One of the things in my goodie box was my pen pal's copy of I'm Off Then. I started reading it and devoured over half the book completely enraptured by his story telling. And I soon began to wonder if I am so jaded now that I can not find the inspiration that my friend told me was there and had in fact changed her life. I wondered when he was going to get to the revelations and close conversations with God. In fact I wondered if he was ever going to get there at all. Just before I reached the stopping point, I thought to myself: well he is no different than any other star who does this and writes the book. It is about the book royalties, stupid. Wrong.
Sorry, Hape. I should have known better than to think that of someone I had not heard of before the recommendation. I should also have known that my pen pal would not steer me wrong.
I'm Off Then is one man's journey on the Camino de Santiago. A pilgrim's progression across the Pyrenees in Spain. The route was established by the Catholic church a little over 1200 years ago and sees 100,000 visitors each year. It is a difficult journey in body and mind and has the potential to open the soul to the possibilities of faith. Having had some of the truly most difficult years of my life recently smack me around a bit and finding little faith in reserve this sounded like the perfect no hassle toes dipped in water re-entry that I was looking for. I've been watching Dr. Who hoping that would happen. But all I end up doing is missing the kid that took all of his lessons to heart. I don't know where I lost her. Maybe I would find her on the road with a German comedian? Hey.... this is me we are talking about. It really could happen.
Like I said, ¾ of the way through the book and still wondering when he is going to find God and consequently, re-introduce us. Last night I got to the part that I was looking for. Over the course of his journey he met someone who told him that all he had to do was place an order for help and the Camino would provide. There came a point when he could not deny that is exactly what was happening to him. I have experienced this on a small scale recently so I kept reading.
There was a portion of his journey which was hot, desolate, solitary and lacked the regular refuge that he had grown accustomed t
o. Overwhelmed with the chatter and banality of the regulars he kept meeting on the way, anxious for some solitude he got exactly what he asked for. And it nearly drove him mad. So there is a lesson in being careful what one wishes for. A solitary twelve mile (or was it hour) stretch lay before him. As he stood looking at the expanse before him I thought to myself, Maybe you need a pilgrimage... not in Spain. But maybe you could walk to Marquette. Yeah.... that is 300 miles one way you idiot. You might as well walk in Spain. So I quit thinking to myself.
As the scene before him sunk in and he adjusted his pack he chose a coping method that I immediately recognized. Music. Specifically some happy melodies and cheesy 70's & 80s lyrics that "had a great beat you could dance to". Then it hit me. I've had many little Camino journeys. One in particular stood out to me.
It was half way through 2010 and I had just spent a Winter sleeping in my car and living in chep hotel while maintaining my job and my clothes so as to not reveal that I was in fact homeless. I'd become homeless on my birthday. For six months I was living with friends. We disagreed about rent. If she wasn't going to put propane in the house so that I had more than my laptop to keep me from freezing (no exaggeration) then I was not going to pay her any more. She told me to leave. My boss gave me a place in a cheap hotel that cost me my entire paycheck to stay there. Summer came and even with the discount I would not have a place to live so I broke down and went to my brother. He was the reason that I was struggling anyway. I was told to leave our dad's house so he could put it on the market. He hadn't yet and showed no signs of doing so. I needed to go back.
That was out of the question. After a lot of discussion we decided that I would house sit for a weekend while he and his wife went on vacation, just a quick weekend getaway. Then when they got back we would figure out what to do. No sooner had I set my bags down and they rushed out the door to leave than they came right back. My brother sat down with a heavy sigh, heavy head and held it in his hands. One deep breath. Two deep breaths. His wife walked in pale as winter. The third deep breath... "I have some bad news." He says.
I laughed. "You just walked out the door. How can you have bad news?"
He looked at me like he had just run over his own dogs.
"What?" I thought that in the nanoseconds they were gone his wife decided that I could not live with them. It wasn't her favorite solution.
"I ran over your car."
"What?"He is a practical joker so I though that it was just his clever way of being stupid. He likes to jack person's blood pressure. We went outside. No joke. My car was totaled. The hood was folded up like a fan toward the windshield, the engine shoved back few inches and the radiator cracked and leaking. The quarter panels in front were jammed underneath the doors so the car would not open. I stood frozen there for a few seconds that stretched into an eternity in the pit of my stomach.... wherever my stomach had gone to. My completely paid off car, one month debt free, was totaled. I was about to be sick.
