Digging In…And Letting Go

Friends, I’ve hit a road bump. I’m not sure yet just how much it’s going to impact me, but it’s probably going to be pretty large. It might even mean that I have to sideline my plans to go to Santiago de Compostela this year. I’d rather not speculate and stress until all the facts are in, though.

Last weekend, my boyfriend and I called it quits after almost 8 years. It wasn’t unexpected; my crumbling relationship was one of the major problems in my life. The Camino was always something of an escape route, anyway. It was the place that I retreated when I couldn’t handle another second of my life. I still desperately want to go on pilgrimage, but now it will be less about running away from my future, and more about embracing it.

Unfortunately, a side effect of leaving a long-term relationship is divvying up your belongings and finding a new apartment. Apartment prices are pretty inflated in New Orleans. They say that about other cities, but here most people I know make under $35k a year, but pay around $1k in rent each month (if they live alone – it’s cheaper with a roommate, but that’s such a pain).  That means that the typical apartment takes up an unrealistic portion of a person’s paycheck, and that’s before utilities get tallied in. I’m currently hunting for something in my price range (a much lower budget than $1k, that’s for sure), and it’s hard. If I can’t find something at or under what I currently pay, there’s a good chance I won’t be able to save anything over the coming months to go on my trip.

Somehow, though, even though I’m writing all of this, I’m not that worried. I feel strangely certain that everything’s going to be just fine. I’m not giving up yet. Things have a way of working themselves out, and something tells me that this will, too.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. 1930 – Rolls Royce Phantom II | The Bliss of Reality
  2. Sunlight on the plant | Crazy Art
  3. Daily Prompt: Never Surrender | Basically Beyond Basic
  4. Telenovela Style | Mila’s Misadventures
  5. Setting | Perspectives on life, universe and everything
  6. Spiked AA 🙂 | Perspectives on life, universe and everything
  7. lone deer (steadfast) | photo potpourri
  8. Reel On You ! | Life Confusions
  9. Eric’s Aria (Part 2) | The Jittery Goat
  10. DP Daily Prompt: Never Surrender | Sabethville
  11. ‘What doesn’t kill you…’ | Rima Hassan
  12. Care to Dare | Rima Hassan
  13. Never surrender | Sue’s Trifles
  14. 400 Pound Burden | Rima Hassan
  15. Stubborn is as Stubborn Does | Musings | WANGSGARD
  16. Headstrong | Active Army Wife
  17. Night at the Pier | Greg Urbano
  18. On Homophobia | AS I PLEASE
  19. of scary monsters and nice spites | Anawnimiss
  20. Daily Prompt: Never Surrender- Differentiating Between Resilience and Stubbroness | Journeyman
  21. The Trial, Not For the Weak of Faint of Heart: Part 1 | jlaneb
  22. No surrender on Mental Illness awareness/tolerance | ALIEN AURA’S BlOG: IT’LL BLOW YOUR MIND!
  23. There are just some things I like done or doing a certain way. The right way. | thoughtsofrkh
  24. Stubborn as a Mule! | meanderedwanderings
  25. Pardon me for everything I’m about to say | Attempted Human Relations and Self
  26. Welcome to the jungle | The verbal hedge
  27. Daily Prompt: Never Surrender | My Extraordinary Everyday Life
  28. How Are You Toward Health Goals, Easy Going Or Stubborn? | Because It Calms My Nerves:
  29. The Conundrum | Each Feather, A Freedom
  30. Java, Joe, Carbon Remover, Plasma | Exploratorius
  31. Tweet, Tweet, Twitterfiction | My Little Avalon
  32. Steadfast in my integrity: I am my mother’s daughter « psychologistmimi
  33. How Do I Get My Son To Go To School | A mom’s blog
  34. I am not bossy, I AM the boss | IvyMosquito
  35. Daily Prompt: Never Surrender | Finding Life
  36. Stubborn Love | peacefulblessedstar
  37. Daily Prompt: Never Surrender | Life is great
  38. Stubborn Dutch | Lisa’s Kansa Muse
  39. Minutely Infinite | Stubborn, Yes.
  40. Daily Prompt: Never Surrender | Chronicles of an Anglo Swiss
  41. daily prompt: steadfast | hereisandrea
  42. too stubborn | eastelmhurst.a.go.go
  43. A Letter to my Brother | The Magic Black Book
  44. Who Was that Masked Mule Anyway? | Green Embers
  45. Stubborn or steadfast? No Surrender | I’m a Writer, Yes I Am
  46. Stubborn Or Easy Going
  47. Daily Post: Never Surrender | melissuhhsmiles
  48. I’LL BE BACK | SERENDIPITY
  49. never surrender | klstar2000
  50. Never Surrender | Knowledge Addiction
  51. Daily Prompt: Never Surrender, 11.03.14 | Markie’s Daily Blog
  52. Staying Stubborn | snapshotsofawanderingheart
  53. Because I’m a Survivor
  54. “Never Surrender” | Relax
  55. Daily Prompt Response: Never Surrender | Confessions of a Monogrammed Runner
  56. Stubborn, determined, or stupid? | Parents Are People Too
  57. The Stubborn Mule and the Easy-Going Duck | Fun with Depression
  58. DP: Never Surrender – Leaving Mina (Hajj Diary Extract) | aliabbasali
  59. Beliefs or Ideas? Daily Prompt: Never Surrender | The Bohemian Rock Star’s “Untitled Project”
  60. Writer’s Block: Get Stubborn! | Sweat, Tears and Digital Ink
  61. Police horse, close up (Daily Prompt: “Never Surrender, Show us Steadfast”) | Photo0pal Photography
  62. Am I stubborn? | Asianchemnerd
  63. “Surrender” | Cosmic Heroism
  64. Insurrection | vic briggs
  65. Stubborn or delusional? | Emotional Fitness

