"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."   - Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Heading for Turkey, and still thinking about Spain

It's Thursday, August 15. Two days until Christine and I take off for our adventure in Turkey. We've been pretty busy packing and storing things away, but I'm taking a little break to write. I'm sure I'll have much to say about teaching and my life in Turkey in the coming months, but now I'd like to write a bit about my experience in Spain this summer. I walked the Camino de Santiago, from St. Jean Pied de Port, France, to Santiago de Compostella, Spain, from May 16 to June 19. 500 miles in 35 days.

I could have walked it in 33 days, but slowed a little at the end so as to time my arrival for the 19th. My wife Christine and I had planned to meet in front of the Cathedral of St. James that day, after five weeks apart, to make our reunion as romantic as possible before starting off on a three and a half week vacation in Spain and France. In case you don't know, the Camino is an ancient pilgrimage that is still done by many today. Though one can walk a longer or a shorter distance, the traditional walk is from St. Jean to Santiago. This pilgrimage began about 900 years ago as a way for pilgrims to atone for their sins and worship at the site where it is believed the remains of the apostle St. James are buried. Some still walk the Camino for that reason, but there are now many people who walk, or ride a bike, for other reasons - to get away from life's distractions and have time to really think, to exercise and enjoy some of the most spectacular scenery anywhere, to just have an adventure and meet people, to maybe lose weight, or have time to plan one's future. As I heard often from others along "The Way," everyone's Camino is different and unique. I've just been looking back over the journal I kept during my walk. As I look at my first entries, I'm amazed, and really see for the first time, how relevant my first thoughts were to what I have felt since finishing. A lot of what I wrote is pretty personal and probably wouldn't do much for you. But I'm touched by the purposes I wrote down before starting - mostly written on the cross Atlantic flight to Europe. I wrote that I was doing the Camino because I felt the need to have a change in my life. That I needed to get my head and priorities straight and fix the things that needed fixing in my life. I wrote that I wanted to find the person I was most meant to be. I felt that maybe he was out there in the countryside of Spain. I wrote that I wanted to learn to appreciate my life more, to be truly grateful for the things I have. I said that I felt the need, in my advancing years, to re-capture some kind of adventurous spirit and in doing so find my best self along the way. I also wrote that I needed to re-awaken myself to all the beautiful people and moments that exist in my life each day, and that I often don't see or take for granted. I felt that I needed to learn some things, like to be more patient, to really listen to people and the world around me, and to be a kinder person and give to others selflessly and with no expectations in return. I wrote that I needed to stop seeing so much sadness in the world and to really focus on all that is good each day. And my journey was dedicated to my wife and four children, for whom I most wanted to make all those improvements. Now, in looking back at that most physically and emotionally difficult experience, I think much of what I wanted has come to be. I don't know how much different I seem to others since returning, but I can tell you I feel a whole lot better. Though the journey was extremely difficult, everyone's Camino is unique. And I think I had the experience I most needed to have. I think I accomplished much of what I set out to do, and I hope I'll continue to feel that way. Before I go for now, I'll share with you a list I made of my thoughts on the experience, written on my last night before walking into Santiago.

     "Things I Learned from Walking the Camino de Santiago":

* The ONE THING that matters the most in my life is my wife and children.
* Everything I could ever possibly want or need in my life is already here. It's been with me all along.
* Anger, impatience, judging others are over for me.
* My childhood was no worse than a lot of other people"s, so stop blaming it for problems.
* I need to learn forgiveness.
* I need to let go of things in my past that hurt me. So what. It's ancient history.
* Give more of myself to others. Be more generous and helpful.
* Forgive myself. God does.
* Take my wife out more.
* Never complain about my life. Never feel sorry for myself.
* Be a better listener.
* Dedicate my life to making others happy.
* Have fun. Stop taking myself so seriously.
* Spend more time in nature.
* Read more good books.
* Never stop being a teacher.

     The morning after I wrote that list, I had one of the truly magical moments in my life. For weeks, I didn't know how I would feel when I finally arrived at the end of my journey. I'd thought about it every day, and just told myself to let it happen. Don't try to force yourself to feel any certain way, just go with the moment when it arrives. As I walked into the rainy city of Santiago, and entered into the ancient, narrow streets that lead to the Cathedral of St. James, I heard the distant sound of bagpipes. I remembered reading that many street musicians play throughout the day and night in a tunnel that leads into the cathedral's plaza because the acoustics are so good. Bagpipes have always gotten to me, no matter where or what the circumstances. And when I heard them now, I began to feel as if I was entering a kind of out-of-body experience. When I passed the guy with the bagpipes and entered the Prazo do Obradoiro, and looked up at that ancient church, consecrated in the year 1211, I had a feeling of exilirhation and peace that is so difficult to describe. I slowly walked in front of the cathedral, on that cold, drizzly morning, looking up in wonder at the beauty of what I was seeing and feeling. Then, maybe fifteen minutes after I'd arrived in front of the cathedral, I looked to my left and saw Christine, also looking in amazement at the church, then turning and smiling and walking towards me, her eyes slightly tearing as were mine. Of all the wonderful moments I've been blessed with in my days, that is one that will live in my heart forever.
     I will never consider walking the Camino an accomplishment. There were 70 year old ladies who marched right past me every day. In fact, I don't know how much I'll even talk about it in the days to come. I'll just remember it as a beautiful moment I was fortunate enough to have. A time when I met some wonderful, adventurous, and memorable people, saw some of the most spectacular scenery this world has to offer, and finally realized some things I needed to face. An experience that did me more good than I ever imagined it could.

And now, a few pic's for you. Take good care. Next post will be from exotic Turkey!
                                          A few miles from Villafranca, Spain.

                                         We'd just met up in front of the Cathedral in Santiago.

.                                         In front of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain.



  1. Mike: A great story that I am glad you are documenting. Someday your grandchildren will read it in amazement! I really didn't understand what this journey meant to you after seeing you in Spain as I think you were still absorbing the moment. Love your story! Great visiting with you two in San Sebastian! Good times! Maybe another encounter in Turkey....?!!
    Karen and Gil Mendoza

  2. Thank you for sharing dad. I love you.

  3. Great post! It brought back lots of Camino thoughts.