El Camino de Santiago: Table of Contents

4: Möge die Straße

Another gray and rainy day. We slept in and started walking at 8am. After the deep and enlightening conversations of yesterday, we decided it would be best to walk in solitude –– together, but left to the vicinity of our inner worlds.

My feelings throughout the morning contrasted with the highs of the previous; I was in a blue, melancholic state of mind. I worried about the future, about something out of reach. What if I returned unchanged? What if the Camino turned out to be a waste of time?

I was annoyed at having these thoughts, though I didn’t push them away. I listened to them and saw them as they were – thoughts with no actual bearing on reality, despite how real they felt in the moment. Once I acknowledged their presence they simply faded, and I was able to resume my walk.

After 2 hours of trekking, we stopped at a small cafe and broke our vow of silence. And lucky us! The solitude had led us to develop new and creative insights, while the distance fueled a burning desire for each other’s company. It was like seeing old friends again after years of prolonged distance, and we enjoyed the minutes as if they were our last.

We later continued our walk, though without much of the silence. I walked with Matilde while Franca and Marieke were a few paces ahead of us. Something seemed to be on Matilde’s mind, so I inquired.

Matilde had just graduated from high school and was taking a year off before planning to apply for university. This was her first time being away from home. At the bus station in Bayonne, right before she and Franca had met me, she had somewhat of a mental breakdown, understandably so. Not only was she adjusting to the fact that she was far from home, she was then also about to walk across a completely unknown, unfamiliar country. But she knew what she was experiencing was just a part of growing up. She knew she would be fine, especially in good company. I admired her courageous and optimistic spirit.

We then talked about a variety of topics: destiny, fate, family, love, and of course, books. I was thrilled to discover that Matilde was also a voracious bibliophile. Both of us were baffled to learn that the fairly obscure novel, Cloud Atlas, was a shared favorite. Most people had heard of and watched the movie starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, but it was much less likely that they had read the book. The language is lucid but dense. So what were the odds that I’d meet someone on the Camino who had actually read the book? Was there a reason behind the sudden entwinement of our universes, like that of the six protagonists of Cloud Atlas?

Before meeting, Matilde had thought my name was Timothy: “You just looked like a Timothy, so Franca and I decided to call you Timothy.” I flipped out and told her my Dad’s name was Timothy.

We could have dismissed these moments as a series of mere coincidences. But we didn’t. Where’s the fun in that? We, as humans, have the power to write our own narratives through the meaning we give to our shared experiences. We are both the pen and the paper on which it writes.

Etched in the script of the starry cosmos was the convergence of two seemingly disparate universes, that of Matilde and Phil, on the 10th day of a gray and rainy September in the year of 2017 on the Camino de Santiago.

We ended our walk at a quiet donation-based albergue some few kilometers from the city of Pamplona. The albergue had a calm and inviting atmosphere. On the walls were colorful plates and pictures, paintings of pilgrims, various cultural articles. My favorite piece was a poster with the word love transcribed in multiple languages, likely written by the past pilgrims who had also stayed at the albergue.

After unpacking and cleaning myself up, I went downstairs and into the kitchen and met a pilgrim named Maria. She was from Oregon and had recently retired from working as a speech therapist and professor. To celebrate she had decided to walk the Camino. We started talking and I told her I was searching for direction, that I was feeling quite lost and unsure of what I wanted in life. She listened to me vent my thoughts for at least an hour. When I finished, she smiled and reassured me with her soft eyes, the way a loving mother does.

“Don’t worry. You’ll figure it out as you go. Everyone walks their own path. You need to be practical, yes, but you also need to listen to your own heart. That’s why you’re here now. Just keep walking and listen to what the Camino tells you.”

Later in the evening, the girls and I went inside the church connected to our albergue and rang the infamous bell at the top of its tower – it was the only bell allowed to rung on the Camino by pilgrims. Afterwards we went downstairs, and I noticed a small shrine covered with green sticky notes surrounding an effigy of Jesus. On them were the writings of many past pilgrims, mostly notes of gratitude. Matilde, Franca, Marieke, and I added our own to the collection.

Later that night, we shared a dinner with the others – more pasta, salad, wine. Once we finished, we went into the church again for a short reflection lead by the nuns who help maintain the albergue. We sat in a small circle, and each of us shared who we were and, voluntarily, why we were walking the Camino.

To end the night, Matilde and Franca were asked to sing a song. They decided to sing an Irish blessing song, Möge die Straße, in German. It was something they sung at the end of every school year before departing into the bliss of summer vacation. The setting was perfect. We had no essence of what adventures, trials, and lessons lay ahead.

Möge die Straße

May the road rise to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
The rains fall soft upon your fields

And until we meet again, until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of his hand
And until we meet again, until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of his hand

May the sun make your days bright
May the stars illuminate your nights
May the flowers bloom along your path
Your house stand firm against the storm

And until we meet again, until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of his hand
And until we meet again, until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of his hand

Next: The Cusp of Time and Infinity