There’s No Place That’s Home

The only existing photo of my old bedroom. It's crappy, but you're not missing much. Notice the missing bits of ceiling and walls, and the unfinished state of the other walls. The floor was particle board. Taken in the summer of 1999, right before I left for college (I think).

The only existing photo of my old bedroom. It’s a crappy shot, but you’re not missing much. Notice the missing bits of ceiling and walls, and the unfinished state of the other walls. The floor was particle board. Taken in the summer of 1999, right before I left for college (I think).

I’m a firm believer that “house” does not equal “home”. It’s probably due to a combination of factors. My childhood house was never completely finished; my father built it, but never had enough money to finish it. The eaves were never filled in, and there were walls and doors missing throughout. Consequently, although my family lived there for my entire life until I moved to New Orleans, it felt a little like squatting. It’s tough to explain the nuances, but it was never comfortable; I was always scared there, and hated being there alone. After I moved away, the house was demolished. Somehow the empty plot of land scares me even more.

During college, I moved to a different apartment every year. The place was always different, but my roommates, two of my best friends, were always the same. They became my home (and still are, even though they’re both so far away – one in Texas, the other in Croatia). After college, they both moved away, and I was on my own again. It took a couple of years, but eventually I found a sweet little half of a double shotgun house that I felt could possibly be a settling-down place. A couple of months later, I lost both the apartment and everything I owned when Hurricane Katrina hit. At first it was devastating, but eventually I realized how freeing it is to not have such strong emotional attachment to physical goods. In years since, I’ve downsized a couple more times; my cats, computer, a few important books, and old photos are all I really need to get by.

When I was a kid, since I hated being inside my house, I spent most of my summers hanging out in a tent in the yard, reading what felt like endless stacks of books. I devoured books as a kid, but horror, fantasy, and historical fiction were my faves – as long as they had cute boys and/or dragons, I was good to go. The Chronicles of Prydain and the Anne of Green Gables series were summertime must-reads; I read both series every summer from 11 to 17, and still remember how it felt to yearn (pretty much equally) for the affection of Princess Eilonwy and Gilbert Blythe. I wonder what it would have been like if they’d met?

Is it any wonder that this built-in need for magic and romance led me to a love of medieval art history? Of course, the magic of it all was beaten out of me pretty early in undergrad, but I’ll never get over the romance. I think that every day on my pilgrimage is going to have at least a touch of that wonder built in. What it won’t have, however, is homesickness. When you don’t equate the feeling of “home” with a place, it’s hard to dwell (ha!) on thoughts of somewhere that you aren’t. I do worry that I won’t have the ability (read: available technology) on the road to write as much as I’d like, though, and that bothers me a bit.

The one time I’m “me” lately is when I’m writing. In my day-to-day, I’m having kind of a tough go of it. It’s hard to explain; life probably looks peachy from the outside, but it’s kind of a dim time for me – hence the decision to get the hell out of dodge and cross the Pyrenees while I’m at it. I spend my days so tightly wound, dancing on the edge of my breaking point. Most people don’t see this about me. I’m a Scorpio; we’re built to naturally insulate our feelings. It’s probably why a lot of us end up becoming emotional time bombs. Over the years I’ve learned the hard way that even when I think I’m broadcasting loud and clear, other people tend to find me inscrutable. I let loose steam on my blogs, and every now and then in conversation with a trusted friend. Mostly, though, it’s the writing that gets me through.

Lots of people write on the road, but it seems most are doing it the old fashioned way, with pen and paper. Some books that I’ve read were sketched out on cell phones and tablets, and I know that it’s possible to find a place to power up your tech gear in many alburgues. The worst bit is the extra weight. I’ll hate to add more to my pack load, but I need to capture my thoughts. I’m not quick at physically penning words; a keyboard or voice recorder will be necessary. I’ll most likely be using an iPad mini with an attached keyboard, or maybe a cheaper tablet – I’m not sure on that just yet. It will have to be light, and I’ll probably have to give up some other comfort (like extra socks, or shampoo, or what-have-you) to bring it along. But it will be worth it.

