Where is Leo?

Where is Leo? Cambridge has a yearly all city game, Where is Waldo? The children go from store to store looking for Waldo in each store and recording all their finds for a gift at the end. Every time I tell someone about my trip to El Camino, the inevitable statement is, “Surely Leo will be joining you?”

As it has transpired over the year, no, Leo will not be joining me. With the uncertainty of my going and the shortened trip, Leo committed to a Boundary Waters trip and a trip to Missouri directly preceding and during the time I will be in Spain. Leo would actually rather walk the full 500 miles. So, who knows, I may return, as many who walk the Camino do, and want to go again. If so, I may want to also do the full 500 and Leo and I will have a trip to Spain in a couple of years. We shall see. But for now Leo is not going and that has been one of the concerns I have had to walk through as I prepare.

Leo and I have never been a couple that does “everything” together. With many long separations during Leo’s five years in the military and with each of us having very independent natures, we are used to making decisions, doing things we each enjoy that the other might not, and pursuing our own creative endeavors. We have even had some short travels without the other. This one feels different. A full month in a foreign country, living mainly out of doors day after day for a month. That is a Leo trip and as I prepare I think of the many ways I would lean into Leo for support on such a trip: Medical care as Leo always has a full array of medical supplies for every need. My brain when I am tired. The known companion who I do not need words for communication to happen. His jokes and his sense of adventure. These are a few that come to mind. All the ‘what if’s’ without Leo.

Being without Leo is part of the challenge that I have accepted to give myself on this trip. It has been 43 years since Leo and I had so many separations in the military. At that time, I ran the household decisions on my own, gave birth on my own, and raised my son alone for the first three months. It is not what I planned on nor would have desired but there it was. I found my strength.

This trip seems very small and simple in comparison but I am also 43 years older and quite used to leaning into Leo. Now that I have named all the areas of concern I simply walk forward with a curiosity for the journey. All will be well.

Here is where we will be walking, Leon to Santiago de Compostela.fullsizeoutput_2c40






I am not looking to change my life

When the trip to walk El Camino was first proposed, it was said, everywhere I read, “You have to go, it will change your life.” My reaction was, “I am not looking to change my life and if I did I shouldn’t have to go walk somewhere for 500 miles to do so.” Resistance. My life has changed many times throughout my walk of 66 years on this earth with many moves to new homes and locales, 13 in all by the time I was 30 years of age. Marriage at 19 and the births of three children were life changing. The death of our infant daughter catapulted me into life change. Meeting new friends changes me. Striving for a master’s degree in my 50’s, developing myself as an artist in my 60’s, living in Cambridge, meeting her Holiness Mata Amritamayi in my 40’s turned my world around. Walking with the deaths of parents and friends. Working as a Grief Counselor for 15 years has changed me. There are so many ways to grow and develop throughout life, do I need or want to walk in Spain for another?

Already the proposed journey has changed and evolved. Cousin Pat and her husband Bob will not be walking with us as Bob has suffered cardiac arrest, been revived and has gone through quadruple bypass surgery and is in recovery. He, Pat and Chris walked the full 500 miles three years ago and were excited to be returning. Bob’s life has changed dramatically and he is adjusting to the change.

Change in life is inevitable. Sometimes we willingly look for change and other times it is thrust upon us and at times it arrives gently and over time. Working as a grief counselor has shown me people’s resilience through the changes that the death of a loved one brings. Each is unique as to relationship, age, life experience, past trauma and loss. For some it is incredible suffering for others it is heartful pain with a sense of life beyond and a desire to move forward and there are many variations along the spectrum. Living in a long term marriage of almost 50 years has shown me a world of change and adaptation as we work to allow individual growth and exploration while keeping the strength of life and love alive as a couple.

Here I am gathering my stuff to walk in Spain. The invitation arrived and I accepted. I have no expectation other than to enjoy each day, to have fun and laugh, to be present and to see with open eyes and hands what arrives.

Planning the Journey

These days you will find me preparing to walk the Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James) in Northern Spain, known as The Way, with preparations starting over a year ago in many different ways. First was the decision to go. Why do this? My cousins, Chris and Pat who walked the full 500 miles three years ago, invited us. My sister, Di was very excited expressing it was a long time dream of hers to do this walk. She very much wants me to walk as well. These have been my reasons for some time, because I am invited.

Buying the airline ticket brought me to another realization. It was a quick decision lacking in consultation with Chris and Pat, as they were unable to be reached. The ticket prices to Madrid dropped drastically and seats were slipping away. While agonizing over buying the ticket and pressing the accept button, I realized I really did want to go, not to be left out, not to miss something important as well as welcoming the challenge with a desire to shake things up with an adventure. Many decisions made each day are routine based on the day before. They are habits of convenience.

As the days, weeks, and months progressed concerns for the trip started to become clearer. The concern of 500 miles, the full distance on the French Way starting in St. Jean Pied de Port in France did not feel realistic from a time perspective and my fear of doing too much. Fortunately, the cousins decided this trip would be Leon to Santiago, a distance of 150 miles. That, I felt I could do. We shall see…

The next concern was bed bugs, the dreaded bed bugs. Considerable reading and preparing my gear to avoid them is the best I can do. This is another part of letting go and trusting, Prepare and then walk.

There have been countless hours devoted to reading, researching, trying on equipment and making decisions based on what I think I need to be comfortable and complete the journey. It has been important for me to embrace caring for myself, knowing my limitations, my personal health issues and concerns and allow room for my uniqueness on the journey. If the journey on a given day feels too arduous it is within me to call a taxi. The destination is not something outside of me but inside my heart where what we call God, love, Great Spirit, resides. Moving along The Way with other pilgrims is the metaphor for the journey within.

My current challenge is getting my gear down to a reasonable weight. That is the challenge and final decisions have not been made. There is also the concern of too much heat during the day as I overheat easily and then being too cold at night and being uncomfortable. I have to remind myself that while I am walking 150 miles we will not be in the wilderness. Decisions and purchases can be made. So here is the truth, what I really face is my life long desire to know as much about the future as one can so I feel more in control. I am not now nor never have been in control but I tell myself I can influence the outcome and joy of the trip by anticipating some known factors. What do I let go of? What do I leave behind?

Do I feel fear? No. Not now. Do I feel excitement? No. I am already on the Way so it is not something I am anticipating starting when I get to Madrid. I feel curious, I feel challenged, and getting out the door is always a place of relief for me when I begin any travel. I feel a desire to bring as much consciousness to this journey as I am able and to stay in the present moment, which is always and truly a connected place to reside.

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