Leaving Behind

I called out to the girls, playing in the yard. “Don’t forget I need a stone from each of you.”

They screeched in unison, remembering the task I’d assigned days ago – and reminded them of again the night before – to select a small rock from somewhere around our country house for me to carry on the Camino. My back was still tender; I wasn’t convinced that in a week’s time, especially after playing tourist in Barcelona, I’d be able to fly to León to make my way on foot to Santiago. But since the Pilates workouts I’ve been doing make my recoveries quicker, I held out some hope that I’d be up for the walk.

Short-pants ran toward me with her fist extended, opening it to reveal a small angular rock. Buddy-roo hobbled on her crutches soon after, offering me another stone, about the same size. I’d set my backpack, ready to go, on the 20130318-205137.jpg bench outside the country house so De-facto could put it in the trunk when he packed the car. I squatted down, carefully, and unzipped one of the small side pouches of my pack, saying out loud to myself where I was putting them, so I wouldn’t forget, later, where I’d stashed the two stones.

~ ~ ~

The taxi dropped me in front of the Cathedral in Astorga. I’d planned to take a cab from the León airport to the bus station in the city center and from there an hour-long ride to pick up where I left the Camino last summer. A few questions at the airport taxi stand and a little negotiation made the smarter option to go directly to my starting point in Astorga. I’d kissed the girls goodbye at 6:30 am as they slept in their beds in Barcelona. By 11:30 I was walking on the Camino Santiago de Compostela.

I stopped three times in the first kilometer to get myself situated, each time carefully removing my pack – at its heaviest with a full supply of water – shifting the tube to my water bladder from the left to the right side and moving key supplies to familiar places. Tissues and lip balm in the zipper compartment on one side, iPhone poised in camera mode on the other. Map in the left pants pocket, money in the right. I fell right back into the ergonomic system I’d worked out last year. The air was chilly but the sun was warm, my back seemed okay and my legs felt strong. I’d planned to walk just 5k, to get started. Twenty kilometers later I rolled into Rabanal, a village just before the highest point on the Camino, the Cruz de Ferro.

The next morning I looked out the window of my pensión to see the village rooftops of the covered in snow. The road was wet, though not slippery. It turned into a muddy track at the top of the village. With altitude the ground was frozen, and as I climbed higher there was snow, several inches covering the ground. The fog and the light sprinkling of falling snow 20130318-203011.jpglaid a blanket of quiet over everything. All I could hear was the sound of my boots crunching on the snow.

It’s customary for Pilgrims to leave a stone or a talisman at the Cruz de Ferro, a symbolic gesture of leaving something you’ve been carrying and no longer need. That’s why I’d asked the girls for stones. I’d been thinking, for a while, about what I’d like to let go. Something that would ease my own burden, but also that, if I really could leave it behind, would help my daughters, too. Either because I’d be happier, or because it’d model something important for them.

I dug through the compartments of my backpack to find the two stones that Short-pants and Buddy-roo had found for me and put them in my coat pocket so I could reach them easily at the right moment. One of them I’d designated as the burden of time. I have become so very tired, and bored, of thinking about time. I am allotted hours in the day that seem never to be sufficient. I became more aware of this during my stretches on the Camino last year, but I still struggle with time. I think about it, I talk about it, I complain about never having enough of it. I want to stop this.

I waste too much time catching up instead of being present – this relates to my second stone – because I am always trying to do what is (or I believe is) expected of me. To be a good girl. A good mother. A reliable colleague. A friend you can count on. None of these terrible qualities to be known for, unless achieving them cuts you off from being at ease with life and savoring it rather than rushing through it. I want to stop being good and start being true.

~ ~ ~

As I approached the Cruz de Ferro, I could barely see it because of the fog. I admired the huge mound of stones at its base, thousands of small rocks piled on top of each other, representing the prayers and requests of the pilgrims, faithful or not, who’ve passed by. I fingered the two stones in my pocket, thinking again, as I had been all morning, about what I had infused into them and what it would mean, the act of leaving them there. Not that I put so much import on a cross standing on a mound of stones at the top of a mountain along the road. Except that it can signify something, if I want it to. A wedding doesn’t ensure a lifetime as a happy couple, but it does serve as a milestone to mark your intention to be so. That is the purpose of rituals.
The Camino itself is a ritual, and walking it doesn’t mean I will change entirely. I never expected to return home as someone new. Doing the Camino has been for me a chance to reflect upon everything I am walking in this lifetime, and I suppose, to try to be true to it.