He apologized for ages about it. They left for the weekend anyway. I started making calls to get me to work & back. It was the start of Summer. I should have been able to dig myself out of the hole I was in and pay rent somewhere. Now I would have a car payment because you can not buy a car that runs for under 3000.00 in this area. No matter what anyone says there was going to be a payment. Even if I bought the car my brother was selling. I know how he drives when no one is with him. I know that he would only sell a car that was paid for if he suspected there were issues he didn't want to spend money fixing. I would not buy his car if he offered. And when they got home he offered. I would still be paying more than blue book for it since the "deal" he was offering was 1500 above the book listing. He forgets I am a geek and know how to look these things up.
He was angry that I wouldn't take the car. He was angry that I expected him to help me get back and forth to work and look for a car. He would do neither because I wouldn't buy his. So I depended on my supervisor who lived just passed us one town over on the same road. For a month she drove me back and forth to work without fail except for the one time that really matters.
Her kid got sick. She had to leave. I had no money for a cab. I couldn't find anyone at work who was heading that way. And my brother was not answering his phone. I got a hold of my niece. She would be going home after track.... except that she too was in limbo for a ride home and trying to get a hold of my brother too. She got the last space in a friend's car. I decided to hoof it.
And here is where my own Camino begins:
I've been a MacGyver fan forever and learned a lot about being prepared. I'd planned for the one day when this would happen. Hoped that it would not be a rainy day and kept a bag with me with walking shoes, water bottles, extra socks and music, Matthias Reim. What I had not realized at the time of packing the bag was that the batteries for the CD were only going to last me three songs. My former roommate who couldn't heat the house worked with me and she was equally stuck. We ended up walking together. We left at 3:30.
Work to my brother's house is 8.1 miles. I was out of shape (truth be told still am) and not used to anything more physical than my job. I do not handle heat well and I have rosacea so the direct sunlight is something that I should have been more prepared to handle. Her husband worked at the exact hallway point and would meet up with us when he got out of work. But we had to make the 4 miles in almost record time because he wouldn't wait. I hate guys like that but I wasn't the one dating him so I set the pace that I wanted. It was still brisk. I didn't want to be walking. But since I had to I did not want to be all day about it. And I didn't want to be on the main road during rush hour. No one stops. It isn't because we as a people are too good to pick up walkers or the higher than should be homeless population. We are a community that usually forgoes anything that won't turn into a photo op. In a way we are too good for a simple gesture. We also assume that there are other good Samaritans who will be able to help. the Spanish don't pick up pilgrims either. But that is a thing that is well known and rather a cultural thing. It is a pilgrimage after all. To pick up a pilgrim might interfere with the lessons that they have decided that they want to learn. Who are the Spanish to interfere?
The path home runs along a major traffic corridor through town. It was never meant to be a walking route so there are no sidewalks once you get past the Eastfield neighborhood. The road runs passed the airport and a mall. Then it heads out to the commuter towns south of my city. No sidewalks, over grown paths and dead animals along the way. Then after the 4 mile mark the farms begin and the road begins to dip and curve between hills. It is scary road to drive in Winter so I wondered how horrible it would be to walk it. Just before the 4 mile mark we stopped at a gas station to refuel. I'd run out of water a mile back and in the heat I knew I would need more to get home. I was also painfully hungry. I did not eat all day. The maintenance man had gifted me a Dr. Pepper to keep me going til I punched out but that was all I had.
Until this point the trip had been almost pleasant. I was still mad about how my birthday went down. It is always unpleasant but at least this time a shuttle didn't explode... just my life. After about a mile I realized if I didn't drop the anger I'd never make it home. It took too much energy and I had to stay on my feet. That was one of Hape's lessons. Once I adopted a friendlier tone with her she started spilling the beans about some things she felt I should be privy to. and it was very helpful information. However... once the conversation got around to an apology I was angry again. She was sorry that I brought on my troubles my self. That if I hadn't been "So damn good at everything.... cooking, cleaning, my job, being able to pick up a new skill" like it was as simple as dropping it in a shopping cart she wouldn't have had to have me leave. "My cats even like you better than me!" Um...thanks I think. She prattled on and on about all me faults: the guys who like me, the praise that the boys at work heap on me because I take out my own trash, I understand when they talk technical to me, I fix as many of my own problems as I can...." I should be embarrassed recounting any of that because it sounds very self congratulatory on the surface. But the surface is as far as it goes. I spent 45 minutes listening to her tell me that the things that make me a good employee and rather fun to work with were reason enough to hate me. She ended with "You just don't know how many people hate you because you make the rest of us look bad."
