Monday, August 24, 2009

Everything You Need.....

Here are Lisa and I on Kilimanjaro at the Lava Tower, 15,000 ft., Dale and Bob on the right. We're all panting like dogs, which is the way to deal with altitude. Set a pace, no matter how slow, that will allow forward motion; find a rhythm, no matter how shallow, that will allow you to keep breathing steadily. We look like we've found it. We look pretty happy with ourselves, like we have everything we need.

It's an illusion. What you don't see in this photograph are the twenty-three porters, guides, and cooks who climbed the mountain with us, carrying our gear. All we had to carry was what we needed for the day. The rest we packed into huge duffles that our porters carried. They scampered past us across the rocks, always taking time to tell us to go slowly: "Pole! Pole!" However, they were not going "pole"; they were not panting. We couldn't have done it without them.

On the Camino, we won't have porters. We'll carry everything we need on our backs and in our backpacks. I'm doing a first edit at the moment, gear strewn across the rug, holding up each item and asking: "Do I really need you?" I'll regret every extra ounce. At the same time, I don't want to find myself missing something I left at home: a compass, the headlamp, a windfleece. I want to have everything I need.

Of course, I know I won't. We'll be dependent on the hospitality of people along the way, the kindness of strangers. We won't be carrying all our food or all our bedding. We'll be dependent on hostels and the people who run them. We'll appreciate "pilgrim discounts" for food and drink. We'll need tips of the other folks we meet.

At the same time and as on Kilimanjaro, we'll share what we have with others. On Kili I gave my altitude pills to a French couple who really needed them. Lisa shared her remaining stash with me. We gave our emergency blanket -- and a massive dose of Advil -- to a porter who'd broken his ankle. Pilgrimage is like that: you depend on others, and you try to be dependable. We'll find the balance between need and abundance, between dependence and independence.

A year ago I finished a manuscript entitled "Everything You Need," after something my husband told me before he died. Those words comforted me enormously in the months and years after he died. And he was dead wrong. I didn't have everything I needed. But the people around me did. And they offered it with grace and consistence and patience. A second invitation -- after I didn't show up the first time. A jazz CD I really wanted. A walk in the hills. In time I was able, not so much to pay them back, but to pay their generosity forward. To others who, like the French couple, suddenly seemed to need it more than I did.

That balance of need and abundance: we'll find it along the way.

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