I pulled those two rocks out of my pocket and said a few words to whatever force might be out there in the universe listening. I did this not because I necessarily believe that someone or something would answer me or grant my requests, but more because it was important for me to say my intention out loud and to hear myself say it. I don’t know if I’ll ever make peace with time. Being true instead of being good feels like a tall order. But I can try.

At first I placed the two little rocks neatly, side by side, on top of a larger flat stone. On second thought, I picked them both up and threw them haphazardly amongst the the other rocks. Now they were just part of the pile. I stared up at the cross. Prayer ties, attached to the pole, flapped in the wind.

Just beyond the Cruz de Ferro there’s a rest area with picnic tables. I wiped the wet snow off the bench, slipped out of my pack and took a seat. I pulled out a sandwich and ate it, slowly. When my feet felt rested enough or my body felt too cold – I’m not sure which – I stood up and and threaded my arms through the straps of my pack. The pinch that plagued me last week, just above my hip, was gone. I felt good. I walked away from the Cruz de Ferro and I didn’t look back.

4 Responses to “Leaving Behind”

  • Sil Says:

    Go well, peregrina.
    I’ll be following in your footsteps in a couple of months time. By then the snow will have gone, everything will be a brilliant green, and the European stork might even be back on the their huge nests.

  • Caroline Pakel Says:

    The concept of time is a very interesting one.

    I ended up having a most meaningful conversation about “time” at the FEI conference in Copenhagen a couple of weeks ago, as part of the assigned group activities. I realised that I now really believe that time does not actually exist. That it is a construction from the (modern)collective to control the individual. I also now think that the main underlying thing about “time” is the issue of mindful choices. You either make them or you don’t – I enjoyed the way you decided to scatter the stones rather than leave them on a neat spot…

    It takes courage to strive to make mindful choices. As it is often easier to go with everyone else’s preferences. It also requires the capacity to love oneself so much that one cannot feel guilty or bad about saying “no” or “disappointing” others, especially one’s own children.

    Enjoy “your” “time” on El Camino, or may you “be” (lovingly) on El Camino whilst walking it…


    PS: I enjoy your “timeless” pictures (:-)) on FB a lot

  • Andy Parker Says:

    Damn. Caroline Pakel. I loved your comment. Wonderful. I look at time a little differently, though. I see it less as a way of controlling the individual–though it can be used that way–and more as a way people began to both acknowledge the presence of order–night follows day, etc–which allowed them/us to impose a measure of predictability in a life which can be very chaotic.

    The rub, of course, is that we live what Einstein showed us to be true. Time speeds up and slows down whether or not we’re moving at the speed of light. Time stops, and bends, and vanishes, too.

    I’m glad you’re walking. I pulled my back last weekend while picking up a child’s shoe. Feeling my back “go” I winced and cried out. I laughed shortly after as I remembered you, but only to myself. Oh my! I wondered. What is it that I need to be paying attention to?

    The pain has resolved itself, by and large, because I took care of myself immediately, and was surrounded by the healing love of beloved ones. Sometimes I think their presence is what I need to pay attention to. Well, that and the way I bend. That’s a specific kind of mindfulness, right there.

    Two thoughts.

    – I think your posts in the last year, are full of the Camino. Which is to say, I think you are full of the Camino. I see it in much, if not everything you write.
    – Even so, there’s an ease in this post, that I haven’t seen in about a year. It’s wonderful to see. Happy Birthday, btw. It’s next month, yes? Best to get it in now, before I forget…

  • Lee Dunne Says:

    Oh, those two stones — I have left them several times all my life…. So when they persist: the timeline calling, and the doing not being…I must sit with them again until I can gently leave them, like old friends whom you can only visit to say goodbye.

    A quiet and powerful passage.

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