Leon put on her party dress for our birthday.
Parades of festively dressed bands playing hard brass as they marched in the streets. Classic Romani men playing reed pipes while the gypsy scarfed women played castanets and danced behind them. The cathedral, drenched in every colour of the sacred rainbow as the late afternoon sun poured through windows pieced together almost a thousand years ago. Streets filled with performers and balloons, children and hawkers, flowers and cobblestone. Jade and I decided to celebrate our fortieth birthdays in Leon. Her birthday was in February; mine is not until August, but we knew we’d celebrate somewhere in Spain, together, as this natal milestone is part of the impetus for our journey. Leon seemed a likely spot. It was, in a word, perfect. We booked two nights at the Parador hotel, an old monastery by the river. If you’ve seen the movie The Way then you know it. Unbeknownst to us, most of the tribe we’ve fallen in with were booked at the same hotel; the perfect recipe for an instant birthday party, and party we did. Balloons, cotton candy, long walks through the narrow streets of the old town, gelato, milkshakes, fancy dinners (read that NOT a pilgrim menu) and a very special bottle of wine, from our favourite Italian conductor, shared as the sun went down late on the second day of summer. We laughed, we held hands as we wandered, we let our friends spoil us, and we enjoyed the riches of a friendship that has spanned almost two thirds of our lives. And, there were fireworks; right behind the hotel last night, that went on, and on, and on. We watched from the deck in our jammies and listened to the whole of Leon erupt as the last boom faded.
This morning, I hugged Jade goodbye.
She’s bussing ahead to finish the Camino in her own way, and in her own time. I’ve got two days more than she has and just enough time, by my count, to walk the entire thing. I desperately want to walk it. There’s nothing at all wrong. We haven’t had even one cross moment between us, it’s just become very apparent that each person walks this Way alone, and must complete the journey she is taking. Jade is excited for the adventure ahead of her and the independent journey. I’m enjoying the solitude and the wide open space of the world, and inside my head, to think.
Today was the first day of rain.
The crunch of gravel beneath my feet and the click of my stick on the stones provided a metronome for my thoughts as I walked in silence. Some of us have taken to walking for one hour each day in complete silence, no matter who we meet on the trail. A finger will be raised to the lips and the other person knows… it’s the quiet hour. In that hour I sift the chaff from between my ears and I think hard and deep, trying to peel back just one onion skin layer from a single thought. The rain dripped from the fringe of my hood, ran down the length of my nose and then dripped to the ground. I kept walking. My boots began to look less dusty just before I noticed a new sound, the gentle thwacky sucking of lifting a boot sole out of the mud. Cinnamon coloured paste curled up around the lower stitching on my left foot. I kept walking. My thoughts are like that sometimes: stony and hard, then soft and mucky, all of the ooze of life settling around in a way that I know is going to be hard to clean up later, or dripping, steadily, maddeningly, from the tips of my hair and the end of my nose, into oblivion. I walked awhile with a woman named Barbara today. She is a script writer for a TV show I’ve never watched; Glee. Perhaps you know it. We talked about many things, from why we’re walking, to where we’re going, to the fact that Duck Dynasty is entirely scripted and their beards are fake. Who knew? So much for “reality TV.” If this road is anything, it is a great equalizer. From big time Hollywood script writers, to multi-gazillionaire financiers, to unemployed artists, speech therapists, airline pilots, construction moguls, conductors, insurance salesmen, grandparents, teenagers, mothers, daughters, fathers, sons, every nationality, sexuality, spirituality, income level, lifestyle, and conceivable motivation; we’re all here. We’re all walking. One never knows who will match strides for a while, tell a story, share a snapshot of life and then move on, with a hearty, “Buen Camino.”
For me, there is nothing to do but to keep walking.