May 24, 2012
Today I write from Viana, a town of 3,500 long steeped in Pilgrim history. I sit outside the albergue (appreciative of the shade above and cold stone beneath me) typing on my iPhone with the ruins of a cathedral in front of me. The baby is kick, kicking away. Life is good.
I sit in a place of enormous gratitude. Here are some of the things that I am grateful for today:
- Listening to the birds. They were there at 5:30am when I woke. Still there when we set out from Los Arcos at 6:45. This afternoon they greeted me in the open air courtyard of the cathedral’s remains.
- The Dutch woman who said to me this afternoon: “You can get through a lot just listening to the birds.”
- My baby kicking. Every afternoon after I shower I am delighted by the ever more rambunctious movements of this little one. When I stop for an apple and almonds in the shade mid morning and receive a firm thwack in my low belly, it’s like a sign that shouts, “yes, this tastes good, mom.” And also – “I’m here.”
- The Spanish couple who we’ve seen for the past several days in the albergues. He’s astonished that I’m “seis meses” and walking. Today we met at our breakfast stop in Sarasol. She said before leaving, “I wish you good luck,” and then proceeded to kiss me on both cheeks. What a wish and blessing.
- The hair repair shampoo that was left behind in the albergue as a communal gift from some past pilgrim. After a week of a single bar of soap serving all my cleaning needs, it was, well, magnificent.
- A day’s walk without pain in my hips or knees. I’ve never experienced this type of joint inflammation before. Then again I am not accustomed to hiking 14 miles a day or being 6 1/2 months pregnant. Since day 1 here I’ve had problems. I’m not alone. Several other pilgrims have also made a habit of visiting the farmacia in every town that we pass through. But today, armed with my vendi elastica (yeah, I know the Spanish word for ace bandage), I did just fine today.
- The highs and lows of the path that we are walking. This path is not always easy. Aimee joked that the Camino is like a juice cleanse. The first day or so is euphoric. But then the toxins come. In our case, the mental toxins. “I can’t keep going.” Or: “What was I thinking?” Or: “Who do I think I am?” You get the idea. So what to do when this happens? Here’s what, Aimee assures me, the juice cleanse hippy advocates promote: The low point is when you must persevere! Process the toxins and let them go. The high point will return.
So too it goes one week into the Camino. Signing off in gratitude – sending you all my love.
PRESENT DAY REFLECTIONS
This past week I said goodbye to a dear friend. She was hard to let go. She was like another mom to me – the kind of person who can tell tales on me with both love and a healthy dose of good-natured teasing. She was there to witness my sassy behavior as a preschooler and enjoyed reminding me of that time when she was room and asked me to clean up. I looked her straight in the eyes, as she tell it, and then stated quite calmly, “I don’t have to listen to you. You are not my mother.” Ha! She hosted many a wonderful party at her house and I always loved when we’d spend Christmas eve at her house, usually walking there after church. You couldn’t ever leave her house without eating something. As a child, I remember her cooking delicious foods that I’d never tasted before like cheese puffs and pierogis and sesame noodles. A visit to her house was really not complete without a hand (or ten!) of cards, and boy did she played cards with the best of them. When she shot the moon in Hearts, which she loved to do, she’d lay her cards down emphatically on the table and say, “I like it too much,” smirk-smiling all the while. She was a person who just brought the fun wherever she went.
But as much as she was there to celebrate the good times, she was also the first to show up when the going got tough. When my mom was (understandably!) worn out with her 7 rambunctious kids, off the two of them would go in evening walking around the neighborhood and “solving the problems of the world.” When my older brother had hit rock bottom with his addiction, this is the woman he turned to. She set him on a path to recovery that he stuck with for the rest of his life. When I found myself sick and unable to walk with a newborn and a 2 year old still depending on me, she just showed up. She spent many a night at my bedside, she made me food at 3 in the morning, she brought me books to read, she organized the neighborhood moms to bring food to my house. She never asked what she could do to help, she just anticipated a need and did it. What I learned at her funeral this week was that it seemed everyone who knew her experienced her this way. I can’t think of another person I know whose capacity for kindness and giving runs this deep. What would seem exceptional for one of us, would be routine for her.
So what does all of this have to do with the Camino entry from today?
When I wrote that day in May, 5 years ago, I was in a place of deep joy. I felt a deep connection to nature, to my body, to the baby in my belly, to the people around me. I was in the midst of something magical. Listing off the things for which I was grateful felt easy. Joy prompts gratitude in my experience.
It can be harder to conjure up feelings of gratitude when life is throwing up challenges at every turn. When someone hurts or betrays us. When we lose a job. When the money runs out. When we are sick. When we lose a loved one. But these are precisely the moments when we need to practice gratitude most.
True to my good friend’s life, in her death she inspired joy. Yes we cried many tears over losing her. But we also gathered in fellowship and laughed. Her memory inspires me to find the good, not just when but because the going get tough. For though gratitude may be easy to find in our happiness, it is also what heals us in the sad times. Gratitude eases grief and stewards us back to joy.
What are you thankful for today?
ABOUT THE SERIES
My Pregnant Pilgrimage is a blog series that I’m sharing in the Spring of 2017 during my present-day maternity leave. The arrival of my third little seemed a fitting time to return to these journal reflections from those last months of my life pre-parenthood. Learn more about the inspiration for this series here.