WE MIRROR WHAT WE MEET
We had the absolute sweetest farewell in Pontevedra this morning. Having spent a writing day at the hotel, all our comings and goings resulted in a playful relationship with the, initially reticent, front desk guy. I had many laughs with him as I repeated my room number, “dos thththerrro dos” with the perfect lisp, like I thought he’d taught me, every time I passed by. I clearly continued to fuck it up because he had a good belly laugh each time I had a go past his station at reception. This morning when we left, it was “ththerro” dark thirty and raining. Once we were suited up and out the door, he saw us through the window, consulting our GPS map. He intuited our confusion about Which Way to go. He stuck his perfectly coifed head hesitantly out the door to make sure we didn’t start out the day lost. Then he offered to take our picture and ventured more and more of his body parts out into the weather. Suit, tie and superbly shined shoes were soon soaking wet. He ushered us across the road and under a street light. Hunched over and squinting into the rain, he took several angles to get just the right shot.
Over and over on The Way, I have been delighted by this. Any initial negative impressions of people are melted with a bit of friendliness or a little effort to learn a word. I teach, in my courses, that “We mirror what we meet.” Our emotions create the lens through which we view the world at any given moment. We are in turn, greeted by the world and by others with a reflection of our own state. Our mantra on this pilgrimage is “Fierce & Friendly.” Declared by the two of us, many times over, it is a reminder that we generate our own experience. We can meet grumpy with grumpy or melt it with a smile. We can complain when it’s raining or rejoice when it’s not. We can take on each other’s pain or borrow one other’s energy. We can fight shitty circumstances or accept them and regroup. We can chase the sun or dance in the rain- or do both! For some, this may seem a Pollyanna perspective. But there is a big difference between toxic positivity, which ignores reality and shuns real emotion, and “Fierce & Friendly.” To be fierce, is to feel all the feels. See all there is to see. Experience all the hardship, pain and fear. And continue on. To be fierce means that you have the capacity to still be friendly in the face of uncertainty, pain, or confusion; that you keep looking for your next edge at mile fifteen or digging for a well you don’t know if you have at 36,000 steps. The front desk guy in Pontevedra seemed guarded and suspicious in his demeanor when we first arrived. This morning I am brought to tears by his kindness and his good will.
At the end of each day, we have a routine. We pick up our pace a bit in spite of the pain that inevitably creeps in. We pass other pilgrims, shedding energy and cheering them on with a smile and a “Buen Camino.” Emily dances and I jog. It is a choice. Some may be resentful or annoyed. Most smile and join our co-op, taking on some of our energy and buoying us with theirs. At the end of each long day, we mirror what we meet along The Way. Fierce and friendly.
NO SOUNDTRACK NEEDED
There is a shit-ton of wind this morning. It provides a brilliant soundtrack to the leaving-town part of our walk. We do not talk over it. The path out of town has been magnificently designed to provide pilgrims with a “peaceful walk through the park” feeling. We gratefully bypass the bustle. Our weather app, however, is littered with little lightning bolts and there is an extreme weather warning in effect. Again, we are baffled by the small amount of rain but I must admit, my heart races a bit as we enter canopies of trees being battered sideways by huge gusts. It is along This Way we meet David and Greg from Asheville for the first time. They are walking calmly, smiling. Warmth emanates from them as we spend a few minutes chatting. Greg sports a wise, silver beard and David, a Boston baseball cap. They are a needed distraction, for me, from the wind.
Pretty soon, we come across a fallen tree. It has obviously just blown down and hangs, slung precariously in some power lines, just a few feet over The Way. OK. All my childhood Wizard of Oz wind storm nightmares are coming to life in my mind. We clamber over the log and under the power lines. I trot away, pack bumping, imaginary sparks and crackles electric behind me.
Needless to say, we survive. But soon come across another downed tree. This one on railroad tracks- right out of a turn. We linger around it for a minute or two. Way too large to move, we wonder if there is anyone to call? What will happen if a train comes chugging around that corner at speed? Not sure what should be done, we walk on. My heart still pounds as a small squall settles over us. We will stop at the next town or cafe we come to. Leaves and twigs swirl. But my feet find the ground and I let worry leave my body with each breath. The wind is our soundtrack.
It’s a relief when we come to a little cafe. A line of dripping packs and a pile of wet ponchos greet us inside the door. Shelter in the storm! And one with hot coffee, fluffy croissants and lots of relieved faces.
We tuck in, at the far end of a long row of tables, with a young guy from Vienna, named Marko. He kindly makes room for us and we go about our, now ritualized, cafe routine- off loading our packs, ordering “decafianado” for me and cappuccino for Emily, locating the “baño”, figuring out where to get our pilgrim passport stamped and finally sitting down to regroup and recharge.
I came on this pilgrimage with some clear intentions for myself. That doesn’t mean that I’m not open to what unfolds and to dancing a bit with the unknown. But what it does mean, is that I am not here to be extremely social. I feel my journey, right now, is furthered by going deeper into conversation with myself and with Emily, not necessarily by casting a wider net of meetings along The Way. That said, we have connected with just the right people at just the right time, so far.
Marko has been backpacking for two months in Europe. He is doing The Camino alone. He is weary, ready to go home and his Nike’s look as flat and dilapidated as his spirits. We like him immediately. Just before we’d arrived, he’d called 211 (now we know- the European version of 911) and enlisted the cafe owner to help report the downed tree on the tracks. When he asks if he can walk with us a while, I don’t hesitate- “Of course! But we walk fast, just so you know.” We have not walked with any other Pilgrims up until now. We are here to celebrate a transition out of a particular kind of obligation and responsibility that we both have a great capacity for. We decided early on, together, that we would be friendly but not accommodate and care-take on this particular trip. Marko would have to keep up.
The squall has passed. We set out at our heart-beat-hip hop. Now three rather than two. Marko’s spirits seem to lift as we chat- the conversation as quick as our steps and as varied as the Spanish countryside. After half a kilometer he says, “A lot of people say they walk fast but you guys actually do!” He seems delighted by our pace and we all agree- our strides match perfectly.
Gray turns gradually to a stunning, vibrant green as this day becomes all about vineyards. They are beautifully cared for, stretched mostly between gorgeous granite pillars that serve as posts. Marko is the son of Serbian parents. He speaks Serbian, English, German and wants to learn Italian. He has a curious mind and we talk all about our respective homes, jobs, travels and dreams. We stop occasionally to pick clumps of sweet, dry grapes. He says that a couple of American pilgrims he walked with called him a homing pigeon. When he is with us, we don’t hunt for arrows. There is no stopping to consult our phones or rubber necking at intersections. We just GO. He has an internal GPS. He is our homing pigeon for the day. And tomorrow, he will walk ALL the way to Santiago de Compostela. He will be completing our final two day’s walk in one day. Yesterday, when his feet hurt and he was tired of the rain and tired of being alone, he booked a flight home. Tomorrow he will walk thirty-one miles to get there.
We stop in a pleasant, airy Wayside bar just before we reach Caldas de Reis. Marko has a beer, Emily has her customary afternoon cappuccino and I have my first glass of “vino rioja” of the afternoon. We talk about our families. We share contact information, travel suggestions and invitations. Marko has elevated our day with his presence and I hope we’ve injected him with the shot of energy he’ll need for his epic walk tomorrow. This is the first day that we did not hunt for arrows and the first day we did not listen to music. We were instead, cheered on by wind and guided by friendship, found along The Way.