The Camino – Day Four

Portomarin to Palas de Rei, 21 miles

Twenty-one miles today. Whew! This post is going to be a bit of a rambler so hang on!

I noticed early on today that it’s actually my gaze that directs my steps. Looking down at my feet may help me with my footing, but if you don’t look up and onward, you have no idea where you’re going. Be careful where your gaze rests. It determines our direction in life also. Proverbs 4:25-27 says this, “Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.”

I slept 10 hours last night, and it must have done me some good because I got up feeling bold. I took several diversions today. Apparently, after 22.2 km yesterday, 24 km on paper didn’t look like it was going to be enough. Ha! Diversion is important in life also. Diversion bears fruit. Because it is respite or because it’s a mistake from which we learn, makes no difference. If it is a respite, we are refreshed. If it is a mistake, we’ve learned something valuable. Today’s first diversion was a mistake. I took a wrong turn. That happens in life, too. However, in this case, I took another wrong turn, ironically, in my haste to get it right (insert eye rolling emoji). Don’t let a wrong turn lead to another wrong turn. Speak, Lord, I’m listening! The second diversion today worked out nicely. Don’t be afraid to try again!

The third diversion was a visit to Vilar de Donas, a 12th century church. Interestingly, this church represents a lot of Gaelic and Celtic influences that were present in Spain during that time period. The architect included clover and hissop and many Scottish and Irish saints and symbology. The former rector was there. Now, in his 80s, he gave a wonderful tour of the church entirely in Spanish. I probably picked up about 60% of what he said, but he was fascinating all the same, so knowledgeable about the church and its religious history. At one time, the church was used by both Catholic and Arabic monks. They shared the space and worshipped peacefully side by side. Now, there is a lesson for modern times! Inside, there was a fresco painted in the 15th century. One of the images was of St. Peter and St. Paul. My Paul was named after the biblical Paul. The biblical Paul was a man living a transformed life, from a hated tax collector to faithful servant, after an encounter with God. My Paul, like his namesake, also lived a transformed life. Before I left, the rector asked what brought me to the Camino. I told him about Paul passing away, and suddenly, in perfect English, he said, “He is here!”

The local people are all farmers of one sort or another. They all have a small garden with greens and root vegetables, fruit trees, or grape vines. I noticed, though, that a portion of their gardens is allowed to go to seed. I am from a farming family, and that is something we just don’t do. You don’t allow your crop to bolt, or go to seed. So, this seemed very peculiar to me. I think it’s also very American of me. These local farmers don’t buy their seed in bulk from giant seed companies like we so often do. They cultivate their own seed by allowing the very best of their harvest to go to seed so they can use it to plant a future harvest. Think of that….they give up the best of their crop, the largest, most beautiful, most nutritious, tastiest produce so that they can succeed in the future. Interesting.

It’s Palm Sunday, the celebration of the Lord’s triumphal entrance into Jerusalem and the traditional start of Holy Week leading up to Easter Sunday. It’s so fitting that I’m here during Holy Week, a time when we remember the full promise of salvation and resurrection. It brings me so much comfort in the face of so much loss.

Yesterday, I was guarding my painful feet and knees, and growing blisters. That did not serve me well. Today, I am rolling into the pain, and my gait is better. I feel better. I feel stronger. Stop guarding the pain. It doesn’t serve us well.

Today’s takeaways…

Compression socks are a miracle. Get you some!

John Brierley’s guidebook to the Camino is a master work. It is so comprehensive. If you’re even thinking a little bit about taking on the Camino, get the book.

Most of the walk today was through forest land. The birds in this area of Spain are different varieties, in particular, the cuckoo. I have to say that it is not very affirming to have a bird singing, “Cuckoo!” over your head while you are attempting an extraordinarily challenging task like the Camino and feeling every step of it. I need birds that sing, “Yay! You got this! Yay! You got this!”

My Spanish is still improving. “Yo soy caminando solo. Necessito el bano, por favor,” is another phrase I’ve got down pat. While many walkers can pop-a-squat as needed with a walking partner to watch out for them, I’m relegated to begging for bathroom privileges in villages and hamlets throughout Spain. Never a dull moment!

Finally, I have to say, y’all, this little, South Carolina Lowcountry, marsh walking, flatlander is suffering mightily from the altitude and steep inclines of the Pyrenees. The struggle is real!

But I persist, Malia

You did what?!

I jumped out of a plane. That’s right. I jumped out of a plane. I went skydiving!

