When we first decided that we would walk the Camino de Santiago in September of 2019, the month and year seemed so impossibly far away. The little number in the corner of today’s date on my desktop calendar tells me the divide between then and our departure date has somehow become so much smaller! Practically insignificant in comparison. The excitement grows every day. Once you walk the Camino, it scratches at your thoughts like a lost home that keeps calling you back. It’s almost as if the Camino aches for you as much as you ache for the Camino…and it keeps reminding you. “I am here. I am here. I am here.”
September 10th is when we fly to Spain. 54 days from now.
We will not be doing the full Camino Frances, but that is no matter. The Camino is not about that, as much as some people who don’t fully get it would have you believe. We will be flying into Madrid, and then travelling from Madrid to Astorga. Once there, we will begin our Camino de Santiago adventure from that beautiful town…from the shadow of the gorgeous cathedral there.
I will be taking notes this time. I’ve already decided. I’m not finished writing about the Camino. It has decided to become a greater part of my story, and I have decided to keep listening, to keep reflecting, to keep projecting. So stay tuned, OR BE FOREWARNED. There will be more to come.
You never will get where you’re going If you never get up on your feet Come on, there’s a good tail wind blowing A fast walking man is hard to beat Put one foot in front of the other And soon you’ll be walking ‘cross the floor Put one foot in front of the other And soon you’ll be walking out the door If you want to change your direction If your time of life is at hand Well don’t be the rule, be the exception A good way to start is to stand Put one foot in front of the other And soon you’ll be walking ‘cross the floor
On my first trip to the Camino de Santiago, I walked with my friend and Camino guide, Sue Kenney. As a longtime Camino guide, Sue organizes group Caminos to take pilgrims on the last 200km or so of the pilgrimage route in Spain. (Sue is doing TWO Camino tours in May, 2019…One of which is already fully booked.) The one thing Sue always makes sure her pilgrims have with them during their Camino is what I have come to understand is the Camino Bible. It’s probably the most popular guidebook ever written for the Camino de Santiago.
A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago (Camino Francés): St. Jean – Roncesvalles – Santiagois the title of that guidebook. It’s so well organized, detailed and curated that it’s easy to forget that it’s the brainchild of one person. Everyone on the Camino carries it. I carried it. It is a wealth of knowledge. If you have a question regarding a town, a restaurant, an albergue, or anything else…you turn its pages and you find the answer. If you have traveled the Camino and you didn’t do it with the guidebook below, chances are you saw other peregrinos (pilgrims) carrying it and/or flipping through its pages.
Last night the Canadian Company of Pilgrims had an event in Toronto at the Yorkwoods Public Library Theatre. Sue Kenney and two other peregrinas–Mony Dojeiji and Ingrid Folkers–opened the event with a short panel discussion on their own experiences with the Camino. Then the man who wrote the Camino Bible pictured above was there. In person. John Brierley himself was there to enthrall a packed theatre audience with tales of the Camino de Santiago and the various routes leading to the now mythical cathedral in the city of Santiago de Compostela. John also brought with him a rousing message of love and connection. It turns out the man who wrote the guide walks the walk. He was as lovely as the feeling one gets from experiencing the Camino itself. He was eloquent, informative and inspiring. He talked about the Camino family that I myself have experienced and am now a part of… and he cemented in me everything I have come to believe about the Camino.
By the time John’s talk was over and he had hypnotized an entire audience of some 300 people into blowing out the tiny candle he held out to us, I was more than ready to head back out onto the sacred pilgrimage in Spain. But he also told us we were not merely blowing out the candle, but sending the flame out into the world to give light and warmth to our Camino brethren now currently walking the paths back in Spain.
And I believed it.
I imagined that flame leaving the candle and crossing the Atlantic to find the heart of every pilgrim brother and sister currently walking the various Camino pathways leading to the cathedral and beyond… to Finisterre and Muxía… to the END OF THE WORLD.
Some pics of my first Camino in May, 2014. Michael and I will be heading back in September, 2019, walking from Astorga to Santiago. I can’t stay away.