Once the writing is taken care of, the only other issue I’ll have to take care of to feel really at home on the road is to make some friends. That shouldn’t be too hard – a bottle of wine and a great story or two go a long way when you’re all new to a place. I find myself hoping that maybe out there on The Camino, I’ll meet new family, and I’ll be able to extend my feeling of “home” to other corners of the globe. Soon, I’ll be at home in Australia, maybe, or perhaps Belgium. Maybe some of my eventual home team are from Wales, or Italy, or Slovakia. Who knows? I’m excited to find out.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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  4. Streaks in the Darkness | Exploratorius
  5. Home: Tankas | 365 days of defiance
  6. To London For Love & The Daily Prompt | The Jittery Goat
  7. Daily Prompt: Our House | Under the Monkey Tree
  8. Cumbraes, 1962 | ALIEN AURA’S BlOG: IT’LL BLOW YOUR MIND!
  9. Launching Pad | I’m a Writer, Yes I Am
  10. Daily Prompt: Home | The Wandering Poet
  11. evergreen | yi-ching lin photography
  12. My family are huggers, and it’s always been an awesome part of life. | thoughtsofrkh
  13. Daily Prompt: House | seikaiha’s blah-blah-blah
  14. Daily Prompt: Our House | tnkerr-Writing Prompts and Practice
  15. Short Plat – A Short Story | Kilbo – Chris Kilbourn
  16. The House in Middelburg. | Hope* the happy hugger
  17. BE IT EVER SO HUMBLE | SERENDIPITY
  18. Home, Sweet Home | Home’s Cool!
  19. Daily Prompt: Our House « Mama Bear Musings
  20. The Gray House | A Sign Of Life
  21. Childhood Memories of Home | Unload and Unwind
  22. Home | Perspectives on life, universe and everything
  23. 272. My Childhood Home | Barely Right of Center
  24. Children Must Be Seen And Not Heard | Lisa’s Kansa Muse
  25. My Childhood Home | A mom’s blog
  26. Chained Childhood… | Haiku By Ku
  27. Minutely Infinite | Is home where the heart is?
  28. House of Haiku | Finale to an Entrance
  29. An Ode Full of Home | L5GN
  30. Formerly known as home | Le Drake Noir
  31. The rising of the Sap Nymph: an erotic poem | ALIEN AURA’S BlOG: IT’LL BLOW YOUR MIND!
  32. The family home | Sue’s Trifles
  33. Daily Prompt: Our House | Chronicles of an Anglo Swiss
  34. A Trip Down Memory Lane | Views Splash!
  35. DP Daily Prompt: Our House | Sabethville
  36. DP: OUR HOME | Active Army Wife
  37. Daily Prompt: Our House | Rolbos ©
  38. Daily Prompt reply…3/3/14 | TheWritingMommy
  39. The Halls of Childhood | meanderedwanderings
  40. View from the attic | Standing Ovation, Seated
  41. Charity Begins At Home | AstridOxford
  42. breakfast music | peacefulblessedstar
  43. Our Old House | Flowers and Breezes
  44. Houses and Home | The Nameless One
  45. Thoughts of home | FUNNY…PECULIAR
  46. Childhood Memory… | Cats, Coffee, And Life At Random
  47. Homeless in your heart? | Emotional Fitness
  48. The Tracks–Home: Daily Prompt | Finicky Philly
  49. Moving Away | snapshotsofawanderingheart
  50. My first house: “mango tree” / Ma première maison: “manguiers” | Write for learning
  51. It Was Ours | The Book of Shayne
  52. “Tomorrow you’re going to be four!” | djgarcia94
  53. Our House: Slugs and Stairs (Daily Post) | Fun with Depression
  54. Burning Down the House in the Middle of the Street « psychologistmimi
  55. The House That Built Me | The Shotgun Girls
  56. Are There Five Interesting Facts About Me?
  57. I freaking love this house | The Bohemian Rock Star’s “Untitled Project”
  58. Our House in the Middle of the Street | thanks for letting me autograph your cat
  59. Daily Prompt: Our House | Cancer Isn’t Pink
  60. Early Memories of Home | The Silver Leaf Journal
  61. Quietness in the Houusse!!! | The Salmon Yatra
  62. Daily Prompt: Being Reminiscent! | All Things Cute and Beautiful
  63. Our House | viver para contar
  64. A Fresh Start | Menimèse Creare
  65. Daily Prompt: Home | Winging it
  66. The phone, the farmer, and the Batman. | Trucker Turning Write
  67. Our home, home on the Office Range | Institute for Hispanic Health Equity
  68. Life is Home | Live Life in Crescendo
  69. Our House | YAP + film
  70. Staying in Focus/Daily Prompt: Our House | Staying in Focus
  71. Home | A picture is worth 1000 words

Exploring Assisi – The Unintentional Pilgrimage (Part 3)

Via Wikimedia Commons.

Via Wikimedia Commons.