And now I was at the point in which all I could do was pray to be alone as Hape had wanted. True, he was trying to undo a hard life of overwork and I was just trying to get home. The thing that he says about the Camino is that while you start with your own mission, the Camino also has a lesson that it needs to teach you. My mission was to get home. My Camino's mission was to teach me something bout myself through this little gossip. At this point I did not care about the mission, its or mine. A breeze had kicked up and clouds were rolling in. Rain may or may not come.... but who wants to be walking home in difficult terrain to find out? We reached the halfway point. Her boyfriend had gotten them a ride. There was no room for me.
As the pick up sped off into the rush hour traffic I sighed a heavy breath of relief. I was alone like I wanted. Unfortunately the echoes of the things she said were stuck in my head. Only few hundred feet into the next leg of my journey and I wanted to cry. Hape was told that at some point, the Camino will make you cry. He spent ¾ of his trip waiting for that moment. It only took me ½ way to break into tears.
The last of the southern industrial area behind me, I had a short plateau to catch my breath, dry my face and fortify my soul for the rain that would surely come. A bank of burled grey clouds rolled toward me from the direction of my dad's house. Those clouds almost always brought rain. Since I was not prepared for rain I knew it would find me. The road plateaued in the curve between two hill tops before dropping short distance on the other side of those hills. I've driven these roads all my life. While I noticed a lot, nothing prepares you for the things that you see when walking. Between the two hills, before a dip then steep rise, your vista opens to a wide seemingly endless expanse of farmland to the right. The closest structure is a dot on the horizon being swallowed by the maturing hay field. If you needed to find shelter in that direction it would be long detour. To the left your vista is an over grown field in front of a never ending cherry orchard which sweeps up a hill like a forest fire frozen in time. Then you see the hill in front of you that you hate to drive down in Winter.
The shoulder is washed out from Spring storms that the road commission is too poor to fix. A hill as steep and ragged as anything in Mordor rises straight up from the shallow shoulder, eroded by a long Winter and populated with gnarled trees determined to hold on for dear life by the skins of bared roots furiously dug into the treacherous hillside. That is just the right side of the road. The left is all washout and no shoulder before a similarly ragged hillside shoots out of the ground. The hills on each side of this stretch are taller than a semi... it is a roof-less tunnel. My heart sinks.
If I am to make it home I need to find strength.
In a similar place in his journey, Hape laid on the music pretty heavily. It is his go to thing. Music has also always been my go to thing. Of course it has changed over time. It used to be only Mozart could fix whatever ailed me. Then when I was sick a lot in high school it was Michael Jackson. But earlier in 2010, with the Valentine Massacre it was Matthias Reim. I had transcribed lyrics so that I could learn them just like we did in high school German class. I'd tacked up sheets to learn as I folded laundry at work. I had three songs at this point memorized: Als ich fortging, Rosenkrieg and Küssen oder so. Romeo weint only partly memorized stayed out of the walk's repertoire. I shifted the bag to the other shoulder, dug my short's legs out of my crotch and set out. If I had to, I reasoned, I would call my brother again from Potter road. The wind picked up.
Like Hape, I was singing my heart out. The 4th Doctor whistled while he walked to keep time. Music, because of its measures, is a time honored method for keeping pace. Army regiments and laborers have used it to make the miles and chores pass as painlessly as possible. My feet were already killing me. I knew my hips were going to go next. With rotated bones a long walk like this is almost always a bad idea. I just grind ends into sockets and end up pinching some nerve somewhere. Blisters don't concern me any more so much as the joints do. The road opened up into another bucolic vista.
Roush road is an interesting study in logic. It begins and ends on the same main artery. Between its beginning and end it winds into a field around several hillocks and meets another road. It is flatter, safer and only would add about a mile to the miles disappearing under my feet. Or I could stay on the short road, the busy road, the rough roads with speeding cars and semis. One last desperate call to my brother. I was close enough to home he might come and get me. The first sprinkles splatted into my eyes as I waiting for him to pick up the phone. Nothing.
