I had good intentions of writing a follow up Camino post shortly after I got home but the shortly turned into two months which has quickly grown into four. I could easily blame the holidays or the unpacking and resettling – oh wait, I only brought 9 things, or a host of other excuses for my delay in getting my Camino “in the books,” but in reality, I simply wasn’t ready to write or even share. Instead, I needed to go inward, and spend some time absorbing the experience. Years of anticipating this journey, which started for me with curiosity after reading Shirley Maclaine’s book on her Camino experience, gained momentum slowly. It was a thought that got tucked away and took several years to grow into a plan. When my sister, Susan, threw out suggestions of walking the Camino, I knew I had the universe working with me on this one. Within a year from that “hey, here’s an idea…,” our plans took shape and plane tickets were purchased and packs were packed. My Camino began long before I even laced up my boots or followed my first yellow arrow. This long entry of anticipation and well thought out planning and training gave me more skin in the game than I usually have when I travel, making the last few days of this incredible journey difficult and my transition back even more so. Re-entry was going to be a tough one. I had put so much of my heart and soul into this and wasn’t sure what I was going to with that space, that emotion, that huge amount of anticipation that the Camino had occupied for so long. My Camino journey, no surprise, has become the undisputed winner on difficult re-entries.
My reluctance to let go of the Camino once home appeared nightly for several weeks when my dreams took me straight to the Camino, and once again I would walk and walk and walk, while I pushed myself towards an elusive goal that kept moving just out of my sight. I struggled with finding my sense of familiar once home, after spending 35 nights, each one in a different town, a different room and in a different bed. The only constant was that my sister, Susan, was in the room with me. More than once after my arrival home, I’d wake up in the middle of the night and wouldn’t be able to find Susan. Fearing that she had already left for the Camino, I’d find myself wandering around in my dark bedroom in a panic while I searched for my boots and my pack so I could catch up to her.
My lessons learned on the Camino didn’t really present themselves until my boots are off and I was home and they were hardly the “aha!” that I had expected, but rather were gentle nudges and quiet whispers that seemed to present themselves unexpectedly yet exactly when I needed them the most. Case in point, when a few weeks ago I found myself in a fearful position of traveling through the mountains, at night, in a snow storm, all elements that scare me on their own, let alone together. I couldn’t find anything but static on the radio so began to spontaneously sing as a nervous reaction, the volume increasing with my fear. Add to this odd scenario, the very familiar song I was belting out was the alphabet song. It hadn’t been all that long ago when I last sang the familiar tune while I walked across a very tall bridge with water on one side and high way traffic on the other and a guard rail that came up to my knees, which was hardly reassuring. We were in our final days on the Camino and felt like by this time, added to our lifetimes, we had to know just about everything there was to know about each other. Well, unbeknownst to me, Susan has the same go to with the same tune when she is scared. Once safely landed on the other side of the bridge, she told me she was singing the exact same thing, from A to Z. While driving on that snow packed mountain road, in the dark with the snow coming down and my pre-schoolish singing of the alphabet, I was taken straight back to the Camino, straight back to the bridge and right there between L, M, N, O, P, I discovered one of the greatest gifts that the Camino had given me and that was that I was far more capable than I ever realized. That’s when “You’ve got this…” made its way into my alphabet song and my heart rate slowed a bit and I couldn’t help but smile. That. That one realization alone, was worth every step of the 500 mile journey and I know I’ve only begun to scratch the surface.
I met a woman from England at dinner one night a few weeks into the Camino, who told me that she was walking the Camino for the 3rd time. She had done it every other year for the past 6 years, but this time was her last. I had to ask her why she continued to walk the Camino when there were so many other walks she could do all over the world (by the way, I’d not ask this question today, as I’d know the answer and I’m guessing anyone who had walked the Camino would agree… it gets under your skin and I certainly understand that itch to return). Her answer surprised me. She said she wanted to do it perfectly this time. Really? Like the kind of perfect that you stretch more every day, drink more water, eat less bread, slow down and look at you surroundings, stop and talk to more people, wear cuter outfits kind of perfect? Naturally, I was curious as to how her 3rd endeavor was going so I asked and with a nonchalant shrug and sigh, she said,
“Oh pretty much like the last two times, but I’m loving every minute.”
This woman, who wanted to “get it perfect” this time, was a vision of perfection to me, while I sat across from her at dinner. She was in her late 60’s or early 70’s and was walking the Camino alone. She had a tattoo of a shell (one of the signs of the Camino) on the inside of her wrist, which I commented on, and she told me she got it after her first Camino and she wanted it in a place that she’d see it often. She told me that it made her smile, still, every time she looked at it. Is that not perfection? I’ve thought of her often, wondering if while back in England, if she’s started wondering if maybe she needs to go a 4th round. Maybe her need for Camino perfection is simply her wanting to return to something that just didn’t quite feel finished to her. That, I get. I also get that maybe there’s not supposed to be a finished when it comes to the Camino. I walked to the end, which was the cathedral in Santiago, but in many ways it was when I left Santiago that my real journey began. The Camino simply gave me more insight into the life map that I had in my hand all along.
Sharon, who I met along the way told me me that while on the vast expanse of the meseta, she spied a lone tree off in the distance and decided to make her way over to it to sit and enjoy a snack and well… the world. The meseta is a good place to enjoy the world as you can see so much of it right from where you’re standing, or sitting. It’s as barren as it is vast and hauntingly beautiful, but that may be the Kansas girl in me speaking… truly not everyone’s cup of tea. Funny, but I knew the exact tree that Sharon spoke of as we passed so few of them on that day of several while walking across the meseta, something you become very mindful of when you need to go to the bathroom, but that’s another story entirely. I remember hesitating a moment when that tree came into sight, also thinking it would make a nice place for a break, but my reluctance for adding any more miles to an already long day won out and I kept on walking, putting the lone shade tree behind me. I suppose if I was to go back to “get it perfect” the next time, I’d stop under that very tree and think of Sharon, while simply enjoying the scenery around me and the many gifts from the Camino. That, of course would mean I’d have to quit doing the making good time math, while figuring out my shower followed by beer eta’s. So yeah, woman from England whose name I forgot, in your quest to get it right the next time, I get it, but I also see the perfection in the imperfection of it all.
Maybe my struggles in writing this final Camino post are because although the boots are off and the pack has long been emptied and put aside, my Camino hardly feels like it’s over to me. I walked the Camino to its end in Santiago, Spain, but feel like I’ve just stepped into a beginning rather than an ending.
To be continued…