I finally got on my bus in San Sebastian. The negative vibe that had surrounded my heart and soul was giving way…slowly. I was paranoid of missing the bus so I was at the station early, but I did stop on the way to pick up a few supplies for my 12 hours on a bus. It’s hard to explain, unless everyone experiences these things. Or maybe I’m just one to dig in and examine them a little more closely since I need something to write about. Maybe I’m just more self-absorbed than the rest. How in the fuck do we gauge these things about ourselves? Maybe most people just don’t bother to think about them.
If you’re ever in Santiago, stay at the Hotel Maura. I stayed there because my bus arrived too late to get into one of the auberges, which usually close their doors at 9 or 10. The hotel is right on the edge of the old town, a 10 minute at most walk from the Cathedral de Santiago. And for a hundred bucks, it’s a steal. But then again, Spain’s economy sucks so it’s no wonder it’s cheap.
It’s a small place and in an ancient edifice, but the inside is hip and modern, and the proprietor Manuel is kind and gracious, he even left a bag with some tasty edibles for my walk when I told him I was going to be gone at 6 (breakfast wasn’t served until 8). I realized later that the first leg was only 21k so I didn’t need to be up at the crack of dawn.
I left the hotel at 8ish and walked through the streets through the drizzle. I was hoping that the skies would clear by the time I got to western Spain, but I guess not. I walked over to the Cathedral where the dead Saint’s buried (I guess that’s kinda redundant), figuring that would be an apt place to start the last leg of my journey, and most likely that this other Camino probably left from the Cathedral.
I stayed at the square in front of the Cathedral de Santiago for a few minutes in the rain, remembering last year when I arrived in the square. It seemed like a lifetime ago. I had been through a lot since then. Looking back, it’s as if my walk on the Camino provided the time and space for all the emotional flotsam and jetsam that was my life to settle so that I could review it, and try and make sense of it. Before that, it had
been there, but it’s as if I couldn’t see it, it was all roiling around with all the other shit.
After I reminisced about my so called fucked up life, I walked over to the hotel that borders the square to ask for directions since I didn’t see a big neon sign that said “Finisterra” to point the way. The woman at the desk gruffly pointed out the door to the right and said “abajo” which I knew meant down. The street did indeed go down but in reviewing the map, it seemed like I was going in the wrong direction.
I knew that the last vestiges of my self doubt hangover from San Sebastian were effecting my decision making. I was doubting the directions i was given, I was doubting myself.
Maybe the lesson the Camino was teaching me was to overcome that common male affliction, at least in the states: not wanting to ask for directions. Or maybe it’s the realization that, it’s great to strive to stand on your own, be responsible for yourself, but that we’re also here to help one another. And that’s its OK to ask questions, it’s not a sign of weakness.
I happened to see a sign for the popular pilgrim auberge in town so I walked up to it and knocked on the door since it was locked. It was a little late since most pilgrims had left so my negative state of mind figured no one would answer.
But shortly, a young Spanish girl answered. She spoke English well, and assured me that I just needed to walk down the street a half k and I would see a park, and at that point there would be signs to lead me. I thanked her, walked down the street, and sure enough I easily found the park, and the usual scallop signs and yellow arrows. I was on my way.
The Camino climbed uphill through sort of a city park, then between some homes. Then it went back into a forest, stone walls on the sides, eucalyptus trees on the sides mixed with ferns. Now that I was back on the Camino, all was good with the world.
What is it with the night? When you wake up in the middle of it and all the dark things that could happen jump in and fuck you up, at least they do me. It’s as if your subconscious is guiding your dream time, but once you wake up (as I do often in the middle of the night) that other part of your brain jumps in and decides to fuck with you, introducing every possible negative scenario, every bad thing that could happen, and makes it real.
-“I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 A.M. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.” ― Joan Didion
As I continued on, some bicyclists whizzed by, and offered up a cheery “buen camino”. It made me laugh out loud, and I offered back my own “Buen Camino”. Sometimes it only takes a simple gesture by someone else, unawares of where you’re at, to shake you out of your funk. All of a sudden I remembered to be thankful for where I was, and simply being alive and in the moment.
The Camino merged back in with a paved road, some cars whizzed by, I certainly didn’t feel alone on this leg of the camino, like I had thought I would be through my research and in talking to others. There was almost always other pilgrims in view.
After walking awhile on the street, I ran into Elena from Germany. She was walking at a good clip and talked a mile a minute. She was one of those people who seem to have a zest for life- always smiling, laughing, she held your gaze, and had a twinkle in her eye.
