Friday, June 4, 2010

The difference between a circle and a line: Returning to Pamplona

This seems the question of a mathematician, not a pilgrim. But I find myself again in Pamplona, this time not at the beginning of a pilgrimage, but at its end. When Lisa and I did the Camino in September, Pamplona was our starting point, the easternmost part of our journey. From here we hiked west. This time Pamplona is our ending point, the westernmost part of this journey. From here we fly home.

I spent the afternoon circling the city, one of the best fortifications in the whole of medieval Europe. But this time, I know what the city holds, and I can navigate by the spires of the three churches that mark the medieval neighborhoods of the Franks, the Basques, and the Navarrans.

When I visited the churches in September, I asked the local saints, Frank, Basque, and Navarran to bless our journey. We were just setting out, and I had no idea what was ahead of us, how we´d find our way, or how we´d hold up.

This time I can only offer thanksgiving. It has been a wonderful trip.

In September, I walked outside of town to find the pilgrim´s trail through the city. We wanted to be sure the pilgrim route did not coincide with the route for the running of the bulls! But I also wanted to acclimate myself to noticing the signs marking the pilgrim route: yellow arrows and scallop shells. It would take a few days to get used to looking.

This time I walked the same route, helping a couple of pilgrims find their way into the town. Jason from Brooklyn was going to walk as far as he could in three weeks; Ulrich from Sweden was in for the long haul. They were decades apart in age, but bonded for the journey -- and by the journey.

Finally, in Pamplona I looked to the west for what lay ahead of us. Our window on the third floor looked west. During the night, when jet lag woke me, I stood at the window, trying to read the western sky. I had no idea what was behind Pamplona, what the road was like that brought people here.

This time I know what´s behind Pamplona. We walked into the Pyrenees, up and down rivers that drain the mountain snows. I can situate this city into the landscape -- and the pilgrim route.

Most in the party have done parts of the Camino before, ending each of their treks in Santiago. It´s odd not having a destination like Santiago before us. We´re walking a pilgrimage route, but we won´t reach the relics. And for goal-oriented folks like those in this group, that´s a bit like training for the 1500 m. freestyle, entering the race, swimming the first 1000 m. as hard and as fast as you can -- and then getting out of the pool.

But then finishing the race isn´t why we did this, not now. And not even in September. Each time, we walked for what walking would teach us.

Walking around Pamplona, I´ve been considering what walking taught me. Taking one step at a time adds up over time -- but you´ve got to take the first step. I´ve learned to look, in the sense of attending to things, people, my surroundings. And I´ve learned to embrace that spirit of what-the-hellness, that has allowed me to roll with whatever the day brings. Not insignificant lessons.

So that´s what Í´m thanking all the local saints, Frank, Basque, and Navarran, as I revisit these old Romanesque churches in Pamplona. It feels like completing a circle I hadn´t even known existed.

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