First off, you should know that the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi is pretty large. The basilica consists of two main levels – upper and lower – plus crypts underneath the main structure, as well as the requisite bell tower and related private rooms above the upper level. I spent about three hours exploring the spaces open to tourists, and could have spent many more, if not for the repeated message on the loudspeaker: “No photos, please. No photos, please. No photos, please…” in about five different languages. As you might gather from this, I didn’t take any snapshots of the interior of the church. I doubt anyone would have kicked me out or confiscated my camera, but after the run-in with the Alabama church group, I was feeling like I should attempt to be a better person, you know?

The upper level of the basilica is awash with frescoes depicting the life of St. Francis, frequently attributed to artist and architect Giotto, who is known as the first great artist of the Italian Renaissance. I’d count him as a late medieval artist, but that’s an ongoing academic argument that will most likely see no solution in my lifetime. We have little proof that the frescoes were indeed created by Giotto, but they are striking and historically important nonetheless. In the lower level of the basilica, a fresco painted by Giotto’s teacher, Cimabue, still exists. It, too, is argued to be by another painter, due to its contradiction to commonly known elements of Giotto’s style. I’d studied all of these works in undergrad, but had conveniently managed to forget their location. As a result, when I walked into the space, my heart skipped a beat. As my dad would say, you could have knocked me over with a feather.

The only other time I’ve felt that extreme rush of familiarity and longing – a soul call, if you will – for a piece of art was when I unexpectedly stumbled across Rogier van der Weyden’s “St. Luke Drawing the Virgin” at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 2004. That was a moment for the ages. My heart breaks just thinking about it. Some folks get misty-eyed over lost loves; I get misty-eyed over beloved paintings. What can I say?

"St. Luke Drawing the Virgin" by Rogier van der Weyden. Currently housed at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

“St. Luke Drawing the Virgin” by Rogier van der Weyden. Currently housed at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Image via Wikimedia Commons. (Also, please don’t judge this painting by the image on your screen. Go to Boston and see it in person. It’s superb.)

Anyway, so I walked into this enormous, softly lit space, my eyes landed on priceless art previously only seen in a text book, and I felt like someone had just cut off my air supply. I got a little loopy. I went from being a tourist on a day trip to being my primal self, standing in a small Italian town, searching for something I didn’t know I’d lost. I was smaller than ever, but suddenly feeling intimately connected to everything.

This feeling only intensified as I entered the small museum dedicated to St. Francis, on the lower level of the building. At first, I didn’t intend to go in. It was a tiny room, and people didn’t seem to be staying that long. What could it possibly have? Knowing the day was short and there was a lot ahead of me still, I walked in, intending to just glance around and walk back out. But there, in a simple case by the door, was a brown hair shirt, conserved under glass. I looked at it, then looked again. Not just a piece of clothing. HIS piece of clothing. Until that moment, I’d never realized one of the coolest things that sets Francis apart from other saints of the time period: he was acknowledged to be on the road to sainthood whilst still alive. People were already planning his veneration before he died, which gives credence to the fact that the items preserved are actually his, versus items from other saints that were sometimes collected decades or even hundreds of years after the saint’s passing.

Though the room was small, it held clothing that Francis wore during his lifetime, the cloths used to bandage the wounds of his stigmata later in life, and most impressive, the original document used to found the Ordo Fratro Minorum (Francis called his followers the “Little Brothers”). The beginning of the Franciscan Order, the words that can be argued to have saved the medieval Church from a ruinous path of greed and gluttony, it’s there for all to see in that little museum. For a person of little religious faith but an overwhelming desire to find some smidgen of truth, seeing Francis’ words written out in ink on vellum can make – did make – a world of difference.

After seeing his belongings/relics, I mistakenly thought I’d reached the pinnacle of my experience at the basilica. But as I started to walk back through the building, I noticed a sign for the crypt. I love crypts. Crypts and bell towers are the best parts of churches, in my opinion, and I visit as many of both as I can. So of course I decided to take the stairs and see what kinds of creepy stuff was down there. As I got closer to the bottom, I realized that whoever was buried downstairs must be important – lots of people crowded the stairs with me. We reached a small chapel where a service was being conducted. Beyond the chapel, I could see a wide stone column, surrounded by a round room with niches. The people next to me began to whisper, “Oh, this is Jacoba!” and I turned to see that I was standing next to a protected niche, containing a burial container. Inside were the remains of Jacoba dei Settesoli, a dear friend and devoted follower of St. Francis. She was the one who dressed the wounds of his stigmata, and she was present at his death, despite the impropriety of a woman being at his bedside in the friary. Suddenly, I realized why everyone was standing around. I realized who was in the crypt. I’d come here to feel close to St. Francis, this man I didn’t know or understand, but still loved, and here he was, waiting for me.

I sat in the chapel for the remainder of service, then walked around Francis’ grave, taking note that the niches around the room were the graves of his four best friends and fellow monks. I was suddenly happy for Jacoba. Though she wasn’t in the chamber, itself, she was close. I pictured them enjoying nature together, sharing a simple mindful moment. As I left the crypt, I purchased two candles, leaving them to be burned at one of the chapel’s daily services.

