Sunday, September 8, 2013

Day 1

Thursday, May 2

After breakfast and a packed lunch (an entire French baguette with eggs, ham, cheese and basil), I headed out into the cool, light rain. I'm glad I took pictures of Saint James' Gate yesterday, as I was so excited this morning, I blew right through it without noticing!

Excitedly, the Napoleon Pass is open as I leave, so I took the high road over the Pyrenees. There was light rain the first 2 1/2 hours or so, and I wore all the gear I had. As I followed the path steadily into the mountains, the town receded below me, the clouds came within reach, and the temperature got colder. I quickly realized I had forgotten to pack any gloves (or was it a decision made in the warmth of a Texas Spring?), but God blessed me with no frostbite.

As I walked, I passed other pilgrims, some of whom in turn would pass me as the path steepened and I slowed. I saw enormous slugs patiently working their way across the path, relishing the moisture, and I felt a kindred spirit in them, calling them my brothers wet and slow, but happily living the life they were created to live. I reiterated to myself that this walk was not a race, not a competition, and that speed was irrelevant; it was my perpetual movement forward that mattered. I realized that's a hard lesson for me to learn, so I prayed for the other pilgrims as we smiled and nodded at each other, mostly too shy to utter the words "Buen Camino."

One of these pilgrims was another lone woman, about my age, but sturdier and stronger than I. As I reached a recognizable milestone, a shrine and statue of Mary and the baby Jesus on the boulders, I meandered over to see the statue closer, and offer my prayer of thankfulness for safety so far. I came across this woman huddled beside a huge rock, shaking from cold and fear. I approached and asked if she was okay; she said no. I then asked if I could pray for her; she misunderstood and replied she had been praying. I laid my frozen hand on her wet poncho-covered head and prayed for God's courage, wisdom and peace to fill her. Her name was Jean Ireland, and she was experiencing a panic attack due to the heights. She arose unsteadily, and we walked on together, now and then in slight conversation, walking within sight of each other, always in awareness of our connection. It was quite foggy and drizzly, sleeting occasionally with a mixture of snow. The path itself became more rugged, due to leftover snow cover, runoff, and mud. 

At some point, a new pilgrim joined me, Norm Minnesota, and we talked easily about the Camino, the weather, family, and the trail before us. We arrived at a rough spot covered with snow, patches of earth showing through here and there. We had to decide which way to turn, but the way ahead and the way to the right were both blocked off by yellow caution tape stretched tree to tree, post to post, warning us to not go that route. The problem was, there was no path to the left, and we were definitely not turning around and going back. Norm, Jean and I decided to try one path, only to end up circling right back to our beginning. We watched a group of about eight pilgrims decide to go another route, only to see and hear them sliding down a steep hill into mud and snow. It turns out Norm had a handheld GPS device, and he used it to find a road that we hoped would lead us in the right direction. We three ventured past the warning tape, and before too long, we could tell that we were on a real road, and followed it. After about two hours, Norm realized he had lost his GPS device! It had fallen out of his pocket into the snow somewhere. He turned back to search, and Jean and I went on to Roncevalles, another few hours away.

 That night, after my first pilgrim's mass, in my bunk in a cavernous medieval building resonating with the backdrop of murmurs, laughter and classical music, I saw many miracles of the day. Not the least was that God sent me to help Jean, and he sent Norm to help us both.

Thus is the Way: God blessing every pilgrim through strangers that He intentionally weaves into our journey.

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