Friday, October 2, 2009
What is it like to be back? Footprints of Pilgrimage
That's the question everyone asks. Some people want the nano-second response; others want more. As always, the answers vary depending on who's asking. But with the Camino, I have a hunch the answers will also alter with time.
Most obviously, it's just plain strange not to be walking. We teased our friends on the Camino about how hard it would be to shake pilgrim rituals. Like zombies we'd get up, pack up, and hit the road before daylight. While the spectre of Zombie-Pilgrims cracked us up in Santiago, back home in San Francisco, it's close to the truth. Several mornings, particularly as my body crawls back into this time zone, I've been up before dawn, in my boots as soon as my feet hit the floor, and first in line at Peet's Coffee in the village.
I also miss people, especially my excellent traveling companion, Lisa. I joked that we'd talk our way across the top of Spain --and we did! We made up stories, retold the plots of every book we'd recently read, and replayed all of our favorite movies. We literally talked for miles.
Then there was the easy camaraderie of the other pilgrims we met along the way. Some of them have names and stories of their own; others we came to know only by sight. Because the Camino attracts people from all over the world, we found ourselves using all the languages we knew -- and even a few we didn't. "Buen Camino!" became the universal greeting.
Pilgrim banter taught me the enormous value of "encouragement." In the Christian scriptures, the pastoral epistles constantly invite believers to "encourage one another" (e.g., Hebrews 3:13f.) It always seemed like filler to me.
The Camino taught me the importance of encouragement: stray conversation and simple greeting alike spurred us all on. I remember sitting with Lisa at an outdoor cafe in Viana, a tiny town in the eastern region of Navarre. The pilgrim route ran right past our cafe, and we spent the late afternoon cheering on everyone who passed by. We'd taken a "slow" day; they were walking on to the next big city. For that one night, we were the cheerleaders of the Camino.
And believe me! the favor got returned, repeated, recycled. Maybe I'll figure out how to do a little more cheerleading back on the home front.
A final, tentative answer to the question: what is it like to be back? Everything seems hopelessly and unnecessarily complicated. For weeks all I did was sleep, walk, eat -- and walk some more. Everything I needed was in my backpack. All I worried about was reaching the next village. Now there are schedules to coordinate, appointments to make, obligations to tend to, articles to write. I'm not complaining: this is life. My life -- and it delights me. But it's different.
Where are the footprints of the Camino in all of this? I find myself handling things with a lighter touch, a lot of humor, and a spirit of what-the-hellness. My computer screen has cataracts? Well, gosh: maybe I can move them around like a desktop icon. The contractor didn't show today? He'll come tomorrow. There's nothing for dinner? Bread and olive oil worked well enough on the road....
It's a welcome attitude. Here's hoping it outlasts the blisters.