(Spring) Break from the Norm

Hey there folks,

Foremost, happy Good Friday (regardless of your religious beliefs), and may you get to spend this time with loved ones and the like.

Spring Break draws to an uncomfortable, yet welcome, end; by Monday morn, my charges will once more be at my pedantic mercy. Perhaps it sounds odd, but I do look forward to returning to my classroom. Only two more months of formal schooling afore Summer break reaches us in earnest. Frankly, I wish to keep the indomitable pace going and work hard for these next few weeks, all the better to savor what Summer brings to us mere mortals.

If Summer is anything like this past break, well, I’ve much to look forward to, comrades.

Spring Break began with a spot of welcome news from my bosom comrade, Stephanie, of Camino fame. “We bookended the newsletter,” she snapped me. Indeed, it was as she said; my article was emblazoned proudly upon the very first page of the La Concha newsletter whilst Stephanie’s wonderful review rounded off the entire manuscript. Not a bad bit of news to wake up to on your first day of a week-long respite.

Not pictured: My horrendously cracked screen

Goaded by my incurable desire to perpetually wander (and equally bolstered by the humble pride my published writings evoked), I set course for Duke City. Armed with a rather plump bag of clothes and toiletries, a slew of essays in need of grading, and a score of plastic army men, I began my Spring sojourn by visiting my nieces in Albuquerque.

I suppose my brother and my sister-in-law were there too, but, come on! Babies!

For several days, I lounged about in abject laziness, earning myself a few points toward Slothfulness on the Greatest Sin Scale; fret not, for Pride and Arrogance remain my Greatest Sins (not sure I should be proud of that, but the irony isn’t lost upon me either). Alongside my nieces, I must have watched Boss Baby a half-dozen times; add in repeated viewings of Frozen, Trolls, Story-Bots, and a slew of other kid-friendly shows for the bulk of my stay. When one sits down and actually analyzes Boss Baby, it really is a horrifying concept: best not to think of such things. My rhetorical sentiments were lost upon my nieces, all the cooing and babbling failing to satisfy my desire for a genuine, philosophical discussion.

Whilst lounging about in Albuquerque, provided schedules lined up, I did manage to visit a few old comrades for victuals. My dear comrade, Roxann, (yes, the wedding one) and I dined over shish kebabs and gyros, regaling one another with anecdotes of teaching and cat ownership, all the while lamenting the fact we are growing older in body. The couple of hours we spent together over good food and better conversation, comrades, made me realize a few things:

She’s right; I’m not getting any younger. The recurring pain I’ve in my left shoulder won’t abate with time; indeed, it is liable to become worse as the joints and sinews holding my body together begin their slow process of degradation;

The world yet remains unconquered. My trip to the Holy Land may be postponed for now, a tenure in the Peace Corps currently on standby, and my delusional plans of grandeur may be a tad unrealistic, but the fact remains that the globe still has much to offer;

Do it, she urged. Stop lollygagging and making excuses, comrade. Simply do it.

From the lovely novel “The Sultan’s Seal”

I dined with Camino comrades – a lovely couple I met at the Gathering of past years – and we swapped tales (both old and new) about our Camino experiences. After complaining of thick, sucking mud, the constant deluge of southern France, bed bugs, joint pain, inscrutable pilgrims, the oppressive heat, and the ever-present language barriers, we all shared a good laugh. “Who would want to do such things again,” we chortled. “One must be nuts to go back on Camino.”

They leave next month for France.

I leave July for Spain.

The Way, comrades, is inscrutable, and the allure – the pull – it has upon me is hypnotic. There, walking amidst strangers in a foreign land, with but a few belongings upon my back; that is where I feel most alive.

Yes, my classroom offers me a very excellent manner of achieving immortality. Working with my budding scholars brings me great joy, one I have never felt before in any of my various lines of work. But the hardships of the classroom are not quite the hardships I’m endeared to on the Way.

Yes, certain individuals can make me feel alive, but I am exceptionally good at keeping them to a distance. “What are you running from,” I’m oft told. Whenever one comes too close, I prick myself upon their thorns – a Rose bloodied by negligence and lax stupidity. The Way reminds me that Life isn’t about me: it’s about other people. It would be good to have a refresher.

In short, comrades, I aim to return to the Way. A respite on the dusty trails is just what my soul needs in order to maintain balance for the coming year.

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You’re Going the Wrong Way

Hey there folks,

After volunteering at El Burgo Ranero for just over a week and change, I finally passed the keys to the new hospitaleros, said my farewells throughout town, and once more rejoined the Way.

Take care of her, chaps.

But I was undecided about which way to go. To the west lay Leon, the next logical step of Camino, and to the east was the road I originated from. But after my tenure as a hospitalero, I no longer felt the need to sojourn to Santiago – the Seeker finally found what he was looking for.

Yet I had to go somewhere for I certainly couldn’t stay in the albergue anymore. Humoring Fate, I allowed her to choose for me: I set my walking staff upright and decided I would walk in the direction it fell.

Why the hell not, right?

I released Staeckli II to the wilds, and with a rousing clatter, the staff bounced upon the stones, finally laying to rest in my ordained direction. I smiled as I picked it up, adjusting my pack, and took my first steps.

Eastbound it would be then.

