Camino Day 23
I am sitting in Leon at the end of my second (and final) rest day. I was so eager to get here yesterday so that I would have more time to be, actually, here, that I left the earliest I have yet—754 AM. And, although I could have stopped at one of the few villages along the way, I didn’t; I simply strode on toward Leon, arriving before noon, with over 11 miles walked.
This past week was a big week, in many ways. I crossed the halfway point—both in miles covered and in days spent on the Camino. And I crossed some invisible boundary within me, too.
Each day, I feel stronger-physically, emotionally, spiritually. Each day I feel more in tune with myself, my pace, my thoughts, my heart. I feel as if my experiences in the first traumatic, arduous days on the Camino were akin to Dorothy being tossed through the sky by the violent tornado and only being able to catch her breath when she landed with a thump in Munchkinland. I wonder if she felt like I feel now—as if those first moments of transformation were a blur, like a barely remembered dream, chaotic and fraught with anxiety and pain, but necessary to land her where she needed to be, to walk the road she needed to walk.
And I have been walking, the ground growing closer to me, somehow, every day. Not close in proximity but in relationship. My friend, Roger Butts, let me co-opt the five week sabbatical devotional he had made for Ahrianna Platten. Each week has a poem, some questions for reflection, and a prayer. Last week’s (week 3) included the poem, “Too Many Names by Pablo Neruda. In this poem, Neruda speaks with a certain weariness of humankind’s propensity to want to name things and claim importance in doing so. It says, in part:
”Mondays are meshed with Tuesdays
And the whole week with the whole year.
Time cannot be cut
With your exhausted scissors,
And all the names of the day
Are washed out by the waters of night.
No one can claim the name of Pedro,
nobody is Rosa or Maria,
all of us are dust or sand,
all of us are rain under rain.
They have spoken to me of Venezuelas,
of Chiles and Paraguays;
I have no idea what they are saying.
I know only the skin of the earth
and I know it has no name.”
And, although Roger didn’t know I’d be using his devotional on my five week pilgrimage when he chose these poems and prayers and questions, this fits in so well with what I’m feeling now. I’m relieved to be away from the ceaseless, frenetic naming of things—of events, of behavior, of people, of groups of people, of nations of people. I no longer have any idea what they’re saying. What are these things called nations? I didn’t notice the change of boundary when I crossed from France into Spain, except for the human made sign naming it so.
It is nice to not be concerned with the names, with the order of things, and the regimented lists of expectations all that naming brings forth. In these past three weeks I have come to know only—and intimately—the skin of the earth, which has no name.
I don’t know why this is so, but these past few days on the Mesete, with its long, vast, unending vista of cereal crops and a blue, blue sky seamlessly keeping the daylight in, there have been few pilgrims on the road with me.
Curiously, when I do stop for a bocadillo and coke, there are always a dozen, at least, also resting, eating, shoes off, hands curled around a cold glass of water, or a coke, or a beer. But when I’m actually walking, these fellow travelers are few and far between. One day(Thursday, I think) I tried to remember to keep count and by the time I reached my destination, I had tallied up seven other pilgrims walking, and six whizzing by on their bicycles.
I don’t mind; I’m not lonely. In fact, I am soaking in this solitude like a tonic, as if I were at an oxygen bar at the top of Pikes Peak. It brings me life, and strength, and contentment. This solitude gives me freedom to stop all the name-dropping that we humans do and just breathe in and out, repeating as necessary.
And if, in my first few days on the Way, I felt like an ant, crawling along unseen amongst the blades of grass and the gravel, I now feel like I’m Paul Bunyan—a giant striding over villages and towns, and canyons and mighty rivers, though from my great height they look like ant hills, tire tracks and run-off from a leaky sprinkler system. Yet, this great height doesn’t make me feel removed from the earth; as I said, it makes me feel more closely connected to it and the vast expanse of it that I can see and touch and hear, even—in the birds call and the croaking of frogs and even the traffic rushing by. And, in fact, the more I forget the names of things and just live among all things, the deeper I feel the skin of this earth and the more I know this earth is feeling the skin of me.
Tomorrow I start out again, with only 13 more days of walking before I reach Compostela de Santiago. That seems both an eternity and a heart beat away. But I won’t dwell on that future date. I will swing by backpack onto my shoulders and feel the strength in my legs and arms and back, feel the power in my feet—that still ache, though not nearly as much as before—to carry me places I never dreamed I’d be and like Neruda ends his poem, perhaps in these next two weeks I will confuse things, unite them, make them new-born, mix them up, undress them, until all light in the world has a oneness of the ocean, a generous, vast wholeness, a crackling, living fragrance.