A Pilgrimage: Day Three

Notes for a New Day will recount some rather older days during the next few months – journal entries from my pilgrimage on Spain’s camino in 2013.

A difficult day for walking – rainy and lots of hills – but apparently we traveled 27 km and ended up in Lorca. The sun appeared and a row of cold, damp pilgrims lined the road on the sunny side of the street, across from the albergue where we had found a room. It was in fact, despite this introduction, a wonderful day. Mountains in the mist, fast-running rivers, masses of wildflowers (notably, fields of poppies), birds and frogs, medieval villages and bridges.  

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX A503We had company early in the day with three Brits from Hereford, and then company again late in the day when we joined a sweet couple from the Netherlands.  And we met a man named Stefan from Germany, who had recently spent three years in Washington D.C. and now lives in Sweden.

We’re at the Albergue de Peregrino in Lorca. Mozart is blaring as we come in and an earnest young man seems to be in charge. I can’t help but wonder about his story. I did ask if he was a musician, but he says no.  I am guessing that “Mozart’s Requiem” and “blaring” have not been used in the same sentence before.  At least I hope not.

One more answer to the “why” of this trip…to see if I can. These two days have been difficult. No blisters yet, but sore shoulders and feet. Unhappy muscles and ligaments. I want the answer to be a resounding “yes, I can” though.  And I hope I can in 10 years and 20 years. We have certainly seen people in their 70’s on the camino.

Dessert was a choice of an apple or an orange. The sticker on the apple announced it is of the “Mozart” variety. Of course.

*****

The albergue in Lorca was small and provided just the right atmosphere for conversation with strangers. The Stefan we met had decided only two weeks earlier to come to Spain and walk the camino. He has no time limit and a supportive family at home and we learn that only four months before he had been in a wheelchair after having had a stroke at age 49. He walks slowly now, with a limp and wonders what he will learn about himself by the time he reaches Santiago. A doctor from France joined our conversation, only revealing his profession upon learning about Stefan’s stroke, quickly making a few assessments and giving him encouraging advice. The doctor himself said he was walking because, at age 50, he knew it was time to shed some things.  He didn’t say what those things were.

Our new friend Stefan had clearly been a very successful executive in the car industry and had lived all over the world, a man of means and accomplishment in his field. His physical limitations, however, suddenly took a backseat to the ending twist in his story. He quietly tells us that he lost his job after his stroke and is now unable to find a new position. He didn’t present himself as someone defined by his job, but the pain was clear.

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A Pilgrimage: Day One

Notes for a New Day will recount some rather older days during the next few months – journal entries from my pilgrimage on Spain’s camino in 2013.

Authors of books about walking the camino want the pilgrim to have a clear answer about why you are doing this. I figured I might know the “why” of it when I got to the end, but am not very clear at the beginning. I can begin with two possible why’s, both true, if not the complete answer. First, a chance to spend time with my newly-graduated, cusp-of-adulthood son, and second, I walk in memory of my friend’s son, who died at 22.  My friend will never get to walk with her son and I am doing this in part because she can’t. I wonder if people who begin their pilgrimage with a clear idea of “why,” find that reasons change over the journey’s course. If our lives are pilgrimages, we can probably all agree, midway or more through our time on earth as we likely are, that our lives have gone in lots of unexpected directions. How can you possibly know the “why” of pilgrimage at the beginning?

If one beginsimages-2 a pilgrimage by flying to Barcelona, then the journey must begin with some experiences of that city! Breakfast at our hotel, Hotel Lloret – faded elegance right on La Rambla. What a noisy night. Late night drunken shouts simply evolved into morning delivery sounds. A walk through the city’s Gotic neighborhood of narrow streets, and a tour of the beautiful Palace of Catalonian Music, which is a dazzling example of the Modernist movement that Barcelona is so famous for. The Palau celebrates music, Catalonian culture, and nature in equal measure, and it seems that maybe the architect wanted to bring nature inside. A local amateur choral organization commissioned the building in the early 20th century….could that happen now?

images-5We walked then to architect Antoni Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece, Sagrada Familia. A cathedral-sized church of such strangeness that Gaudi is more aptly spelled gaudy, in my humble opinion. A woman sitting next to us at lunch across the street opined that Gaudi was surely manic depressive, that such a creation could only have come about during a period of mania.  And yes, she was a psychologist by profession.

440px-Σαγράδα_Φαμίλια_2941I admit, the place left me cold, but perhaps I’m too far removed from Catholic piety? The building soars, but in a bizarre, seemingly random way that looks like a creation from Dr. Seuss’s imagination.

In contrast, our visit to the local Dali Museum (not the large and better known one an hour from Barcelona) made me think that Salvador Dali was something closer to “normal.” Many drawings on Biblical topics, very few wilting clocks, lots and lots of horses, a fixation on Don Quixote.

My big disappointment of the day –– the evening’s treat of kiwi gelato did not taste very good! See, I’ve learned something already.

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Next week: our camino begins

On Pilgrimage

We are all on pilgrimage – it’s called living your life.  And, like life, pilgrimages have beginnings and endings, are full of plans that go awry and serendipitous moments, boredom and hardships, times of confusion and others of utter clarity. Important touchstones to which we later long to return are created during this pilgrimage – our birthplaces and ancestral homes, places that nurtured us in one way or another, and others that we yearn to be part of.

Pilgrimages are usually made to holy sites that have called generations before us, but “holy” is in the eyes of the beholder. Tuscany or Machu Picchu or the Great Barrier Reef are holy sites for some. Six years ago I made one such pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela – the way of St. James in northern Spain. It was a gift – nearly four weeks of walking during a sabbatical period – and I kept a journal which I revisited not long ago. Over the next few months I will share those entries in this blog, affirming some of the lessons I learned and perhaps including some new insights too. We’re never not on a pilgrimage after all.

There is something about walking that causes us to clear out our minds and which allows us to notice what is right around us. Just as computers and air travel collapse the world, walking expands it again. As I walked that journey six years ago I felt that the world had slowed, and my place in the continuum of time seemed clearer.  The rootlessness of my sabbatical made me all the more aware of my rootedness in a life of family and music, and a belief that we can find our joy in simply being the connection between past and future.

A book that I read a few years before going to Spain, and again – with much more appreciation – afterwards was Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. Walking from one end of England to the other, a man wounded by life finds that by living completely in the present as he walks, he is able to understand his past more fully and to have hope for his future. On the face of it, his pilgrimage makes no sense, anymore than walking the Way of St. James across Spain, or threading through the crowds at Graceland makes sense. Harold was walking because he believed that as long as he did so his friend would not die. Near the end of the book he wonders if what the world needs is “a little less sense and a little more faith.”

We don’t always know why we’ve gone on a pilgrimage, we certainly don’t understand life’s purpose most of the time, nor can we fully fathom the tragedies of our life or say that we deserve our good fortunes. Perhaps we need Harold’s words to take root in us so that we begin to need a little less sense out of our existence, and rely more on faith that our lives have meaning in ways we’ll never understand as long as we keep from getting stuck in one place, whether that be mentally, physically, spiritually, or emotionally.

Journey on!

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Next week: Day one of a pilgrimage on the camino