For the rest of my time in the basilica, I felt my spirit begin to drift higher and higher; I was feeling positively effervescent. I couldn’t wipe the stupid grin off of my face. It’s free to enter the building, but there are donation boxes dotting the corridors. I put a euro or two in every donation box that I passed. There were brochures explaining the various artwork; I took one and dropped a couple of euros in the donation box. I wanted to light a candle and pray at a small side altar; I dropped a couple of euros in the donation box. A photography exhibit shared the Franciscan Order’s works of service with the poor; I dropped a few euros in the donation box. By the time I’d walked around the building and stopped in at the gift shop to buy a few keepsakes for friends and family, I had about 15 euros left in my pocket. I’d have to find an ATM before heading back to Perugia.

After leaving the church, my next stop was another small museum. To be honest, my first intention was to find a free bathroom, but I was quickly drawn in by MUMA (Museo Missionario Indios Frati Cappuccini Dell’Umbria In Amazzonia). For a pretty tiny museum, it had some of the most impressive interactive technology of any museum I’ve ever visited, and the subject matter – the Capuchin Order (a subset of the Franciscans) and their mission in the Amazon from the 19th century to today. It’s easy to assume that the story told would be about a bunch of Christians coming in and “bettering” lives by converting native peoples, but that’s not really what the museum is about. It turns out that though the idea is to spread the gospel, the method is to go, be of service, help make changes that native peoples are comfortable with, and respect existing traditions. The museum is a celebration of cultural diversity, overcoming adversity, and protecting ecological treasures. I was pleasantly surprised, though now I understand that these are all things that Francis, himself, supported. If you have a chance, please check out MUMA’s website.

Hunger was calling, so I opted for a sandwich and some wine at a local cafe with the last of my money. Afterwards, while trying to withdraw money at an ATM, I realized that both my bank card and credit card had been shut off. I’d forgotten to tell the bank that I was traveling internationally, and they placed a hold on my accounts. No problem; I’d find a telephone, call the number on the back of the card, and have my problem solved within the hour. Just one problem – the international numbers on my cards weren’t working from the pay phone. After several failed attempts, I gave up and decided to enjoy the hour I had left before it was time to catch the bus back to Perugia. Thankfully, my return ticket had already been purchased.

The cell in which St. Francis' father imprisoned him.

The cell in which St. Francis’ father imprisoned him.

Not far from the ATM, I passed a smaller, interesting looking church and decided to go in. It turned out that I had entered Chiesa Nuova, built on the remains of St. Francis’ family home. I stood in the storeroom where the former Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone’s father had stored fine silks to be sold at market. I saw what remained of the family home’s imposing front door, and the small cell in which Giovanni’s father locked him when he declared his intention to give up the family business and become a man of God.

My last stop before heading out to wait for the bus was the simplest, but strangely also the most striking. Santa Maria Maggiore is austere in comparison to its fellow holy sites within the walls of Assisi, but after a day of passionate impressions, followed by a building sense of worry about my finances, the late afternoon light streaming through her rose window was everything I needed.

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I left town, and went to stand by the bus. There were pay phones, so I tried all of the numbers I had once more. No luck. I just couldn’t manage to dial out. Deciding it was user error and recognizing that I was quickly destroying every ounce of personal peace I’d just found within Assisi, I gave up for the time being. Still, I was seething. I’d lost it. A whole day of beautiful things and suddenly all I could think about was how I was going to pay my hotel bill when it was time to leave Perugia in the morning. Standing there on that June afternoon, I was halfway between heaven and hell. I was so angry, and angry again at myself for letting something this stupid get the better of me. And even angrier that I couldn’t just hold on to this goodness I was just reveling in, not a couple of hours before. What was wrong with me? Who does this to themselves?

A friendly voice piped up from beside me, stirring me out of my slump. “It’s much warmer here than back at home.” I looked down to see a lovely little Japanese lady, impeccably dressed, and staring back at me with the kindest smile. My ruffled feathers began to smooth over instantly. Ikuko was from Japan, but lived in San Francisco with her husband much of the year. She spent a great deal of time in Italy with friends, and like me, had traveled to Assisi for the day out of curiosity about the saint. She had ridden the same bus in with me that morning, and was also heading back to Perugia on the last bus out for the day. We chatted for a bit there at the bus stop, then sat together on the way back, too.

In the year and a half since meeting Ikuko, I’ve tried to explain the feeling of that bus ride many times. The closest I’ve ever gotten is by using something that popped into my head that day, while we were talking. I seriously began to wonder if she was my angel. Sometimes I think that even if that couldn’t possibly be true, it’s the thing that makes the most sense. We talked about life in Italy, about the little things, like coffee and finding great gelato, and about big things, like finding God. She asked me why I’d gone to Assisi, and I explained sheepishly that I didn’t know, exactly. I told her that I had trouble with some parts of Christianity, but no trouble at all with the big picture items, like being good, spreading light and love, and living a life of service. We talked about doing our best each day, and hoping that it would be good enough in the end. She told me of her (literal) epiphany during a sermon in Ravenna, the moment she’d gone from agnostic to enthusiastic Catholic. She spoke of suddenly feeling an emptiness inside her fill up with light. I was so happy for her, because the light she spoke of shone out of her.

