(the ones that are left in a comfortable bed!!) and still looking for a 'hook' for my book about the Camino.........
Another day of reading about another thousand people’s experiences on the Camino…..
I know – not quite a thousand – but the lists of books and the entries on the internet do seem endless.
A few websites brighten up my day with their weird and wonderful translations from every language imaginable -- such as " after all of these years it [the website -sic] developed, includings all the importants informations to the pilgrims who wishes to cross the way by feet, by contributions of a great number of pilgrims that assimilated the spirit of the Camino de Santiago: "helping each others", --- or the Confraternity of St James who inform their readers that "The office computer, stolen during the night of 11-12 January 2008, has now been replaced, and e-mails should be reaching us again. "
There are many sites and blogs with excellent hints and tips, but after conscientiously studying these and memorising such life saving important bits as
" 1. Cemeteries in France are not kept locked, and nearly all have a tap of drinking water near the gate (in case anyone is overcome during a funeral). Spanish cemeteries are kept locked, and probably don't have a water supply anyway. (truly helpful, that one!)
2. Make your broad-brimmed hat a fabric one which you can dunk in streams: there's nothing to beat the impromptu shower this gives you. (At temperatures of minus freezing? I don't think so, but thanks!)
3. Chuck your laundry into the shower-base as you undress, then trample on it while you shampoo and soap. It will be half-washed by the time you emerge. (Has this man ever looked down at the shower-base of a public shower? Yuck!)
4. If you're cooking for yourself, and find it difficult to shop for one, look out for what previous pilgrims have left in the store cupboard, and leave behind for later comers what you can't carry away. (Reminds me of a reluctantly single male friend of mine who looks for a shopping trolley at the super market that has a grocery list in it that had been left behind. He had been told to always have a grocery list when he goes shopping, but cannot be bothered to write one, so he buys his groceries off other shopping people's lists! Make for interesting purchases.)
5. If you're walking westwards on a busy road early in the morning, remember that the on-coming drivers have the rising sun in their eyes and may find it hard to see you: take extra care. " and so on and so on, I was soon reminded of the days before my first child was born and I was bombarded by well-meaning friends and family members who came laden with books of every shape and size pontificating on how the baby should be washed, fed, clothed, spoken to, sung to, carried.......... I very quickly realised that I could choose to go mad with the overload of conflicting information and make a miserable mess of raising my new-born, or I could do what all the strong and wise women in my family who came before me did, and follow my natural instinct.
And then, every now and then I come across a book or an internet entry that keeps me mesmerised for hours – I want to read every sentence on every page and learn what I can from their experience. Beautiful descriptions of the route, funny little stories about people they met along the way, experiences in the refuges, spiritual awakenings along the route.
One such discovery I made that had me stop in my tracks for a few quiet moments today was the writing of another woman who had walked the Way on her own, Susan Kenney -- in particular it was the lovely little story she had picked up along the way about picking up stones and putting them on the cairns on the side of the road, that appealed to me. You see, I am such a stone collector myself -- and the thought has fleetingly crossed my mind a (ridiculous) number of times, leaving a niggling little reminder every time, that I would have to address the potentially 'heavy' problem and make a decision before I leave on how I am going to discipline myself and not succumb to this (weight collecting) compulsive habit of mine. I loved her little story and will take it with me, because it means I can indulge in my weakness, but make it count for all those very special people in my life who will be with me in spirit on my journey. -- Have a look at the story, and tell me if you agree that it is lovely --
Stone by Stone
The next day I left in the stillness of the winter morning to walk 34 kilometers alone. It was a gorgeous sunny day. The terrain was easy with only one a small mountain range to challenge me. For some reason on this day I noticed neat piles of stones placed on the edge of the path or piled on top of the concrete markers that were decorated with a blue tile imbedded with a scallop shell symbol indicating the way to Santiago. I assumed the piles of stones were placed by the pilgrims before me and wanting to be a part of a historic ritual, I added a stone of my own. Even though I didn’t understand why I did this, I felt like I was a part of something very special.
Around 3:00 p.m. I arrived in the city of Estella, which means star in Spanish. Located at the point where the Camino Frances meets with the Camino Arles route joining the two paths to Santiago, it brings pilgrims from different routes together.
Later that afternoon, I arrived at the refugio and introduced myself to the others who had journeyed from the four corners of the world. They were gathered here from Germany, Argentina, Brazil, Holland, Switzerland and Madrid. The refugio had no cooking facilities available so some of us decided to go out together for a pilgrim’s meal at a local restaurant.
Everyone was from a different country and so the conversation was a feast of many languages. Luckily for me, someone was always able to translate what was being said into English. During a lull in the conversation, I asked if anyone at the table knew the reasons for the piles of stones left along the way. Sitting directly across from me, Andreas, a young German pilgrim smiled with anticipation and told me he knew a story about the stones. Speaking slowly, he explained. "It is said, if you pick up a stone and put some of your sorrow into it, when you place the stone down you leave some of your sorrow behind.”
