Each day of our walk on the Camino de Santiago has had its own personality. Day One was an adventure: we were starting out on something new in a place we did not know. Day Two was a climb: the first nine miles of our day were uphill and presented quite a challenge. Day Three was marked by rain: we were soaked as we walked through the mud and the muck. Day Four — cool, sunny, and partly cloudy — had a slower heartbeat. We know tomorrow is our last day walking and also the day we will arrive in Santiago do Compostela; its personality is starting to shape even though the day is not yet here. Today, however, was about neither discovery nor accomplishment. In some ways, walking has become its own kind of normal. We have gotten up the last four days and walked until it was time to eat and go to bed. The slope of our walk was gentler, the weather was kinder, time appeared to be doing no more than passing. Day Four was a quiet day.
We stopped for a picnic lunch around two o’clock, as has been our custom each day. Vanessa and Mike, our guides, have done a great job with the food and today was no exception. We sat at a big stone table beside the path and shared ham, cheese, a pasta salad, a spinach and tomato salad, a traditional Galician almond cake, and a little wine as well. As we were eating, the Venezuelan woman we walked with yesterday turned the corner and yelled, “Hola, Milton!” The two Venezuelan women in our group teased back at her about not saying hello to them and she just laughed and said, “I turned the corner and I could see Milton. Hola, Milton.” She gave me a big hug and sat down to share lunch and then walk with us.
This has been a day of quiet invitations to notice and connect: the Spanish couple who were negotiating the Camino with a kind of stroller meets rickshaw to pull their two small children along, the Canadian woman whom we saw twice because she missed one of the arrows and ended up in the middle of a farm before she found her way back, the chance to see the land and buildings that Vanessa, one of our guides, has purchased and hopes to make a cafe along the Camino, the little dog that followed us for about two kilometers after lunch as though he were some sort of personal escort, the continuing conversations with our group where we learned more about each other, and the time walking alone.
I noticed the houses and farms on the hills around us today because I had not been able to see them since the day we began walking from Sarria. The quietness of the morning set my heart to thinking about my father and his favorite hymn, “A Child of the King,” which begins
my father is rich in houses and lands
he carries theweight of the world in his hands . . . .
I said I was alone, but I would do better to say I was to myself. Ginger and I walked together all day, sometimes side by side, sometimes with some distance between us, yet I felt the tether of our our connectedness all day. The dance of our day was not planned or even organized. The hills or size of the trail, or the speed at which either one of us needed to climb or descend the path ahead gave us space and then gave us back to each other amidst a rather boisterous chorus of birds and calves and lambs and dogs. As I sang for my dad, I knew she was close, even as I knew he was, too.
Twice today we saw markers — one made of stone and one very handmade one of sticks — remembering the lives of those who had died walking the Camino. About the same time, we passed a series of blue trash cans along the way on which someone had written part of the lyric to “Imagine.” The half verse was spread over two kilometers and four trash cans:
imagine all the people
living life in I peace
you can say I’m a dreamer
but I’m not the only one . . .
I’m not the only one. That was the message that said “Hola” to me over and over again today. I’m not the only one to grieve, to wonder, to walk, to hope, to hurt, to dream, to mark time step by step. At one point this afternoon, Ginger said, “You know we keep taking pictures of the trail in front of us, but if you turn around it looks the same.” She was right. A day is a day is a day. When Mike or Vanessa tells us we have five kilometers to the next stop, Ginger and I think about our three mile loop in Durham — the same distance — and as we have wandered over hill and dale she will say, “We’re at Rue Cler;” “We’re at East Campus;” “We’ve turned down Trinity.” A step is a step is a step.What distinguishes a day or highlights a single step is the invitation involved, whether it’s a greeting over lunch, a trash can lyric, or the call to once more pick up my grief and carry it over the mountain. When I am willing to listen, the world is saying, “Hola, Milton” with many voices.