To say that my friends and family were shocked is an understatement. The most common response was, “Why?!” It was a difficult question to answer. I am adventurous but not a thrill seeker. It was just this urge. That’s the best way I know to describe it. An urge, not an impulse. It was more lasting than that. I was talking to my son on the phone one evening, and I said, “You know what I want to do?” He immediately responded, “Go skydiving.” Dumbfounded, I said, “What! How did you know?!” “Because I want to, too” he admitted. I had no idea that he had also been thinking about it. As it turns out, it’s a bit of a phenomenon among people who have experienced a tremendous loss. When I told my sister-in-law that we were going to go skydiving, she said she had heard a story on NPR about something very similar. You can listen to the story here. It’s about a mother and daughter who go skydiving after the death of their husband and father.

Life is too short. Right? That’s what everyone says. Well, everyone says it because it’s true. Eat the cake. Buy the shoes. Seize the moment! Go skydiving! Heck, there’s even a country song by Tim McGraw that nails it. The refrain says it all.

“I went skydiving, I went rocky mountain climbing, I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu, And I loved deeper, And I spoke sweeter, And I gave forgiveness I’d been denyin’, And he said someday I hope you get the chance, To live like you were dyin’”

With everything I had just been through, I felt like there was nothing that could scare me anymore. I was ready to live like I was dying. My particular thought process was a) I will be closer to Paul and b) if something happens, I get to be with him forever. In my mind, it was a win-win. I want to clarify the first part. I didn’t feel I would be closer to Paul in the sense that I would be up in the sky where heaven is. That is a cultural depiction of heaven not a Biblical one. I felt that I would be closer to Paul because I would be closer to death. There. I said it. For me, jumping out of a plane was as close to death as I could be. I thought that perhaps in those seconds between leaving the plane and arriving back to Earth that I could pierce the veil between here and there and be with Paul just for a second. I thought it was worth the risk. Never before in my life would I have even considered doing such a thing, but in that state of mind, in the aftermath of such a stunning, life changing loss, it was worth the risk. I wasn’t even scared. I did have one fleeting millisecond of heart stopping anxiety when the instructor I was attached to opened the door of the airplane. He grabbed the door handle and pulled hard. In one single, confident motion, he slid the door open. The suction created by opening the door shot a jolt of electric terror through my body, but I still didn’t hesitate. I was ready to go. Ready to go. I stepped out onto the strut, and then we were effortlessly airborne.

Now, I realize that all of this is the madness of grief. I can write about it, explain it, and try to justify it to no end, but it really is the madness of grief. The surprise, the unexpected gift of the experience was that it was a little turning point for me, a moment of empowerment. It was a launch both literally and figuratively. I felt different after that day. I felt stronger. My family was there, and we celebrated with a champagne tailgate in the parking lot. We laughed and smiled and celebrated life and living. I will never forget that day as long as I live. As long as I live.

Soon, I will embark on another launch of sorts. I am going on a pilgrimage. I am going to walk the last 110km of the Camino de Santiago through northwestern Spain to reach the tomb of St. James, the Apostle, and I am going by myself. God put this on my heart. I have felt called to do this and to do it alone. As I have planned for this trip and read about the challenges it entails, there have been times when I have thought, “Lord, help me. I don’t even own enough underwear to go on a trip like this!”, but I am determined. I just know it is something I have to do. I am appropriately anxious, but I’m not scared. I am ready. This is an important piece here. Don’t miss this because I believe it has everything to do with grief and healing. A critical aspect of what I have learned through my grief experience is to be bold in the face of adversity. I have learned to lean in and develop a bit of a bring it attitude.

In his book, A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago, John Brierley reminds us that we are spiritual beings on a human journey, not the other way around. That really resonates with me. It comforts me because even though the human version of ourselves is temporary, our spiritual identities are eternal.

There are many Biblical references to walking. Some pretty amazing and powerful things have happened through the simple act of walking. Jesus’ ministry was a walking ministry. He and the disciples walked from town to town to spread the good news of salvation. The Apostle Paul’s conversion experience began with an encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. I’m not necessarily expecting an encounter with the living God on this trip, but I am expecting to have time to reflect and contemplate, to draw closer to the One who loves me like no other. 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 has been close to my heart this past year because I have walked by faith like never before and because it provides comfort as we groan and are burdened in our earthly tent that we have the gift of the Holy Spirit with us, our guarantee, and joyful assurance of our eternal home.

Safe travels to you on this journey through life, Malia