Have you ever watched a baby laugh and smile over something simple that absolutely filled them with delight? It’s like they’re overflowing with simple goodness – there’s nothing dark or troubling that could encroach on how they’re reacting to that moment. That’s what it felt like to be with Ikuko on that bus ride home. She helped me focus the passion that I’d experienced that day, and turned it on in me, like a faucet in my heart. I feel like I’ve been filling up with goodness, ever since. True, I’m a little leaky now and then, but I’m a work in progress.

She left me with a poem. It’s one of the first things I posted on this blog, actually. You can read it here. We’ve kept up through emails ever since. I wish I would have walked her home that night, but we were going to two different parts of the city. And besides, I still had the credit card issue to figure out.

It took me a few more hours to crack the case. Many, many tears and failed phone calls later, after I’d enlisted the help of an American in my global cell phone’s company call center, plus two separate concierges, the lady at my soon-to-be favorite gelateria, plus a number of concerned but utterly unhelpful tourists in the public square, I got everything figured out. In the end, no one could help me dial the numbers on the back of my credit cards (or any international numbers for Chase Bank on any of their websites) from Italy – not even the Italians. My concierge darkly blamed the trouble on it being an “American number”. I bit my tongue to avoid the unpleasant remark I felt bubbling up inside…and to think that only a few hours earlier, I might have agreed with his assessment.

Luckily, I had an iPad and Skype, and it turns out that you can dial anyone from Skype – including Chase Bank. Ten minutes later, I celebrated my newly-reinstated bank accounts with two scoops of gelato – pistachio and sweet cream is the best combination, hands down.

During the ordeal of trying to call my credit card company, I was sitting on some steps near the public square and sobbing. Luckily, extreme displays of emotion don’t make Italians run in the opposite direction, and an older gentleman came up and interrupted me mid-sob. He asked me if I was holding an iPad, and if I’d be so kind as to let him check his stocks. He asked me why I was so upset, brushed it off as an issue I’d soon solve, then asked me to wine later if I was free. I declined, much to my later disappointment when I saw the man and an extended group of friends having a lovely conversation at an open-air trattoria.

Watching the group of Italians laugh at their table, it struck me that it had all been a test – a big, messy lesson from St. Francis. I’d just had a small taste of what it was like to depend entirely on the kindness of strangers, to not know where my next meal was coming from, to have no clue how I’d be leaving town. All I had was my ability to make friends, to prove my goodness, and to have faith that something would come through. It was a tough lesson to learn, and I don’t think I did too well on the first round; I was a spoiled brat and an emotional wreck, placing too much faith on my gadgetry and not enough on human connection. Maybe that’s where I’ll step up my game on The Camino.

Overall, my trip to Assisi was a pivotal moment in my life thus far. In one way, the day was quite simple: I took a bus to see a couple of churches, and ran out of money. It’s all of the details that make the day so huge in my memory. Every time I run back through the events of the day, my mind untangles some new moment, makes a previously unnoticed connection, draws me closer in my relationship with St. Francis. The wild man who preached to birds, who believed that laughter and song were the perfect way to spread the radical concept of not being a jerk, who gladly stripped naked in the public square to renounce his father’s fat pocketbook in exchange for a life of austerity…I’m behind that. I might not be able to accept everything yet. Maybe ever. But I’ll take what I can – and I’ll pass it right back out. My best is all I’ve got, and I’m going to give it.

Shrubbery from the basilica's lawn. The Tau (in red) is the symbol of the Franciscan order. Pax = peace.

Shrubbery from the basilica’s lawn. The Tau (in red) is the symbol of the Franciscan order. Pax = peace.

Conversation Can Be Overrated

infj-head

One of the things I’m going to enjoy most about The Camino is the chance to not have to talk that much. Don’t get me wrong, I love people, and I enjoy exchanging ideas with folks I meet. However, I’m also an introvert, and too much social interaction is emotionally and physically draining for me.

Tonight, for instance, I went to dinner with some clients whom I also consider friends. They’re fun to hang out with, and we had a great time talking about both business and personal matters over steaming bowls of pho at our favorite local Vietnamese place. But the strain of adopting a chatty, extroverted nature for a client meeting is really hard on me. I can do it; in fact, a decent subset of my acquaintances know me as a pretty outgoing person. It’s just that it takes every ounce of energy I have to be that kind of girl, and the aftereffects are sometimes major.

After dinner, my energy levels took a nosedive. I had plans to go out to a concert, but by the time I got home I knew that there was no way that could happen. I was exhausted. All that talking had worn me out for the night. The most I could do was put on pajamas and curl up on the couch.

On my walk, I’ll have hours of quiet every day, but also (hopefully, anyway) plenty of opportunities to meet new people and get to know their stories. I won’t have to pretend I’m anything other than what I am – a traveler enjoying the scenery, thinking about life, and looking forward to the next albergue. Ah, I’m feeling more relaxed already. G’nite folks!