I am most threw my phone. Inside I screamed myself hoarse. I heard it inside my own head. That is how I know that my soul had suffered some kind of setback or maybe a hardening. After the scream, or maybe while the last vibrations wore themselves out in the distance, I heard my mother's voice recounting all of her jaded diatribes about being the only person you can ever count on. All for one and one for all is a romantic fantasy concocted by lazy people to take from the industrious. Look out for number one. Which elicited the response "Why can't Will look out for himself?" in reference to Riker in Star Trek the Next Generation. My mother never thought it was funny. And in the moment, watching the wall of rain headed my way, I did not think that I was so clever myself. Tears were ready to flow.
When the rain came I would cry. No one would notice. The temperature dropped. I found my sad song and sang to myself
als ich fortging war die Strasse steil, kehr wieder um
Nimm an ihrem Kummer teil, mach sie heil
Als ich fortging war der Asphalt heiss - kehr wieder um
Red Ihr aus um jeden Preis, was sie weiss
Nichts ist unendlich, so sieh das doch ein
Ich weiss, du willst unendlich sein - schwach und klein
Feuer brennt nieder, wenn's keiner mehr nährt
Kann ja selber, was dir heut widerfährt.
Red Ihr aus um jeden Preis, was sie weiss
Nichts ist unendlich, so sieh das doch ein
Ich weiss, du willst unendlich sein - schwach und klein
Feuer brennt nieder, wenn's keiner mehr nährt
Kann ja selber, was dir heut widerfährt.
Schwach und klein: weak and small. I've always been a little fragile because I love everything that I love so deeply, I trust too readily, I hurt as deeply as I love. This little Camino was starting to tell me something about myself and the choices that I made. It was telling me something important about my personality and again cautioning against trying to fit in where I do not belong. At his desperate crying place Hape found some answers along those lines as well. In the moment when these lyrics, sung in my head with Matthias Reim's voice, spoke most clearly to me about who I am I realized that the list of my sins recounted to me earlier hurt because they were true as much as the knowledge that they were being said about me rather than to me. They also hurt because in any other circle those items on my list of faults would be virtues.
The real rain began, the sprinkles had turned into a barrage with the wind whipping them into me like daggers. Warm tears glazed my cheeks. I couldn't see the ground clearly and turned my ankle in a hole where a rock washed away. Stumbling to recover I stepped onto a branch that sent me twisting the wrong way. The road was empty. If I was hoping for a ride it was in vain. And there was no audience for my stumble. Thanks given, I kept on, turning up the volume in my head so that Matthias' voice would drown out the whining that was gearing up. I didn't want to hear it. I know how I get with the whole nothing is my fault defense. Of course things are my fault. But I focus so much on how other people compound my mistakes that I forget where I played a part. I focus so much on justice and getting the apology that I want and deserve when I am wronged that I forget to look at myself. With no one on the road to distract me I can look no where but to myself.
Depressing. Hape got to the point of seeing his own faults with the help of a little old guy who could not decide if he was from Brazil or Ecuador named Jorge or not. I suppose had my mini Camino gone a bit longer the solutions for my life issues at that moment would have manifested themselves. They did not. I only know that the trollish gossip from the first half of my journey that day was the person who was sent to show me myself as others really saw me and not how they told me that they saw me. And the Camino was showing me who I was hiding from the world.
Hape had similar issues on the Camino. He hid his profession until fans made it impossible. A German man walks through Spain singing American disco and pop songs for his own company. I am an American girl in America singing German songs to herself on my own Camino. Oddly, in that moment I felt both as alone as a person could feel AND as connected as a person could feel. I had always felt that I did not belong anywhere. My walking companion described how that is so. But when I want something or something is a way that is comfortable and beneficial I dig in my heals and refuse to be run off. I spent a life time running from bullies and jealous classmates and decided that I would stop running. I am went through my life being rather unsettled and always looking for safe havens where there were none. I had to stop doing that. In my ears was the answer. I belong somewhere else, with other kinds of people.
It may not be picking up and moving to Germany. It is to embrace who I am and accept that some of my deepest connections are going to be with people far away in geography o who are close but also hiding themselves for fear of hearing the kinds of things I heard about myself on this day. I may have to walk away from everything that I think I know about myself and do something completely different, join completely different circles. I've already at this point found that my cautious nature was completely warranted. There had to be something else though.
