Camino Day 5. Blessings and Tears
Today’s hike started with blessings and tears. I wrote my gf an email, letting her know I was off after two relaxing nights in Pamplona. In my email I said to her, “I’m so blessed!”
Then I made the mistake of reading some of the news stories friends had posted about Orlando. One was a video with pics and some stories of some of the victims and all of the names of those who were killed. Needless to say, that made it impossible to finish breakfast without crying.
I thought of my words to my gf in the email I just sent, and I thought of the pain we are all feeling—knowing it is only a microscopic amount compared to the pain the families and friends are feeling. I recalled a song from my Christian days, by Susan Ashton, called “Benediction.” The lyrics, in part, say: I long for the shape of things to be true to their form; love in a circle, hearts in a line, molded by sacred design.”
I thought to myself, that’s what I long for—such a simple thing: Mas Amor, por favor. I long for this uncomplicated world where guns and swords are beaten into plow shares, and everyone has enough. But of course, that isn’t the world in which we live.
And I confess, though my heart is in Orlando, and with all my queer friends the world ‘round, I felt glad to be here, walking through northern Spain, unable to be glued to the newsfeed showing the latest rhetoric of love or hate or ignorance in response to the tragedy at the Pulse nightclub. I felt glad that I would be unplugging from the Internet and then just walking for several hours with no access to media.
I shut down my wifi connection, shouldered my backpack, and set out. The chorus to Susan Ashton’s song was the soundtrack for this morning as I headed out of Pamplona:
Taking a road that I’ve never been down, tell me that you’ll be there. Help me to turn a discouraging word into a word of prayer. I need your benediction. Where’s your benediction?
Benediction, typically the last words given at most Christian worship services, means, literally, good word. It means a blessing. Although I had told my gf I felt blessed, where, indeed, was the blessing?
It was an interesting experience, leaving Pamplona. I had entered into the city of 200,000 through the ancient, medieval gate and had stayed in the old part of the city. It had been charming, with narrow streets –including the one where the running of the bulls would occur a month from now—but as I left the city, I left the ancient streets, too, and wound up walking with my backpack and trekking poles and scallop she'll through a busy, modern, urban city. I had left late-about 930 AM—and given the size of the city and the myriad places where pilgrims could stay the night, it was no surprise that I was the lone pilgrim on city streets filled with men and women walking their dogs, jogging, walking, perhaps heading to work. In some ways, it felt as if I were walking from Manitou Springs through Colorado Springs, heading out of town, seemingly out of place with my hiking gear.
But then, at one stop light, a father was pushing his baby in a stroller and stood next to me, waiting for the light to change. He looked at me, then looked at his baby, gesturing to me, saying, “Dice, Buen Camino! Dice, Buen Camino!” Say, “Buen Camino!” Say, “Buen Camino!”
The baby gurgled with joy and I said, “Gracias!”
But a lump formed inside my throat, and I felt tears sting my eyes. I was being given a blessing by citizens of Pamplona who saw countless numbers of pilgrims pass through, although I felt as if I were the only one. It was a benediction.
I continued walking, passing through parks and downtown streets where offices ruled and office workers strode past. I stopped to take a picture of a distance hill with wind turbines dotting the horizon; according to my guidebook, I would soon be walking up and over that hill looming in the distance. I was nearly out of town—perhaps just over a mile to go—when, an old man crossed the street purposefully in my direction. Stopping in front of me he said, strongly, with great feeling, “Buen Camino!”
That was the standard greeting, and though I confess it felt more meaningful coming from a citizen who was not also on The Way, I thought that was the end of it. Then he looked tenderly into my eyes and said several things, including pointing up to the sky and looking up, which I can only surmise meant asking God’s blessing. Then he pointed to my heart and touched his own and said, “Corazon—grande!!” A great heart! And, then reaching over to grasp my left shoulder with his right hand ended with, “Para el amor.” For love.
I felt the tears spring once again to my eyes before he had finished.
“Gracias,” I said. “Muchas gracias.”
He went on his way, and I went on mine, though I was weepy until I had passed the city limits.
I don’t know all of what he told me, but I do know that he blessed me, that he told me I had a big heart and that I was walking this Camino for love. And, even if I got the syntax wrong, the message was clear and true. I am walking this for love. It was a benediction.
The rest of the day has passed pretty uneventfully. I walked in solitude for virtually the entire day. I stopped for lunch right before the steepest climb of the day, but after being there about 20 minutes, a Dutch couple asked if they could join me. They spoke excellent English and so, about five minutes later, I bid them Buen Camino and continued on. I had a need to just be in silence.
I reflected on how a friend had said on fb that maybe I needed to not check in on social media, do this pilgrimage on my own and with no contact. I replied that I’m on sabbatical not in an isolation booth and that what I wanted to do was share this pilgrimage. But I realized that, even with sharing, so much of this journey is mine alone, and in deep, reverential reflection, that won’t find its way into this blog or on fb.
I felt as if I were an ant, crawling through the grasses and gravel, minuscule and insignificant and completely unimportant to the grand scheme of human events. ‘With this attitude, I took great care to step over any ants—or other insects—that might cross my path. I was them, they were me.
The scenery was breathtaking and I found even walking through the streets of Pamplona to be wonder—full. I thought about what it must be like to live in a city where pilgrims pass through, where you knew there was a greater horizon than the one with which you were born, and where you knew the center of your heart and hearth but also heard, perhaps, the beckoning of the pilgrim’s way, the road to revelation, which can, after all, be found in the streets of your hometown, if only you travel them by heart.