Various Negative Reactions To My Decision To Walk To Santiago De Compostela

When writing the story of your life, don't let anyone else hold the pen.

Hand-drawn Typography by Carrie Chang. Click thru to visit her Behance page.

With my excitement, it was easy to forget that other people might not have the same amount of faith in my proposed journey as I have. That’s one of the reasons I needed to start this blog – the real life reactions were beginning to get disheartening. Since coming to terms with the fact that this trip was definitely happening, I’ve gotten a lot of confused stares, a few politely-worded questions to the basic tune of, “Why on earth would anyone want to do that?” and only a small handful of genuine expressions of interest out of everyone I’ve told.

The interested folks: my three best girlfriends, a friend’s mom, a couple of other friends, and a coworker.

The disinterested folks: my parents, the rest of my coworkers.

The people who think I’m wasting time / wasting money / otherwise making a stupid mistake / am just strange or insane: my significant other, the rest of my family, a decent chunk of friends, pretty much everyone else that I’ve told in passing.

A lot of my friends think that walking 800km is kind of crazy. I get it. Some people just don’t like being that physically active. I’m comfortable with people liking to be inactive, so why can’t they be comfortable with the alternative? I’ll probably never get it.

A couple of folks have asked me what I think I’ll accomplish. They hear “pilgrimage” and think that I’ve gone soft in the head, like I’m going to start wearing a hair shirt and toting a life-sized cross around. I wouldn’t get that reaction if I said I was going to hike the Appalachian Trail, even though plenty of people hike the Trail to find themselves and enjoy their surroundings, which is exactly what I’ll be doing. If pilgrimage is a quest to to pay homage, why can’t one use it to pay homage to the world, and in doing so, find his or her place in that world? True, I go with some religious questions in mind, but I also go to meet other seekers, to explore medieval architecture, to pit my weak body against the much stronger terrain, and to have a story to tell. Shouldn’t one of these things be enough? Why is it that I can go through the whole list without seeing a single sparkle in the other person’s eye? It’s heartbreaking to know there are people out there with such small imaginations.

A number of people are treating this like I’m talking about taking an extra-long vacation, and see me as somehow selfish for making these plans. Americans typically get two paid vacation weeks a year, compared to four weeks in most European countries. Many Americans – in the past, myself included – take their work with them on vacation, and don’t take their full vacation time each year. We’re workaholics, and it’s killing us. There’s no upside. And technically, even though I’m working 40 hours a week at an agency, I’m a freelancer, so I should be able to dictate my own work schedule. I’ve given up a higher paycheck and health insurance in order to have a job that gives me some choice in my life. Even so, there’s a good chance that I might come back to find I have no job waiting for me. But really, if they can’t hold my desk, is it really a job I want to keep?

One person, in particular, has made it clear that they don’t believe in my decision or ability to carry it out. Planning an expenditure of this scale when I don’t have the funds to begin with, especially knowing that I will surely suffer afterward, just makes them mad with me for being stupid and wasteful and willfully ignorant. This is probably the hardest burden for me to bear on a daily basis, that someone close to me plain doesn’t think I’m capable of achieving a beloved goal. They want me to do what they do – obsess about the future without ever living today. What they don’t, maybe can’t, understand is that I’ve looked at this from all angles. I know the hole I’m potentially digging for myself. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is having the faith that what I’ve decided will not only come to pass, but will be the right thing for me. I’ve decided to LIVE, even if they’re too afraid to make the same decision.

Out of everyone I’ve spoken to, only one person – my best friend – has looked at me with some understanding when I told her what I was planning. She might not have understood the compulsion, but she understands me. She understood, like I do, that this pilgrimage is not an option. It’s happening, one way or the other. As it turns out, she was one of the first that I told once I’d finally made the call that it was going to be this year. I’m so happy that she was the one, because it’s kind of painful trying to speak my soul to other people and having them write me off so easily. I don’t think I can be any clearer: this is of massive importance to me. If I were having a baby or getting married, people would drop everything to congratulate me for embarking on a new path. The irony is that here I am, literally embarking on a new path, and no one gets it.

One thing I’m learning through this process is that I can’t afford to take too much time to be angry or hurt. I definitely can’t try to spew irritation, disgust, or misguided language back at people who try to influence me to change my mind. I truly believe that if I just keep working at this, and putting my back into it, so to speak, only good will come out of my decision. Above all, I need to stay true to the spirit of this journey, and that means staying true to my heart, inviting only the best energy in. Kind of like karma, I guess.

One way or the other, it definitely helps that I have you, kind readers. I really appreciate you all being here, and coming back to read on as I progress in my plans. You’re giving me some of the strength I need to make this journey happen.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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The Troubling Concept of “Family”

apologize-brave-forget-forgive-happy-Favim.com-448031

This month’s Blogging for Peace prompt makes my stomach churn. We’re asked to confront any issues we have with fully accepting a member of our family, whether it’s a matter of resentment, shame, anger, or something else that makes it hard to find our groove in the relationship. Even before this post reared its head and forced me to examine my life, I had already started thinking that I should push myself to take care of some loose ends in my personal life prior to embarking on my journey to Spain. Better to leave with a clear head and open heart than to come back to self-imposed pain, right?

