I have dreamt of walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela for twenty years after reading Shirley MacLaine’s memoir. Never clutched to my heart, instead I held the dream soft and loose in the palm of possibility.
Several years ago, I heard about a local Camino group, one of many chapters across Canada, and beyond. I attended a few of their twice-yearly meetings to learn first-hand from people who had walked, and from those holding the dream. And then a few years later, after receiving regular emails from one of the members hosting Saturday morning preparation walks, I said YES. On an incredibly cold morning in an early January, donned in my red, full-length down coat and mitts, and black aviator’s quilted hat, with a friend, I walked the first of at least a hundred Saturday morning river valley walks. After that first year, in a Solstice-Christmas greeting to the gang, I wrote that saying that YES was the best YES I’d said that year, for meeting them and the friends I made, for edifying conversations or shared silences through the trees, for discovering our river valley trails and great local breakfast cafes.
It has been months since I last walked with them. Last November, I think. Last summer I chose to play pickleball with the women at my club Saturday mornings – non-competitive, though we challenge each other to practice our serves and shots. Once or twice I did both – walked at 7 and then joined the game at 9:30, but by noon, I was pretty much kaput for the rest of the day. Then come late fall, I developed a wicked case of plantar fasciitis, aggravated by walking, and heeding my chiropractor’s advice, cut out both Saturday walks and pickleball to heal enough to walk unimpeded during our trip to Andalusia in February.
I miss those Saturday walks. I miss the camaraderie and conversations, even though many times I needed and asked for silence, solitude – that being alone together. I miss the medicine of the trees and the birds, of the sky and the weather. And being a self-named daughter of Niagara, I miss the river and its holy waters.
When newcomers would arrive on Saturdays, inevitably as part of the introduction would come the question “Have you walked the Camino?” I had a practiced response, “No, I’m an aspirant, and I’ve come to learn that I walk my Camino every day.” Not meaning to be glib, I learned the potency and truth of this insight when walking along the hilltop trails in Italy’s Cinque Terre.
Early one sunny morning in April 2011, I met an American couple at the train station in Vernazza. We’d heard the trails were rained out in places but agreed to companion each other on the leg south to Corniglia, where we’d reassess. As beautiful as purported by Rick Steves and every other visitor to the region, the hike above the ocean, through olive groves, down into the town was breath-taking, and hot. We parted ways after an espresso, they’d continue hiking, while I’d take the train to Manarola, walk the Via dell’Amore to Riomaggiore, and then ride in the open boat back to Vernazza. (In hindsight, it was the perfect way to experience the magnificence of the Cinque Terre, and just months before floods, rock and mudslides caused significant destruction to the area and closed the still closed Via dell’Amore.)
They were avid hikers who planned their vacations around well-known treks. The year before, they had walked the Camino Frances. Along the way, they encountered a nun who imparted what became their most important and memorable lesson – the Camino is what happens when you return home – you’ll be in the middle of your life and realize, ahhhhh, so this is the Camino.
Those words shimmered with truth for me and led me to saying I walk my Camino every day.
I’ve come to know that I may never actually walk the Camino de Santiago. But right now, in these days of growing unraveling and perplexing uncertainty, I believe that I, we, are walking the most significant Camino of our lives. For our lives. For Life. This, too, shimmers with truth for me.
Each day, we wake and put one foot in front of the other to finding our way on a terrain that changes from moment to moment. We are brought to our knees by a wave of grief with the magnitude of our country having suffered its worst mass shooting a week ago, where, in our sweet east coast province of Nova Scotia, twenty-two lives were taken under unfathomable circumstances which we will never fully comprehend. We grieve that the summer as we know, that we count the days for, is not to be, as every event, festival and gathering has been cancelled. (This was the proverbial camel that broke me into sobs last week.) We want very much to know that our efforts, sacrifices even, are “flattening the curve” and making for the “re-opening of our economy.” We yearn to hear the plan, see the charts, understand the long view. Make the meaning. Learn the lesson. Know it’s all been worth it. Sooner than later.
“Sometimes, an efficient inner force wants to step in and make something useful of it all, turn it into “fuel for transformation.”Toko-pa Turner, “Rushing to Redemption,” April 25, 2020
But another, quieter voice urges us to stop.
Don’t commodify this loss. Don’t be so hasty to write a new story,
in which the events of heartbreak are made meaningful.
Not before the magnitude of what’s been destroyed can be
witnessed in its entirety.”
A few days ago, on a wee camino in my neighborhood, with camera in hand to practice the art of contemplative photography, several images came to me, and from them this reflection. The quieter voice was heard. The shimmer was seen.
With eyes of raven, crow or the ubiquitous prairie magpie
I always see the shiny when I walk.
A penny, a dime, a nickel, a dollar.
A piece of foil, a chrome chain.
A pretty pink crystal ring.
No effort, no intention to seek and find.
I walk, it appears, I see and sometimes retrieve
with fingers pinched like bird beak.
But how to see the shimmer?
That requires tuning to a different frequency.
An attention to the soft, the subtle, the nuanced
Or the sudden “pop” that’s hidden, different.
And while my photographer’s eye is always at play,
I invite it to the sidelines, for something else to play.
Thinking about this world unraveling, breaking apart
perhaps to welcome, or to die further still into an unknown next,
that I’m not sleeping,
that my body aches with anxiety, my head hurts for the piled up tears.
Asking for guidance,
Hearing, “You don’t need to know. It’s too soon to know.”
And suddenly sighing relieved.
Trusting I’ll see the shimmer as I see the shiny.