She gave me an overview of her Camino- she had started in St Jean, in France and walked the entire Camino herself. Her husband was back home working and watching their son.
She told me a story about…shoes. If there’s any females reading I figured this might get their attention. Full disclosure- I stopped in a few shops in San Sebastian and almost bought a pair of cool shoes I saw- apparently the Camino has instilled a new appreciation of shoes in me. But I didn’t need some more weight to add to my already overladen backpack so I passed.
Back to the shoe story. Well, actually boot story. A guy she had been walking with for a few days towards the beginning of the Camino was the victim of bogus boots. His had fallen apart. There was no sporting goods store in the small town they were in. There was a shoe fixer guy (cobbler?) in town but he was closed.
They were sitting in a cafe and he was bemoaning his situation, not sure what he was going to do. An old local dude overheard him and told him that he would take his boots to the cobbler the next day. The guy told him that he had to move on and had a schedule he had to keep. The old guy insisted, and told him not to worry. The dude figured he had nothing to lose so he handed over the boots.
She told another story about a Korean woman who had left a few hundred Euros in a little wooden box in Pamplona and didn’t realize it until 2 days later.
I could relate to the Korean woman’s story (as the faithful readers of my blog last year can attest to- thanks for reading by the way) since the previous year, as I arrived in Spain my life was a shit-bag of chaos, and it’s funny how that chaos stayed with me when I started walking, and what the Camino taught me about it.
In the first few days I lost a baseball hat with my company logo, (a business I had closed several years prior)- maybe this was a sign to let go of the last vestiges of that company/industry that I was involved with for 25 years; 2 pair of reading glasses (the pair I had left was held together with a paper clip)- this was probably a sign to buy better reading glasses; and some headphones.
In reality, I think my lesson was that, like life, I was carrying too much baggage (literally and figuratively). I had another pair of headphones with me; the reading glasses actually lasted me another 15 days until I went into a pharmacy to get some supplies to attend to my ankle which had grown to the girth of a small redwood (and bought another pair just cause I liked them); and I had another hat with me that I wore (and didn’t lose!) for the rest of the trip, the one I was wearing when I entered the square at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostella.
OK. I guess I’m done talking about me. Back to the Korean woman. So somehow, another Korean woman found the box in Pamplona (there were some Korean words enscripted on the box) and took it with her.
So she asked every Korean person she met, she asked them if they had lost some money (For some reason there is an inordinate amount of Korean folks’ on the Camino, more than one might expect. The Tourist Bureau Promoting Dead Saints and Bocadillos must be spending some money marketing the Camino in Korea. In fact, Park and Im (both South Koreans) were my first two roommates in St. Jean last year.
The point is, she asked a lot of people along the way. So, word spread on the Camino and finally, towards the end, somehow the woman who had carried the money box from Pamplona met up with the girl who had lost the money. The story was more magical in the moment I heard it, but it may have been due to, well, the moment, and the teller of the story.
Shortly thereafter, Elena slipped into a cafe, I had just eaten so I moved on. It’s funny, there were more pilgrims traveling “with” me (I was always in sight of at least a few), but there were not many to connect with, as most were “kids”, seemingly out for a weekend jaunt. They, for the most part, seemed different than the grizzled veterans of the “real” camino.
After parting with Elena, the Camino would vary between traveling along paved highways, and then through fields, green, forest. It was always lush and beautiful, due to the constant drizzle. I was hoping for clear skies at some point, hadn’t seen much yet. I missed the hot weather for the year before.
Finally, I reached Negriera, actually a short hop (21k) compared to the two 35k days I was looking at after today. One of those towns caught in between old and modern day, giving it that sort of sad disposition of not really knowing what it is. Even the woman who ran Auberge Carmen (recommended by the dude I asked at the local hardware store- who else do you ask for recommendations on auberges?) seemed, well…not happy.
But I was happy to be back on the Camino, rubbing shoulders with other pilgrims. I hadn’t been on the camino long enough to get too close to too many pilgrims besides Penny and Rachel, but then again more so than ever, It seems I needed to be alone more than ever to think about, well, being alone with myself. And who better to do that with than…myself.
“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”
“If you love travel, that’s amazing. Just don’t use pretentious quotes like this, it makes you sound like a dick.”
You’ve probably hear enough about Amanda by now but, I guess I include her because she was a big part of my life over a short amount of time (as she points out) that contributed to my growth, healing, and my reasons for walking the Camino. Essentially she was at the right (or wrong, depending on how you see it) place at the right time. Which is why I’m writing now about when she almost died.