If ever you hear whispers of the Camino de Santiago, take heed. Listen up. It is both a gift and a question. And I assure you, your heart wants to know the answer. It wants the gift. With my own journey, I discovered that the Camino calls you. I heard about it in passing and it sat quietly inside me. But quietly like a river that knows a waterfall is coming in the distance. When I didn’t heed the call, it got louder… because something inside me wanted to manifest my inner journey into an outer one. When I stepped foot on the path years later, I knew that it was meant to be. The Camino won. It called, and inevitably I answered.
And I know we Camino pilgrims probably sound like members of a cult…the way we go on about the pilgrimage years after we have walked it…but it’s just that it has given us so much. It’s just a long walk, right? A walk that thousands of people have taken over thousands of years. If you listen closely while you’re out there in the wind, putting one foot in front of the other while making your way to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, you can hear their whispers… their inner thoughts. Lean in. They have left their mark on the path lit nightly by the magical Milky Way. Even the stars know the importance of the Camino, and it is their wont to show you the way to Santiago.
But if you don’t trust the stars to show you the way, if you’re afraid of relying on the Vía Láctea to bring you to the sacred cathedral at the end of the sacred path, trust John Brierley. He’ll take you there.
A Way to Forgiveness – Healing on the Camino de Santiago is a documentary by Erin Dooley. This documentary is a compelling film tracing Dooley’s pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago as she pondered over and struggled with the concept of forgiveness, both in general and as it related to her own end-goal of forgiving someone in her own life.
From the beginning, I was hooked. I meditated over forgiveness myself as I walked the Camino. I saw many parallels in Dooley’s journey with that of my own…including how things would suddenly come up on the Camino to remind her of the person in her life she wished to forgive. The Camino somehow seems to mirror us, so it was no surprise she discovered things along the path that startled her into immediate recognition of home. The perfect example was how–in small town Spain–she heard the song she and her husband chose to use when entering the reception that followed her wedding. Coincidences and synchronicity are commonplace on the pilgrimage. You don’t realize how startling those coincidences are until they keep happening to you.
For any fan of the Camino–whether you have already walked it, wish to walk it, or are just being called to it now by stumbling upon this post–this deeply personal and contemplative look into the gift and burden of FORGIVENESS is a must see documentary. With the beautiful Spanish countryside as a backdrop, and the vulnerability and authenticity Dooley’s emotional journey…you won’t be disappointed.
As a pilgrim of The Way, I just wanted to also mention…one of the things I most feared as I traveled from my home in Toronto to Spain actually happened to Dooley on her pilgrimage. Imagine the terror of arriving in Spain to walk the Camino and realizing your backpack didn’t quite make the journey! She handled this hurdle with amazing calmness…and the still of her hugging her backpack once it finally decided to meet up with her is worth the price of admission!
Here’s the trailer for the movie:
You can watch A WAY TO FORGIVENESS in two ways. Rent it and stream it now, or buy a DVD copy.
What follows here is my short story Helen Finds Her Way to After, which won 2nd Place in the 2017 Writers’ Community of Simcoe County’s Short Story Contest. Unfortunately, the WCSC has since become defunct. My short story had been published on their website, which no longer exists. So, I’m sharing it here.
HELEN FINDS HER WAY TO AFTER
Both of Helen’s feet bled steadily as she walked. She fought to ignore the blisters making a nasty soup of blood and puss in the heel of each of her merino wool socks. It was nine a.m. With each passing hour she lost a little more of her will to carry on. She held on to the memory of her ex-husband’s laughter at the folly she displayed in thinking she could make this journey. She carried her daughter Meagan’s doubt, freely given when she had told her of her goal. Their lack of support was perhaps the only thing left to propel Helen forward to Santiago de Compostela. And to the apostle James, whose bones lay waiting for her there, whether she made it to the cathedral or not.
Must keep walking. It had become a mantra Helen hated just as much as she needed. Must keep walking.
Helen’s left baby toenail had fallen off two days earlier, somewhere between Sarria and Portomarin. She had mourned for a moment before bandaging up what was left and carrying on. Must keep walking. Rationality had left her long ago.
“Buen Camino,” a couple mumbled in tandem as they passed her by on a narrow dirt pathway leading to a cobbled bridge. Their walking sticks click-click-clicked as they walked by without looking up from the uneven ground.