I still have the last ¼ of Hape's journey to read. I do not know yet what conclusions he will come to about the things in himself that holds him back. At this point though... I have a little less than 1.5 miles of my own journey to recount. It is the downhill portion of my trek. The road my brother lives on, my end destination, lies in an oxbowl off the main road. The hill is long, steep and lacks anything by which one can steady themselves. The shoulder is as shallow as the previous description with the craggy hill face rising acutely. The rain is washing away my path as I step. The paved side of the road is broken and sliding as the sand washes away. No flash flood seems apparent and it isn't like I am really in Mordor where any fall is a minimum of thousands of feet. But if I fall at the right moment I fall into traffic. At this point I would rather not fall. It is slow going. And I have had to stop thinking at this point.
Thoughts are distracting. Distraction, as Hape found, is only a good thing when your fears are threatening to undermine you or you need to boost your energy from the inside. The problem, as we both found, is that if you distract yourself too well, you lose your way. After so much distraction one can not speed full throttle into acute awareness. It is best to just not think. One of his friends who came along just when he needed a break from his own company, explained Buddhist principle. Drop the thought.
Whatever holds you back, or even threatens to, drop it. Leave it alone. Don't keep picking at it. Stop thinking. Just breathe. Just exist. One foot in front of the other. Nothing more. My last 1.5 miles was nothing but silence in my head. Nothing but the road before my eyes. When I got onto the road to my brother's house the rain fell in earnest. The chickens that normally run clucking at anything on the road were racing each other to the hen house. Dogs were silent. The trees seemed sad. I could see his house less than a mile away and I wanted to lay in the middle of the road and stop. I'd noticed too much of the details around me and in classic romantic literature fashion had anthropomorphized the situation so clearly as to want to weep for the sadness. Shut off the brain. Keep going.
As the road bent I saw my brother's truck in the drive. Placidly sitting out in the place of its crime, I felt the mocking. Most likely my brother had in fact been home all day. Rather than use the road, I cut across the lawn in defiant violation of his specific Keep off the Lawn Edict. Drenched with teeth chattering I slunk into the house and headed right for the bath tub. Before I even got to the bathroom door he was bellowing.
"I didn't see a car pull up how did you get here?" He'd been "watching" out the living room window.
I saw my drenched status register. He looked abashed for all of a handful of nanoseconds before he started yelling at me again. Why didn't I call? Where is his daughter? Why am I dripping water all over his wood floors?
I walked into the bathroom, shut the door and locked it behind me.
I do not know yet what all Hape will have learned on his Camino. On mine that soggy June day in 2010, I learned to open my eyes again to see people for who they are and
- that it is okay to walk away.
- I also learned that I always want Matthias Reim to walk with me.
- I will drive myself insane trying to fit in everywhere that I am
- there will always be jealous people
- don't give them enough information to undermine you
- don't lose yourself in your anger
- some help costs more than it is worth
- the help you truly need will come when you truly need it
That 8.1 miles took 3 hours to walk. If you had told me before I did it that I would do it, I would have laughed at you until I peed. I don't walk. I am too resourceful to be reduced to walking more than a mile for anything. I thought of Laura Ingalls walking the prairie a lot on that journey and realized a long time ago that I decided that would never be me. But my little 3 hour journey stripped a lot of my false pride. Though not as much as my journey through the coming Winter of 10/11 would strip from me. I learned that I will do what needs to be done even if I don't want to do it. I also learned that I am too eager for any port when a storm comes up.
Sometimes though, you just need to wait out the storm. There are places in this world that look like shelter when you are in desperate straights. Living with the gossip girl proved to be a mistake in retrospect. And the assistance that my brother had offered is what cost me a free car and put me on this Camino road in the first place. I wanted an easy answer and got it from my brother. But it cost so much in the end that I had to stop taking the easy paths, a lesson that tested me a few short weeks after the 3 hour walk.
I will most likely finish the book tonight. My hope in these last chapters is to find the magical formula that ties all of my lessons together in a neat little bundle that I can parse later. I am also hoping to find the keys to let me access the bundle when I need it. I have not thought about that hike in a long time; what brought me there and what keeps bringing me to similar junctions in my life path are fresh in my mind. The only thing that I can assume is that I am about to be faced with another junction. I will have to chose easy & safe or harder & safer than option one.