53
by E. E. Cummings

may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old

may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple
for even if it’s sunday may i be wrong
for whenever men are right they are not young

and may myself do nothing usefully
and love yourself so more than truly
there’s never been quite such a fool who could fail
pulling all the sky over him with one smile

That’s my poem on my birthday, and whatever else may be missing in my life — those dear to me especially — nothing can take this amazing day away. My first choice of places to be is with those I love, but to be here after such a day is a triumph. I may be worried about dry socks and dry shirts, I may not yet have eaten, my fellow-travellers may have chosen to stay at the bottom of the mountains for an extra day, but I am here.

20131101-163859.jpg20131101-163918.jpg
This has been an amazing day, even though I have burned off Lina, Iiris, Patrick and Tobias. I’m very sad about that, because the morning was spent in the most amazing conversations, including one that Iiris started about divorce and grieving. That was quite extraordinary, because in explaining to her how I had come to split from Christina, I realised that was able to talk about it with absolutely no emotion. There were no regrets, not recriminations, just something that had happened and that, because I am the father of two wonderful young people, something that was worth it. Iiris parents are divorced and she is still coming to terms with it, so I spoke to her and Patrick about the stages of grieving. Patrick, child of both Melbourne and Dublin and somebody who I came to realise was a very smart young man, gave a bi-cultural judgement on the situation: “that sounds about fucking right, mate”. He really was an interesting young bloke with, I think, a great future. I expect him to be running a coffee franchising business in about five years!

20131101-164043.jpg
Andrea, from Lake Constance, and I walked down the mountain together into Trabadello. She is a camino veteran, and for 15 years has been taking two weeks a year to walk the Camino, leaving her husband to look after house and kids — willingly, she assures me — while she walked all the way from Germany, year by year. This is her last year, the way to Santiago. At the bottom of the hill, I stopped for a cafe con leche and she went up the road, not to be seen until I saw her in the dormitory tonight.

20131101-164213.jpg

20131101-164227.jpg
Later…

I decided that this day, of all days, if my task was to be completed, had to be done at my pace. I told the others that this old man had to do his own pace, that I would surely meet them at the top — and of course I haven’t. Sorry, Tobias, I didn’t even get your email. I paced myself through the more gentle slope along the rio Valcarce, finding a military time that allow me to cover 11.5 minutes per kilometre while singing old marching tunes and even Advance Australia Fair. The countryside was heartrendingly beautiful, chestnuts and walnuts shading the roads and leaving the green covers and hard nuts not the road. The countryside is deep in Autumn, the burning sun contrasting with the cool of the shade. I found a paniera in Vega de Valcarce, downed a bocadillo, shared chocolate with the indefatigable Dianne who was leaving as I arrived and sang “Happy Birthday” to me. I reached the last of the river valley in Herrerrias, climbed in breathless steps steeply from the valley, and walked through the mountain hamlets to the mountain ridge line.

20131101-164325.jpg20131101-164341.jpg20131101-164354.jpg
It is a strange journey. I sit in the common room completing this blog. I’m in Galicia and church of the Saint of the the Way is only six days walk. Four peregrinos are discussing faith. I have eaten a late dinner in the pub, where two beers and a plate of pulpo have set me back more than my board for the night. I have shared a little with old friends from the pathway who hAve turned up, Terry and Kristen among them, but I have left the relationships I shared from Leon at the bottom of the hill.

20131101-164631.jpg20131101-164649.jpg20131101-164705.jpg20131101-164718.jpg
The Camino in the end is about telling stories. Tobias, a born-again, has struggled at times with the spirituality of the Way, but the best moments were hearing him exhult, after some feet of climbing, or the chance to serve someone on the way, or gazing over one of the vistas that opened up along the ridges this morning, “My God is a great god”. Ahh, my friend of the pathway, God also is great because he is so present on the Camino, present in the beauty of the countryside, the breathed air and the sweat of each pilgrim toiling up a hill, present in the openness of heart that seems to be a characteristic of each person treading this path, present in the pain that seems to be in a different part of the body each hour of the day, present in the step-by-step path towards rest. He becomes not my god or hour god but the God of everyone. And how do we experience this God that lies at the very Heart of what we do, day by day, on the Way? We open our hearts and tell our stories. From this shared humanity we are affirmed and undergo a metanoia, for our hearts are changed forever by this giving of one to another. This is true agape.

The Camino teaches us about life. To reach the end of life unchanged is to fail in the great work of our humanity. Each day
in our life is adding a stone at the foot of the cross, that ultimate expression of love. We build the kingdom! step by step and stone by stone.

This evening I crossed into Galicia. It’s time for pulpo, as the diet changes with the province. But, alas, so is the weather…

20131101-164940.jpg