You Will Forget Why You’re Doing This

One of the low points of my Camino happened somewhere around the middle of week two. We were in the (shadeless, merciless) meseta region; to get a head start on the unforgiving sunshine, Jim woke me at 4:30 a.m. As soon as I realized where I was — in an alburgue dorm room stale with thirty people’s nighttime exhalations — I felt an upwelling of dread. My muscles ached. My joints were stiff. My blistered feet looked like a novice fire-walker’s.

Another thing: I’m not a morning person. I’m a mid-morning person. Provided with a carafe of coffee, that is.

The dormitory was soaked in darkness. I dressed by feel inside my sleeping sack, wriggling into my shorts and t-shirt, gingerly pulling a pair of clean socks over my wretched feet. After packing everything back into my pack, I limped to the bathroom and brushed my teeth. The only other woman in the ladies’ room was as grumpy as I was, and as puffy-eyed. We didn’t speak.

Before leaving Texas, I’d been annoyed when people referred to our upcoming Camino as a vacation. I was quick to correct: “It’s not a vacation, it’s a pilgrimage.” After all, I wouldn’t be lying on a beach sipping fruit drinks and reading trashy novels. Yet in so many ways, I’d underestimated what the Camino would require. The necessity of physical stamina was a given, but strength of spirit is just as — if not more — important. This is what I lacked. In hindsight, I can see that this is what I lacked generally, and was perhaps part of the reason my marriage had crumbled: I’d let go of my initial vision.

That morning, I was irrationally angry at Jim for imposing a state of awakeness upon me, even though we’d agreed the night before to get an early start. When I found him outside the alburgue, lacing up his shoes in the darkness, I realized I no longer wanted to be doing the Camino. Neither did I want to be in Spain — its charms at that moment evaded me. Desperately, I tried to remember why I was doing this, but I couldn’t think of a single reason. I’ve spent thousands of dollars for this experience, I thought to myself. But the Camino didn’t feel fun or sacred, it only felt hard, and kind of pointless — a unique method of self-torture. If the alburgue had been equipped with a Star-Trek style transporter, I would have beamed home and crawled into bed with my kitties.

It’s an anecdote now, but at the time, I was on the verge of despair. I thought I needed to be seeking some answer or artifact, some hope to which I might fasten my spirit as I hobbled among the yellow arrows — but I had no such thing. I’d come to the Camino without a well-defined question, compelled only by a musical performance and an intense but nebulous desire — one the Camino’s difficulties had withered.

There was no Star-Trek transporter. My only real choices that morning were: 1.) Stage a Camino-coup by planting my butt on a bench and refusing to walk, or 2.) Strap my pack on my back and take a step. And then another step. And another. Of course, this is what I did.

They say that the Camino gives you what you need, be it water, inspiration, an answer — or even the question. That morning, the Camino became both question and answer for me. Silent but side by side, Jim and I walked through the streets of that tiny, drowsing village, to its edge. And then we walked into the gloom beyond. The black-velvet sky turned sapphire at the edges. Behind stuccoed courtyard walls, sleepy roosters cleared their throats. The pre-dawn air was cool as water on our faces, and as we fell into a rhythm, my endorphins kicked in to mask the pain in my feet. I reminded myself that all I had to do that day was put one foot in front of another. The sun came up, and Spain flushed pink and gold. There was coffee waiting for me a few kilometers ahead.


One thought on “You Will Forget Why You’re Doing This

  1. Oh, I am SO like you! Ha! I LOATHE early mornings and my husband loves them. I’m a night owl, and he things everyone should be snoring by 9. I think it is unnatural to get up when it is still dark, and he think’s it’s “envigorating”. *facepalm* I can see the writing on the wall already, and can imagine this same story playing out for me… (and I have to say I dread having to sleep in one of those communal places. I’m hoping we can find some private rooms…). But, I loved your poetic metaphor, and the photo… There is hope for me.

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