Trail Day 10: Having Faith


Photo by: J W Foster

Joe writes: I’m starting to lose track of the days and the names of the towns we pass through. The only thing we tend to remember are the kilometers we’ve traveled and the kilometers still left ahead of us. And the people.  Our interactions with our fellow pilgrims and the Spaniards seem to stick with us much more than any “normal” day at home. We’ll be walking down the road and a car will pass by and Elaine says, “wasn’t that the cafe owner from the other night?” I respond, “yeah, I think it is……why would we remember that?!?!” Everyone we encounter seems to be so engaged with life, are friendly and interactive in a way I’m not accustomed to. I’m now starting to realize that it’s not the people, it’s us! Yes, the Spaniards are a very friendly people. Yes, our fellow pilgrims tend to be more open than the typical crowd in the grocery store but the major change is within Elaine and I. Traveling in this manner makes us vulnerable. It forces us out of our typical comfort zone and into a “reception” mode where our eyes and ears are open to the surrounding environment. We have to be! Our path meanders through villages, farmer’s fields, narrow wooded paths, and along major roads. Our way can be easily lost in one wrong turn.  So we watch, we listen, we ask, we pause, we question each decision to ensure we are not stranded on the top of a mountain at the end of the day.
This forced vigilance of our surroundings and the amount of time available to us to just think as we walk along has opened up another line of thought for me. It can be summed up in the old adage “we create our own reality”. The idea is that we each see and experience our surroundings and our lives in different ways and a lot of it is based on our attitude, our approach and reaction to the events unfolding in front of us. I don’t want to get in too deep here and start contemplating my navel so I’ll just use an example and move on. We walk into a village at the end of the day after hiking up and down mountains for the last 20 km. We are tired, we are sore, we are hungry. We now have to choose between a half dozen different hostels for our accommodations. We can take one approach which I’ll call “reactionary”. It’s based on fear and anxiety. “Will we find a bed?” “Will it be quiet?” “Will it be clean?” “Will there be bed bugs?” “Will it be safe?” “Will they have hot water?”
All these thoughts and more run through our heads and create stress and desperation. We seek out familiarity; we seek our comfort zone and jump at the first place we find acceptable. Invariably, when we fall into this trap we later in the day find that there were much more interestings places to stay. We say to ourselves, “Gee, I wish we’d taken a little more time to check the place out.” The alternative approach is what I’ll call “inquisitive.” It’s based on having faith, it’s based on courage, it’s based on being open to your surrounding and just having patience. We enter a village and just relax, maybe wander around a bit, maybe we drop our backpacks and sit down for a glass of wine in the central plaza. This really requires some faith and courage because we are just exhausted and want to lay down. Sooner or later though we get the feel of the town, we see where the pilgrims congregate, we see where the locals congregate and it always, always works out.  We find an ideal place to stay; an ideal, local cafe with fresh food and good company. And when I say “ideal” I mean “ideal in our own minds.” We took the time to learn and explore. Was there an even better place to stay? Probably. Was there a better place to eat, more interesting people to meet? Probably. Maybe the place we choose after taking our time was the same as just jumping at the first one we saw. The difference was in our attitude of how we wanted events to unfold and that’s what I mean by creating our own reality. We push aside our natural tendencies to seek out familiarity and comfort and just have faith.
The pilgrims of earlier centurys had no idea where they were going to lay their heads at night, no idea if they would have a meal available at the end of the day. They risked sickness, injuries, bandits, wars, extreme weather and religious prosecution. All they had was their faith in their God and in their fellow man to provide for them when the need came. We sure have it a lot easier in today’s world.Elaine writes: This post by Joe touched me to the point I forced myself to push past my pain and fatigue enough to comment. I will spare you the details of why I have been so removed from the blogging.  The reason his post is so moving is because it strikes right to the core of why this Camino, and our travels have been so instructive to me. Coming from New York City, a town where our motto is “don’t make eye contact,” I have been brought up to believe that people are mostly prey or predators and if you want to survive, just stick with your friends and family and you will make it. This trip has revealed the same TRUTH I have witnessed on every single one of our trips–having faith that things will work out no matter how scared I am has always led me to places and people that offer some lesson or experience that makes me think, “I could die today and feel happy.”  Take yesterday for example: Joe and I had walked  into the town of Viana and were feeling lost–so many little buildings, people everywhere and so much unfamiliarity mixed with our own exhaustion that we decided to stop in at the tourist center and ask for information. While we were waiting, we struck up a conversation with some Canadians who had formed a line in front of the tourist center door.  They’d completed their Camino and were hoping to get some information about their follow-on trip to Sicily. The couple grew tired of waiting and after some more chatting, they decided to move along.  Now it was Joe and me at the front and as we debated how much longer the center’s door would remain closed, an elderly Spanish woman in her 90’s asked me where we were from and if we were going to enter the cathedral which was right next to the tourist center. I told her about our plight and she offered to take us to her house and have us stay there with her!  I saw the compassion in this woman’s eyes and I felt we had been visited by an earthly angel. She was barely able to walk and was using a cane, but she gently touched my arm and said, “Don’t worry, I will take you to find a place to rest.” And she did! Now how does something like that happen unless both she and we had relied on faith and trust in the goodness of strangers?

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