“Buen Camino,” she said before reentering her gloomy thoughts.
All these places had their moments. In my life, I’ve loved them all. ~~ The Beatles
Lately, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the places I have visited over the past few years. Sometimes it’s almost unbearable thinking of returning to one of them, even though I have loved most of the places I’ve been fortunate enough to visit. The thing is… going back means not seeing somewhere else I haven’t yet explored and discovered for the first time. There’s only so much time. Life is short. Doubling back and revisiting places where my feet have already landed seems like the antithesis of good travel plans. There’s an entire world to discover. Why waste my time revisiting?
Because CAMINO. There I said it. Yep, this is yet another Camino de Santiago post. I’m going back. The Camino is, perhaps, the birth of my modern self. Well, that sounds highfalutin. But it happens to be the case. I had an awakening of sorts on the Camino de Santiago back in May of 2014. I had just come out of three years of intense therapy prior to walking the Camino. I considered the Camino my last cleansing step in the process of moving from victim to survivor to thriver. I would leave whatever residual burden I still carried from the scars along the pilgrimage path and come home burden-free, finally healed.
The scars would still be there, but they would no longer be open. I thought the Camino de Santiago would be my version of Kintsukuroi (A Japanese word meaning GOLDEN REPAIR–the art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum). I loved the idea that something could be more beautiful in the places in which it was once broken. I’m actually quite obsessed with the idea. I would walk the Camino de Santiago and fill in those last cracks in my psyche with gold. If pottery could go through the transformative process of Kintsukuroi, well…so could I! Dammit.
And I did. I came off the Camino feeling accomplished and whole. The golden light of the Camino de Santiago had invigorated me and filled my cracks with brightness.
Even though I am spending precious time returning to the sacred pilgrimage path, I can’t bring myself to say it will be time wasted. Yes, I walked that way before. Yes, being there means I won’t be somewhere new and exciting and different. Sometimes you’re just not finished with a place. I think the Camino will continue to call me until the day I die.
Besides, it is different to see a place alone with friends you meet along the path than it is to start out at that place with a loved one beside you. This Camino, which we will begin in the September of 2019, will be experienced together. There is something to be said about showing a loved one a place you yourself have already fallen in love with. It will come back to life for me, I’m sure…but it will also shine new as a share it. I can’t even begin to describe how excited that makes me.
Some Images from my 2014 Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage
Imagine if the Japanese saw only destruction in the things that lay broken and shattered in pieces at their feet. Imagine if they didn’t have the imagination and the hope and the intuitiveness to give those broken things a place of honor. Sometimes surviving a fall makes a thing stronger, sharper…more precious. It might even make it more beautiful than it originally was. At any rate, I’m returning to the Camino…not as someone in need of a final healing, but as someone with eyes wide open to the wonder of the pilgrimage path. It’ll be quite a different Camino this time. It will provide for us. We need only open to its possibilities and wait for the gifts to unfold.
My passion for the Camino de Santiago has come out in many ways over the past couple of years. Most recently, I have completed a young adult novel that is set on this pilgrimage path in Spain. Last year, I also won 3rd place in the (WCSC) Writers’ Community of Simcoe County’s 2017 Word by Word Short Story Contest with my story, Helen Finds Her Way to After. I think I am approaching the end of my exploration-in-words of the Camino experience. I have one more story, though. And it’s now available on Amazon! Light Near the End of the World – A Camino de Santiago Short Story released on May 8th! You can download it now. This short tells the story of Corinne, who walks the Way of St. James on her own as a way of fulfilling a plan she originally had to walk the path with her husband.
See the synopsis below:
Corinne began her Camino de Santiago pilgrimage way back in St. Jean Pied de Port, France, weeks ago. Exhausted, spent, and on the verge of giving up, she meets a pilgrim who gives her the inspiration she needs to carry on. But is it enough to get her there, to the famous cathedral at the end of the journey in Santiago de Compostela? Follow Corinne’s path along the Way of St. James as she struggles to carry on and to find herself along the way.
For less than it costs to buy a cup of coffee, you can read Corinne’s Camino story…