Last Saturday evening I met with a few of my women friends to view The Way, a beautifully shot film of a father trekking the Camino de Santiago, in devotion to his son who’d fallen to his death on the trail. We’d cooked up the evening a month earlier over dinner, when we’d met to view the exhibition of another friend’s art. The Camino held curiosity for each of us, one having already made a ten day journey via the Camino Inglés and Finisterre. (Since I’d first heard of the Camino, when I read Shirley Maclaine’s memoirs of her own trek, and later, Paolo Coehlo’s The Pilgrimage, I’ve learned there are at least six caminos, the most famous and longest being the Camino Francés.) We ate tapas, and a specially baked almond cake typical of the tortes found along the way, and sipped sangria that had soaked for days in anticipation of our arrival. Then we took our places in our host’s comfortable family room, lights dimmed and watched and walked along The Way. By the time it was over, I could barely find words for my experience. I was deeply moved, several times to tears. My friend sitting beside me said my response had echoed hers, when she previewed the movie a few days earlier.
Being in that place of “before, beneath and beyond words,” I drove home with the ever thickening rain-snow, just like that encountered on the Pyrenees. Needing to focus, and distracted by the words on the radio, I slipped one of my favourite, always soothing, CD’s into the deck, Oliver Schroer’s Camino. The late Schroer, his wife and two close friends walked for two months, stopping in chapels and churches, along roadsides and in villages, where he’d lovingly unwrap his violin from the protective womb of his backpack, and together with a small recording device, would play. I’d first heard snippets of Camino on CBC FM a few years ago as it played in the background at work or while driving. It took persistence and a ready pen and paper to catch its source.
Since then, I’ve been grabbed deep in my bones and can’t shake hold of last Saturday’s experience. I know some of what’s been evoked is sorrow with disillusioning relationships, as I felt myself to be carrying on my back, as did the main character, their ashes in its own protective box, waiting for the right time and place to be spread.
I also recall the wisdom shared with me during my last hike, this time in Italy’s Cinque Terre from Vernazza to Corneglia that sunny Tuesday morning last April. I’d met a couple from New Jersey on the train platform, who like me, were weighing the pros and cons of heading out on trails we’d been warned were closed due to flash flooding, flooding that suddenly devastated Vernazza, leaving her under twelve feet of mud last October. Emboldened by stories we’d caught and gathered the day before, and before the sun climbed too high in the azure sky, and heat too, we set out on the path along the cliff edge of Italy’s Ligurian coast. Avid hikers, having walked the Camino a few years earlier, they told me of meeting a nun on the trail who imparted that the Camino really begins when one arrives back home. That many times since, in the midst of life’s fullness and emptiness, its ups and downs and apparent non-eventful flat stretches, they’d pause to remind each other “Is this your Camino?”
My energy field for this has been strong as all week long as I’ve been attracting Camino “hits,” from the radio interview of a playwriter’s new production based on his personal Camino experience, to articles and book titles surfacing in print, to the John O’Donohue poem that welcomed me Monday morning when I logged on.
I know deep in my bones I’ll make that pilgrimage one day, just as I did last year when I travelled alone in Europe, and the autumn before when I went to Taos, New Mexico to study process painting. I know deep in my bones that my Camino began with my re-turn to Canada, home and work. And, as I recalled last Saturday, a realization many years earlier when driving through the mountains on a healing pilgrimage after the suicide of my best friend, the end of the road won’t be there. “Buen Camino”
For the Traveler
Every time you leave home,
Another road takes you
Into a world you were never in.
New strangers on other paths await.
New places that have never seen you
Will startle a little at your entry.
Old places that know you well
Will pretend nothing
Changed since your last visit.
When you travel, you find yourself
Alone in a different way,
More attentive now
To the self you bring along,
Your more subtle eye watching
You abroad; and how what meets you
Touches that part of the heart
That lies low at home:
How you unexpectedly attune
To the timbre in some voice,
Opening in conversation
You want to take in
To where your longing
Has pressed hard enough
Inward, on some unsaid dark,
To create a crystal of insight
You could not have known
When you travel,
A new silence
Goes with you,
And if you listen,
You will hear
What your heart would
Love to say.
A journey can become a sacred thing:
Make sure, before you go,
To take the time
To bless your going forth,
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life,
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you.
May you travel in an awakened way,
Gathered wisely into your inner ground;
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way to transform you.
May you travel safely, arrive refreshed,
And live your time away to its fullest;
Return home more enriched, and free
To balance the gift of days which call you.
John O’Donohue, Bless the Space Between Us