I’m leaving in the morning. I’m ready. Am I ready?
They say the Camino begins when you commit to it, and that you walk the Road from that time forward until you actually arrive in Santiago. If this is true, then this Road began for me seven years ago – March 1999, spring break of my sophomore year of high school. I had a day off, so I drove up to Madison and sat on the steps of the Capitol building reading The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho. I read the book in two sittings – beginning on the steps in the sunshine of early spring, and finishing at Noodles over a bowl of mushroom stroganoff. The book was magical, and in the back of my head was born the idea of walking the Strange Road to Santiago. Since then I’ve reread the book a number of times, including in the last week, finishing it today at the laundromat while I washed the clothes I will take with me on the Road.
It was just a dream, however, until September 2004, when a friend excitedly told me that he was going to Spain, and that he had read this book – at which point I interrupted him and said, oh my god, you’re doing the pilgrimage! Neil’s Camino made it real for me – it became something that real people do, not just a thing in a book. His stories gave me goosebumps, and pasted into the journal I will carry is a picture he took for me – a garden gnome in Galicia.
About this time last year, following a conversation with a very old friend, I began – underwent – something – a spiritual transformation – a rebirth – a discovery of a faith long dormant. I wish I could point precisely to what changed in me or about me or for me, but I can’t. I just realized that I had been fighting so hard against something that was so simple and fundamental. Accepting it was like falling in love, and falling in love became another step towards this Road.
My plans have changed a number of times since then – plans for my life, and plans for the Camino. But tomorrow, thanks to the tremendous emotional and financial support of many friends and family, I will catch a flight out of O’Hare. I’m not sure how much Internet access I will have while I’m away, but I will write when I can, and write more when I can’t. My love to you all.
Over the last week I’ve spent about $130 $160 on things for the camino – socks, rain gear, first aid stuff, ANOTHER camp towel (worth the extra $$). I have inserts for my boots, a bar of soap that I can use in my hair as well as on my body, and a small borrowed pack that is going to work fabulously. And I’m starting to get anxious. Shane had a taste of this today – we were at Champaign Surplus and I started feeling frazzled a la “is there anything I’m forgetting?!”.
One of my professors mentioned my camino to some visiting Spanish researchers, who replied that if I needed an emergency contact, I was welcome to look them up – so I have a business card in my pack for the Universidad de Valladolid.
The woman I’m staying with in Porto emailed me this week to say she could pick me up at the airport on Wednesday, and that she’d love to join me for a day or two.
No luck lining up a couch in London yet, but I’m still looking.
Last night a friend told me that I’m an inspiration to her – being bold enough to go do something like this, even if it is scary and I feel unprepared.
My parents keep giving me stern talks about not going to bars with strangers.
I’m going to miss waking up with Shane and Basil, and the mornings that we (not Basil) go to breakfast and stare dazedly at each other over the first cup of coffee. Shane’s applying for a dream job in New York, and I’m trying not to think about what that might mean for us. I haven’t talked about this relationship much here – and that is deliberate – but the last 10 days have been really good, and I am going to miss him.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
© Mary Oliver, retrieved from Modern American Poetry