics and assurances that it is a very safe endeavor. And sure, the son somehow died “in a storm” (what does that mean, anyhow? That he was struck by lightning?) but that could still be me. I mean, hadn’t I just proclaimed to myself that I would prefer to die not wasted away from old age, but on some adventure or another? What if God was listening? What if I have months to live instead of years?

Okay, God, if you were listening, I wish to make this public: yes, I would like to die on some adventure, but NOT this one. Not even the next ten adventures. Really. I think I still have some good years left and I would like to experience them. Please?

After a day or so this whole death fear passed. Next came the physical weakness fear. Who was I kidding? I am a flabby middle-aged woman. I’ve just spent 2 years coaxing my bad back to health. Sure, I love to walk and hike, but I do that in 3 or 4 mile increments, not 500 mile increments! Oh, what have I set myself up for? I am going to stumble down the road for 6 steps and my feet will explode into a shredded mass of agony. My spine will crumple after 8 steps and leave me lying in a helpless blob on the trail until wild dogs scent easy pickings and eat me alive.

But if, perchance, the dogs are busy devouring some other hapless pilgrim, I will still need to be trotted into the local hospital where they all speak Spanish. Undoubtedly, these doctors will quickly decide – without consulting me and without anesthesia – to hammer a two-foot long steel beam into my back to “fix” me. Then they will shove me out the door  and pelt me with rocks until I stumble back onto the trail, weeping piteously the whole time.

You see what kind of imagination I have. It’s not really a blessing.

Still, after a couple of days this fear passed. And guess what? Another was waiting in the wings.

Mainly, the jet-black, spider-like, odiferous specter of money. Oh, this fear I know well, having met it many times in the past. Yet in this incarnation I became convinced that this jaunt into Spain would bankrupt my husband and I. I’d no more get back into town than my husband would meet me at the door of our repossessed house. He would hand me a single satchel filled with rags and maybe some dried pinto beans and half a roll of toilet paper. We would wander the streets of our quiet suburban town like zombies from the Walking Dead, crying out for brains. At night we would huddle in the trash next to the storm drain. We would find scraps of cardboard and write sad messages on them for passing motorists. Life would be awful and it would be ALL. MY. FAULT.

Hold on. It is true that freelance pickings have been slim for me lately, but my husband is still gainfully employed and we are not behind on our house payment. I also was able to find a great deal on my airfare to Spain. And the albergues set up along the pilgrim’s route are very low cost. Still, that cost adds up.

I put up a GoFundMe page and then left it languish for several weeks while I agonized or whether or not to let friends and family know about it. I mean, who was I to ask for money? Everybody has expenses and obligations and they need their money. Why would they want to support my pilgrimage? After all, is this desire of mine a worthy cause? Would their support of me hurt other, more worthy causes, like, say, blind orphans or three-legged dogs? Or blind, hungry orphans living atop garbage heaps with their three-legged dogs?

Remember what I said about my imagination? It’s not a friend sometimes.

I posted about my fears on the American Friends of the Camino Facebook page and received so many messages of kind support that it overwhelmed me. How sweet and loving they were!

Yes, these fears are normal. Still, they are illusions.

You can do it.

You are following your intuition and it won’t lead you astray.

Go. You won’t be sorry.

These people did not even know me and they bolstered my faith. They reminded me that I am not crazy, that faith triumphs over fear, that if I was called to go – and I really believe I have been – then my needs will be provided for. They posted inspiring images and quotes like this one that are so beautiful that they make me shiver:

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My friend Janet Loftis heard about my trip and jumped aboard. She seems to have bypassed all the dramatic fearmongering that has gone on in my brain and instead pledged so unselfishly to be there for me in person, and experience this great and wonderful journey with me. What a courageous soul she is! And so kind, generous, and supportive! It’s difficult to accept such open-heartedness. She doesn’t seem to care that I don’t deserve it. And where are my tissues? Allergies, you know.

I screwed up my courage to let people know about the GoFundMe page. Peering out my window afterward, I looked for the villagers waving pitchforks, but they weren’t waiting to chase me out of town. Maybe the Spanish doctors got to them? Instead, wonderful, generous friends rose up with messages of support – even donating to the cause. How kind and loving they are! I’m beside myself when I think about them. They make me feel like I can do this. Like I will do this. Like they are waiting along the route to cheer me on.

Sure, I’ve been feeling fear. When it comes up its loud and awful and it makes me quake. But on the other side of it lies faith and assurance, friends and mentors, and deep, glorious assurance.

Courage is not the absence of fear, someone once said. It’s feeling the fear and doing it anyhow.

So. This is me, doing it.

Catch you later, fear. I know who has my back now.

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5 thoughts on “Fear and Loathing on the Camino de Santiago”

  1. Ah, Xina Marie! Well said. As I prepare for my Camino, I too am fraught with fears…all of which dissipate or disappear as I read about others and their experiences. Many thanks for you and others who remind me that we are all beings on our separate and collective journeys.

  2. You are so brave to actually go for it. Me, I’ve just been fantasizing about the Camino, but since I’ve been struggling with heel pain (plantar fasciitis) for the last year, there’s very little chance I have to put anything into action. Unlike you – you’ve got your plane ticket already. When are you going?

    1. I’m going on 4/1 to 5/11, so pretty soon. So much to do before then! I feel ya about the plantar fasciitis – that’s a tough one. From my experience it sometimes takes a long time for our bodies to heal. I know I’ve had to modify the way I move around due to back problems. Once your heel pain is over you can go as well, being careful not to reinjure it of course. That’s been one of the things I’m worried about as I really don’t want to be completely miserable on this trip. One step at as time, though …

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