I was moved. The story resonated with me. If I could leave my sorrow on the Camino, surely it would create more space in my heart for love. The next day, as soon as I went outside to begin walking, the first thing I did was to pick up a stone. I wasn’t sure how to put my sorrow into a stone, so I just imagined I could. Holding the stone in my hand as I walked, I caressed the smooth edges with my fingers like I was rubbing the sorrow into it. After a few minutes, I carefully set the stone down on the side of the path, letting go of my sorrow with it. Almost immediately, my heart opened up for more love and it felt so good that I wanted to pick up another stone right away. So I did, but this time I thought about putting the sorrow of my daughters into the stone. Seeing a small round stone, I picked it up for my oldest daughter Tara. I held it for a while as I walked, putting her sorrow into it and then I placed it down on the path. The next stone I picked up was for middle daughter Meghan. I held the stone close to my heart imagining her sorrow was moving into the stone, and then I gently placed it down too. Finally, I picked up a stone for Simone, my youngest daughter. With intention, I put her sorrow into the stone too. Never at any time did I suppose I knew exactly what their sorrow was, I only knew they possessed it. This was my secret gift to them. It was perfect. This would soon become a daily ritual for me.
Two weeks later and having picked up supplies for the journey to climb O’Cebreiro, I returned to the refugio in Villa Franca. When I opened the door to go inside, sitting there at the table was the German pilgrim, Andreas who had told me the story of the sorrow stones. The first thing I mentioned to him was the profound impact his story had on me. I was shocked when he said, “I don’t actually believe in sorrow stones." I was so stunned by this comment, I couldn’t speak. “It’s just a story a friend told me that I was sharing with you.” For me, the ritual of leaving my own sorrow and the sorrow of others along the Camino had changed my life. Hearing this, I came to a full realization of the true power of believing in something. It was my faith in the possibility that I could put sorrow into a stone, that had made it real for me. Now I knew that it didn’t matter if Andreas believed in the stones or not. In the end, what’s important is whatever I believe.
Ah! But then I wade through the next thirty books and entries of drivel – stories about extra terrestrial visits and conversations with the spirits abound (– one of the most famous of these probably Shirley McLain’s book, The Camino) a popular best seller whose only merit I can see -- so far, is that it is by a well –known actress who is known for her dabbling in the supernatural; or detailed accounts of every step, every blister, every fallen leaf along the way that have me yawning after ten minutes; – or even worse– the juvenile gushings about the joy, the liberation, the enlightenment, the visions, oooooooooooh! My Gosh! One gusher -- who has actually had a book published about her experiences along the Camino, writes:
“Le Chemin de Saint Jacques is the way of life, the way of space, the way of infinity. No room for sadness, no rooms for narrow mindedness, for rigid hearts and minds, or pettiness, or rancour or envy. It is the moment of adventure, of the launch of ecstasy, rupture with the past, entry into the new, from this stage in your life where you will always be pushed to go a little further, , a little higher, a little better a little purer, clearer, more beautiful. It is an immense fortune to light the flame which had been sleeping for so long. It is the road of life, of love and infinity. It is the way of my love for you --- and all my life I have dreamed of meeting this love”………
One of the main reasons the original pilgrims walked to Santiago de Compostela, was to obtain indulgences from the church -- to shorten their time in purgatory after their death and on their way to eternal life. This started in 1189 when Pope Alexander III declared Santiago de Compostela a Holy City, along with Jerusalem and Rome. According to his edit the pilgrims who made the pilgrimage and reached Santiago, were assured of having halved their time in purgatory and those who accomplished it in a Holy Year, could actually bypass purgatory altogether. I am dreading arriving at a refuge late in the afternoon, just before the sunset, when my legs will no more, and my feet are crying out for a rest, cold and wet and tired, and finding only one other person in the dormitory of the refuge and it turns out to be a gusher. Surely that would count for at least ten years reprieve from Purgatory -- or would that in fact be an early dress rehearsal for Purgatory itself? I have to admit I would rather not find out!
I realise that to have a book published in a market that is so saturated with books and publications, I might have to either sell my soul and devise some gimmick that will let the book stand out in a sea of clones, or I will have to stumble across a brilliant angle that no one has noticed before.
Many thousands have done the pilgrimage and continue to do it every year. Over the years the numbers grow exponentially and at a rampant rate. I would need to confirm the numbers, but they are phenomenal. From about 7 000 in the beginning of the 90's, the figures have shot off the page, and by 2007 they exceeded 25 000 people who had walked the last 100km of the pilgrimage. (One only has to complete the last 100km to Santiago de Compostela in order to be acknowledged as having 'done it'! Not nearly as many as that walk the entire 'official' Camino, namely from Saint Jean-Pied-du-Port). These days more people complete the pilgrimage on bicycle than on foot. Then there are the Harley pilgrims, the grey nomads in their camper vans and the gap year youngsters with their i-pods plugged in and thumbs tapping a running commentary on their mobile phones every step of the way, the Japanese tourists who follow the little yellow flag of their guide and the Americans with their support teams racing ahead to prepare the meals and the beds, the English who come across the channel in ferries and the Belgians who race down the highways from the grey low skies of the north. They come from every corner of the world to walk the Way of St James. Every religion, every faith, every colour and every language – and just about one in every ten, it seems, goes back home and writes a book or a website or a blog on their own personal pilgrimage.
I never thought about that when I listened to my heart telling me the time was right to finally take the road this year and more particularly, right now. I did not think twice about the time of year in which I am going to do the walk – but had I thought about it, I would have most certainly chosen exactly the same date that I have – 11 February -- even after reading all the many horror stories about the loneliness, the mist, the wind, the rain, the snow, the cold, the deaths of pilgrims who get lost in the mountains at this time of the year. Perhaps the ‘theme’ for my book -- the theme which will make my book stand out in the plethora of printed Camino stories out there, will come to me in the same way – out of nowhere, from a deep subconscious gut feel, an instinctive notion, a revelation in a vivid dream, a passing remark by a friend – yes, I am ready and waiting -- perhaps that answer will come to me any day now.