May 25, 2012
I learned the following motivational chant while walking through the hot, hot heat in the final kilometers to Los Arcos a few days ago:
I had a good job in the army but I left, I left.
I left because I did not think that it was
right, left, right, left…
You begin the chant while walking stepping out with your left foot. Then you fall in sync with the steps and remind yourself to keep going and breath at the same time. This, it turns out, is an extraordinarily helpful technique. Walking into Los Arcos we felt nostalgic for the rain of previous days. The hot sun and thick heat add a significant burden to the walk. But between this song (thank you Ewelina from Vienna!) and the baby chivas (goats!) that we met towards the end of the walk, I was all set. (By the by, the smallest of the baby goats was wearing a giant bell and did not want to stay with the herd. I loved this goat. So rad.)
Yesterday in Viana – and boy it seems so long ago already – I was sitting in the open air cathedral enjoying the day before heading off for dinner. There were two young boys with what I imagine was their grandad. Smiling and saying hola to these little ones, the grandad approached asking me if I was a pelligrina. Si, I replied happily. He proceeded to speak to me in Spanish and I think I gathered correctly that he had walked the Camino himself 6 times. One time he walked to Santiago along the Camino Frances (which Aimee and I are traveling) and then walked back home via the Camino route along the northern coast. He was wowed that I am walking dos Caminos, given that it´s me and the baby walking together. He then proceeded to tell me something that seemed very important. But I was having trouble making out his meaning with my broken Spanish. He persisted. He put his hands on my sandled feet and repeated the sentiment. No comprende, I responded sadly. He did not give up. He touched my feet and then proceeded to put one hand (as if a foot) in front of the other. He repeated this gesture and his statement.
Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, he seemed to be saying. This advice came in handy today.
Today we walked from Viana to Navarette. It was not the longest we have walked, but we seemed to hit road blocks along the way. First I could not find my capris. Then Aimee could not find her walking poles. Despite getting up at 5:30, we did not leave until 7. We missed the scenic spot to stop for our breakfast, so sat on a bench next to the highway with the industrial suburbs of Logroño in view. We went to the post office in Logroño only to find that it had moved. And after we finally found it and had a cafe con leche and some more food to keep us going, we were leaving the city just in time for the high, high heat of the day.
It was a long, slow, hard day. Sometimes really hard. By the time I arrived in Navarette – over 12 hours after having woke this morning – I was at my wits end. I was exhausted, ready for a cold shower and a hot meal. I am delighted to report that all of those things and more awaited me here. Satisfied from the salad and fish I had for dinner, grateful for the support of my kind traveling companion Aimee, astonished by the kindness of strangers here (the albergue owner just came by and gave me – well really the baby – a cookie…delicious!), I head off to bed happy.
And I carry with me the strong reminder of the day. Sometimes you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. You have to set boundaries. You must be prepared to ask for help and to receive it with open arms when it sits in front of you. Which – I am noticing – it usually does.
Instead of counting sheep tonight, I may count footsteps. Left. Left. Left, right, left…
PRESENT DAY REFLECTIONS
This was a hard day on the Camino for me. Such a long day with the hot sun beating down. I remember brainstorming baby names with the Viennese woman we walked with for a bit. And I vividly remember those goats. They greeted us as we entered into a small town.
Funnily I have no memory of the man who held my feet and shared that special moment. Though when I reread this journal entry I am blown away by this vanished memory all over again. Funny how we can write things down with such clarity and then forget.
When I read this entry with the knowledge of how the rest of the Camino unfolded, I think to myself that this is the first day my body started really having trouble. When I walked into Navarette, I remember having a crazy bloody nose. Now a bloody nose is no big deal and I had had my fair share of them before ever leaving for the Camino. (I can thank being pregnant for that!) But this bloody nose was like none I had had before and thankfully none I have had since. I think it was like 20-30 minutes of full on blood gushing and Aimee and I were both quietly concerned. The air around us was tense.
You can imagine how strange we looked. Two dusty Americans, red hands, scrambling for extra pieces of cloth and tissue to clean and suppress the mess. When we finally got into town, I sat in a shadowed street corner while Aimee – as she did so many times before – went ahead to find our accommodations to keep me from having to walk any unnecessary distance. When we finally checked into the hostel, we both needed a break. We needed alone time and chance to leave the trauma of those last kilometers behind us.
So many emotions transpired in such a short time. The exhaustion of walking in the heat. The peace and curiosity piqued by our Viennese walking companion that morning. The joy inspired by those goats met along the way. The worry from a physical breakdown.
When I sit with the memories of this day on the Camino, I am reminded that we cannot hide from how we feel. I notice without judgement how I did not write out the most painful part of my day – the final arrival into town. I notice how vividly that part of my travel still sticks with me. That is the truth of our emotions – whether present or in memory. If we do not give space for them to breath, they just seem to get stronger. But when we let them out, they seem to dissipate – in the best way possible.
My memory forgot this happy story of the older gentleman giving me such kind and sound advice. Keep going. Put one foot in front of the other. Persevere. But his message has stuck with me. This sticktoitiveness is a part of who I am and I how I operate today. His message sunk in even though the memory only exists now in a reconstruction. But man do I recall with clarity the part of this story that I did not write down in this journal reflection. The terrible entry into this town. It still feels vivid, like I can physically relive those final steps, the descent down the hill into town.
The part of the story that I did not want to write down did not escape me. And the lessons that sit inside it – sometimes we have to slow down, our bodies are not slaves to our minds’ will, know when to stop – continue to be teachings that I’m still learning today. Inside the strength of tenacity is also a weakness: Not knowing when to rest.
One of the things I deeply appreciate about coming back to these journal entries is that I do so with an open heart and a healthy dose of grace. I’ve never claimed to be perfect and it makes embracing my own imperfection a humor-filled and rich experience.
My wish for you today is this: That you will find a smile when greeted by your own foibles and praise when your gifts shine through.
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.