Amanda and I were editing a project we had both worked on, over at my place. After a short time, she had a migraine come on and had to lay down. She wasn’t able to do much that day due to her migraine, but I understood, she had a history of them. I was happy to continue the editing while she convalesced, and to get the project finished.
The next day she was in the hospital with viral meningitis. And it seems she had ignored it or stemmed it off for awhile. She had had some migraines the previous few weeks, and possibly a few other symptoms, but her sister and mom were in town, she had her kids to attend to, there were parties and things…she was busy and preoccupied.
It seems that, as soon as everyone left and her life returned to a level of normalcy, the meningitis struck with a vengeance. It was like a fast, violent thunder storm moving through the desert. She was down for the count.
I’ve spoken to some people who had viral meningitis and it is a serious malady, but no one I spoke to had it with the severity Amanda did. She was in ICU for five days. Her head swelled to the size of a watermelon, and she was essentially blind. They even called a priest in at one point to administer her last rights. She told him to leave.
She finally came home a week or 10 days later (I don’t remember). While she was in the hospital she didn’t want anyone to see her, except for her oldest daughter. I was hurt, but in retrospect I guess I was just being selfish. Her wishes were not to see anyone (except her oldest daughter). I just wanted to go and hold her hand, maybe babble on about shit in the outside world, talk like we used to late into the night. Like they do in the movies when friends go to visit a sick or dying person in the hospital. And anyway for whatever it was worth, I was still in love with her.
A lot of life and how we experience it seems to revolve around how we see ourselves. How we perceive ourselves, and the reflection of ourselves to others as we move through this life.
Picture yourself on a city street in New York, walking thorough a crowd. Once in awhile you meet someones eye. They check you out. Your brain does a scan of them, they of you, and makes a thousand decisions, and forms an opinion of you and you of them. This is all instinctually based on the basic urges, fight or flight. Back the caveman, the brain evolved to quickly assess a situation, possible predator, and choose whether to fight or fly.
I recently ran across Dr Brene Brown who has spent the past sixteen years studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy and is the author of three #1 New York Times bestsellers. Check out her Ted Talk – The Power of Vulnerability – it’s one of the top five most viewed TED talks in the world.
She has this to say about it, and I realized it may just have something to do with the effects of others who have bullied me, including my ex-wife, and a business associate I was involved in a lawsuit with. “The fight or flight response is a normal one when we’re facing immediate threats to our safety, security, and well-being. Such threats trigger the release of stress hormones that prepare us for the challenge ahead. We are put on high alert.
However, as Dr. Brown suggests, fight or flight mode is not good for engaging in reasoning or connection. Instincts can trump reasoning, and a defensive posture undermines connection. Thus, when we’re confronted by bullying behaviors, we may also be prone to making quick, bad decisions and to pushing away or avoiding others who may offer support.
The last sentence says it all. Ever since Janice and I were in the process of getting divorce, whenever we would interact, she stepped up the bullying and manipulation. I was already so hurt at my core, that even when she wasn’t there, it seemed that I was under her control. I was lurking around, not caring for myself, living a life of reaction. And I was always easily overwhelmed with fear. Same goes with the business associate. She took advantage of the same weaknesses, and wielded the same emotional manipulations as my ex. I made a lot of bad decisions, or chose to not make decisions at all. It was easier than facing the pain.
Life is about what we can take from our experiences. If there is any truth to what some say, we choose to experience these things when we were brought into this life. That is why we chose this life, and that is why these obstacles have been presented to us. The key is to be able to look at them as lessons, not obstacles. And again, the only quick answer to changing your perspective is love. Acting out of love. When and if you can even go there, you realize that there is no down side. No one can hurt you (because in reality you’re only hurting yourself) if you’re acting out of love.
But, it’s not easy. You have to be able to rid yourself of the negative, reactive emotions that interfere. This is one of the things I’ve been coming to terms with in my life, ever since Janice taught me there were things I needed to confront, and since Amanda helped me voice these things, and come to understand them.
It’s kind of funny. At the end of the first post from last year I wrote: …and I am happy. And I am grateful. I am especially grateful to those I am dedicating this blog to: Janice, Amanda, and Hannah, and the woman in my life who’ve taught me the lessons i’ve needed to learn, and who continue to show me the way.
I didn’t really know what I meant then. I was writing straight from my heart but I still had a lot of shit to deal with. And maybe as we move through life, we never truly understand ourselves. But at least now, one year hence, I can look back and know that I understand myself a little bit better. And it’s due to Janice, Hannah, and Amanda, but also many others who have followed this journey, as well as those who have walked beside me in life. And for that, I am grateful.