DSCF0542I would walk east for the next two days – from El Burgo Ranero to Bercianos, then once more to Moratinos – and I was met with just about every reaction possible from bewildered pilgrims.

Within my first kilometer, I was stopped by a perplexed German woman, who, upon seeing me come from the opposite direction, turned about trying to get her bearings.

“This is Camino?” she asked in frenzied English. Clearly I had upset her with my presence.

“Ja,” I replied in German – she wore a German flag pin – “heir ist Jakobsweg,” gesturing about me.

Still greatly confused, but excited about the prospect of chattering in German, she hurriedly asked me a dozen questions about what in the hell I was up to, this pompous American ass.

I explained that I was content with the west. My direction would be east for now. My German is pretty bad, and deeper concepts such as philosophy or emotions are a bit outside my conversational ability. No doubt she thought I was nuts as I explained, child-like, Santiago held nothing for me – my only course was where my feet lead me.

“You are going the wrong way,” she laughed in English.

With that, she turned towards the west and picked up her trail, mumbling to herself about the crazy American with a Swiss accent she had just bantered with.

Twice I was stopped in separate villages by overly friendly locals who absolutely insisted I was headed the wrong direction. My Spanish is much worse than my German (unless you need a llanta fixed) and there was no discernible way I could explain just what in blazes I was doing. I mean, fuck, even in English I have a difficult time explaining it.

At one point, an older gentleman armed with cane, tobacco-stained teeth, and the ubiquitous cabby hat grabbed me by the arm and, pointing towards the west, kept on about Santiago being that direction. I reckon he didn’t notice my Santiago forearm tattoo.

Well I fucking know that, I thought to myself, politely nodding as he finally released me from his tenacious grip. Santiago aqui, si. Gracias.

And I kept on eastward.

Outside Sahagun (the one with the fuckold churches), I met a lone American woman who stopped in the middle of the trail, a full 100-meters distant from me, to look about the Way in utter bewilderment. Even from a distance, I could see her face twisted in confusion. “Am I on the right path?”

“Hi,” she stammered as I approached, unperturbed. Americans – always resorting to English first…

“Howdy,” I replied, jolly as could be.

“Why are you walking this direction?” she hesitatingly asked.

I gestured westward. “There is nothing for me in that direction,” I said rather laughingly. “This,” pointing to the east, “is my new direction.” In hindsight, no wonder people think I’m nuts out here.

She realized she was dealing with a madman. “But isn’t Camino that way?” she said, pointing towards Sahagun.

“The Way is everywhere,” I said.

The look on her face, holy hell, I wish I had captured that. Total, utter confusion.

After the briefest of pauses, she wished me well and hustled away from me, westward, eager to put distance between us. Clearly my nonchalant, yet eager, attitude towards my refusal to go west had sparked a fear in her. And I do believe it’s the fear of the unknown she had just witnessed in me.

We all know what lies ahead should we go west. Santiago, familiar faces, the minutia of day-to-day Camino pilgrimage. But when met with the absurd – a fellow walking the other direction, for instance – it sets about a whole series of questions within our heads many people aren’t ready to answer.

What would happen if I turned around? you can see them asking themselves in their heads. Why am I out here in the first place? Why am I walking in this direction? Maybe this guy knows something I don’t. Comical, for me, really, to sow that seed of doubt for it is really the seed of reflection – and someone has to sow it.

I continued about my journey, completely nonplussed by the various encounters throughout the day. Here and there, I would receive a thumbs up, a pat on the back, even a “You’re fucking right,” from one younger chap. But for the bulk of my two days eastbound, most people looked at me like I was absolutely bonkers for heading the opposite direction, against the flow of pilgrims streaming westward. You are going the wrong way, you can hear in their heads, a constant cadence of doubt pounding with every step.

Hardly. There is no wrong way. There is no right way. There’s only the Way. You’re either on it or you aren’t, and whatever direction you take doesn’t matter in the slightest.

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I soon found myself in Moratinos – a village I had already lodged in once – and there found the house of my latest Camino friend. They put me up for the night, and over dinner, I knew Staeckli II had fallen in the proper direction. Fate led me here, to share their table and hospitality, to meet new, inspiring souls, to be set upon the next part of my Way.

Last night was perhaps one of my favorite Camino experiences, for I shared the table with brilliance: four nationalities, four bottles of wine, two professional journalists and writers, a professional tour guide walking Camino to build a better experience for others, and a Catholic priest volunteering his time and skills to assist his beloved Way. They spoke of philosophy, music, politics, human nature, religion, books, history, everything! I sat silent for most of the dinner for I was a mere mortal amongst gods – it was an absolutely fantastic moment for me.

And all because I was walking the wrong way.

In my many travels, I have met a great amount of people who are walking away from something – some sort of past – which is completely understandable. Who isn’t trying to distance themselves from something long ago? I had an engagement that blew apart in my face like one of Kaczynski’s letter bombs. But we forget that by turning around and embracing the road already traveled, we can see so much more clearly than if we look to the fog ahead.

There’s no right way. There’s no wrong way. We just walk – in whatever direction our feet feel like – and go along with it.

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Walk your Way

As I’ve said many times afore to weary pilgrims, “We all get there in the end.” Doesn’t matter when you start, what you carry, why you walk, or where you go – we all get there in the end.