So here goes. I’m an only child. I have a pretty decent relationship with my parents, no major issues between us. I live 1000 miles away, and neither they nor I have enough disposable income to fly back and forth, so we talk every couple of weeks on the phone, and I generally see them every few years. It works. What doesn’t work is that I’m lucky enough to have three of my grandparents and some of my grand-uncles left, but I haven’t talked to any of them in years. My paternal grandmother and I are on fine terms, but neither of us is comfortable talking on the phone, and she doesn’t use computers. My maternal grandfather and I are also on OK terms, but he’s not comfortable on the phone either, and he doesn’t use computers. My maternal grandmother and I…well, that’s where things get dicey.

I love her. She’s funny, and weird, and smart. She’s also bossy, opinionated, and incredibly argumentative. She’s a shit-stirrer; the woman lives for drama. As a result, I had a very hard time getting to like her when I was a kid. We’re just very different people, and she can come across as kind of tone deaf, emotionally speaking. My mom’s emotional wellbeing was seriously impacted by this when she was growing up, and since I’ve always sort of acted like my mom’s older sister, my grandma’s need to poke and prod her into submission has always rubbed me the wrong way. Eventually I got over it, and for a few years post-college, we had a pretty nice relationship, talking every couple of weeks and generally enjoying each other’s conversational skills. We had an unspoken agreement that she would lay off of the nagging, and I would do my best to ignore when she was being too domineering. It mostly worked.

However, a few years ago she read one of my blog posts (an uber-boring outline of the steps of colon cleansing), and took it upon herself to call up my maternal aunt (who tormented my mom when they were growing up, and whom I’ve only seen maybe five times in my life, even though she only lived three hours away from me that whole time), to give me a talking to about my lifestyle choices. It was a turning point in our relationship. I understood that she loved me and only wanted the best for me, but the disrespect she showed me by attempting to involve an outsider in my life in a bid to control my choices (related or not, my aunt had never acted like a family member until that day) was just too much. After a brief angry email, I’ve never spoken to her again, except for calling to wish her a happy Christmas in 2011.

There goes my stomach, churning away. You see, I fully understand that I’m completely in the wrong in this situation. No matter how much my grandmother hurt my feelings, she’s the elder. It’s my job to get over it, to be more resilient and mend fences. But my pride is like something out of legend. I just can’t scale it. I’ve been trying for years to just give the woman a call. But I can’t.

And I must, for obvious reasons. I’m probably hurting her feelings, even though she’s got way more pride (and, as they say, piss & vinegar) than I ever will. Sometimes I wonder if maybe she doesn’t even care, but I’m the only grandchild. Of course she cares, even if she’d never say it. Then there’s the matter of my grandfather; I can’t talk to him unless I talk to her, and he’s never done one mean thing to me. He’s a nice guy, if a bit cagey. I’d be cagey too after 50+ years married to her.

But as important as it is to correct this mistake before it’s gone too far, the thing I need to remember is how being so prideful is hurting me at my core. I think about making the phone call every single day. Putting it off is physically affecting me. I’ve got thyroid issues; according to Eastern medicine, issues of the throat are related to blockage of the throat chakra. The throat chakra can become blocked when you’re not speaking your truth. My truth is that I love my old battle axe of a grandmother, and I just want to move past a stupid thing that happened years ago. I want her to know I love her, and I’m sorry for being an ass.

After that, I can tell her that I’m planning on hiking through Spain for a month on my own, and we can have some brand new argument about how I’m going to be raped and dismembered by Basque separatists, and how hiking is bad for your back, and that Spanish food isn’t nutritious enough for such a long trip, and so on, and so on…Oh whatever. It’ll still be good to hear her voice.

Seven Words That Matter

Take What You Need

A couple of days ago, the Daily Post asked us to boil down the human experience to seven important words. My personal motto has been “Faith, Courage, Wisdom – Truth” for around 16 years now, and it remains the same, even though they’re all very lofty ideals. Frequently they’re so lofty that I completely lose sight of them…but they always return. The rest of the words in this list are just as important to me.

Faith – As Bob Marley said, “Don’t worry – every little thing’s gonna be alright.” I believe that. It’s all we can believe without going mad.

Wisdom – Being wise isn’t about knowing everything. It’s about knowing that you don’t know everything.

Courage – Be like the Enterprise crew – go boldly!

Loyalty – You will never get anywhere solely on your own steam, and if you think you have, look behind and see who you’ve missed.

Attention – Sometimes everything you need to know is in the twitch of an eye or flourish of a signature. Observe everything.

Acceptance – Be kind to yourself and understanding of others. It opens your heart and mind up for so many opportunities.

Truth – No one can help you find the Truth but YOU. Luckily, it’s been in you all along. That voice is small at first, but it gets louder the more you stop, listen, and let go of preconceived notions. Eventually it will be the only thing you can hear, and it will be glorious.