The day had arrived. After 8 days together on the Camino, Grace today would be taking the bus back to Bilbao while I took a bus onward to Lourenzá and then walk the next stage of the journey.
Grace and I awoke early. It was raining and cold that morning. I was glad Grace had convinced me to take care of my feet by taking the bus for the next stage and then walk from there in order to make Santiago by September 22nd when friends were arriving there.
We walked out the door at 7:15 am. There was Grace walking still with her boot laced together with one-half of a dilapidated, broken lace.
I totally would have found new laces and delayed the journey doing so. But not Grace. Grace operates with a level of knowing that is immense and intuitive. She just knew this lace would hold. I think this was a kind of faith that went deeper than my own! And she was right in her knowing.
We walked and laughed and talked the 10 minutes through the dark and drizzle to the bus station. I walked to the counter and requested a ticket to Lourenzá. The man responded in rapid Spanish and I caught the words about the bus leaving in four minutes. All those numbers get scrambled, so I thought perhaps he meant 14 or 40 minutes? But Grace said, “Dad, quick! He said your bus leaves in 4 minutes!” Here we had wanted time to chat and say goodbye over a leisurely coffee. But instead, I was needing to race off.
Ticket in hand, we walked quickly out to the platforms. I asked the driver in front of the only bus there if he was heading to Lourenzá. He said “SI!” and then said something about having to change busses. I didn’t get that part, but understood he wanted me to throw my backpack below the bus and board quickly. Grace and I quickly hugged goodbye.
I thanked her for coming, and for this immense adventure together, and started to choke up! I had to leave. I turned, walked around the front of the bus, threw my pack below the bus into the hold, as the driver sat in his seat he shouted again saying, “You will change buses…” someplace. I only understood the word for “change,” so thought that that was what he had said. But knew he had also said, “I will tell you.”
I boarded the darkened bus, on this rainy morning, as tears coursed down my cheeks. Somehow it is easier to cry in the dark and rain. I fell into a seat by myself, feeling very alone after this adventure with Grace, and gave to the tears. Feelings find their way out of tear ducts, a friend had said. So true. It felt darker than ever as I sat there thinking, “Goodbye my sweet and dear Grace.”
“It is hard to stop crying without Kleenex,” I wrote in my journal, “so I had to resort to fingers and socks!” If you don’t know how that works, I’m just not explaining it here. Eventually, as my bus careened around corners, through many villages bathed in early morning light, I stopped crying and reflected back on the time with Grace.
She was the one who first said to me, before my departure, “Dad, just stay with your feet.” This seems obvious, but the more I walked, the more I knew that I didn’t normally do so. I lived life so far “behind my feet” regretting something I had said or left unsaid, or was too far “ahead of my feet” anticipating something that had not yet happened and feeling overwhelmed by that. Instead, God was giving me the invitation to remain where I was, (and where God was!) to stay present to where my feet were — this that current conversation, in that silence, in that place, in that day, in that emotion, in that moment. This journey I had learned much about myself by “staying with my feet,” thanks to Grace for giving me that biblical advice.
From Grace I learned to “be myself,” to be laugh much, to live in the present, to let prayer be breath and movement. That is what prayer had become on the Camino for me, and I felt badly about that. But Grace had simply said, “Dad, isn’t that what prayer is?” And at essence, that is prayer breath that eventually forms words and movement as we walk out those prayers. There are words of course, but my expression of language begins with breath. And the essence of prayer is relationship with Another, with Jesus, through every movement of my body.
As I rode I paused in my reflection to ask the man seated ahead of me if he understood where I was to change buses, and he did, indeed, he also would be changing at the same place. That gave me such peace. As usual, God had this.
I began to laugh as I walked through the catalog of memories Grace and I had shared. We’d hiked miles together, up and down over ridges, onto beaches, one our laughing beach which was filled with rocks and sounded like laughter or applause when the water ran over them, through rain and wind and sun. It had been such an immense adventure and had taught me so much about her and more about myself. I was privileged to be her dad and so thankful to have had this time together walking.
The bus drove for about 30 minutes and stopped. The driver turned and reiterated what I thought he had said before about me changing busses. I got off with the other guy ahead of me who was heading for La Crux. The town we had stopped in was along the coast. I could see out to the sea.
My next bus drove up this winding road into the mountains. It dropped me across from the famous monastery in Lourenzá. I went to a bar for “té con leche y patata bocadillo.” After eating, I left and began to hike up and up and up the mountain out of this village and suddenly realized I had forgotten my hat, so after checking my backpack, began to walk down the mountain again. I bumped into these other Spanish women who had been at the bar with me, asking if they had seen my hat. They had not seen me leave anything. So, I hiked back to the bar, and my hat wasn’t there. I then checked my backpack again and there it was. “Mi Sombrero!”
I hiked then up and out of the town coming to this wonderful, ancient Spanish town Mondoñedo and there stopped for another tea. A German walked up to my table, the same guy I had met while awaiting Grace in Unquerra. He sat down and told me his story. Holgar had experienced such pain and loss in his life. We spoke for over an hour. He told me one of his Camino stories:
“One day, I had had nothing to eat all day and I was so angry! Where are the stupid stores? Where are any bars? I had been through several villages and none offered anything. Walking through one more village I see two women chatting on a balcony. I shouted up, “Supermercado?” They called down, “Buen Camino!” I almost cussed at them. I tell them again that I’m looking for a supermercado. They chatter together and then call to me to wait. I stands in the street for about 10 minutes and then the door opened and out walked one of the women carrying a bag. She brings it to me and says something in Spanish. There in the bag a sandwich, fruit, drink and dessert. Then, Brian, I start to cry. Here I had been so angry and I was met there by love.” God meets people through people. He touches lives through other lives. Again and again God does this.
The hike that day was long and arduous. It felt like it would never end.
The hiker from the Philippines, a doctor, whom Grace and I had met several days earlier I passed as I hiked up the hill. I could not believe she was there again! She was such a fast walker!
As I hiked I decided that I would get a Pension that night just to have a good place to stay again. I arrived, checked in, went to get a beer across the street and use the wifi. Nannette, my friend from several days earlier walked in with a couple of her friends. I went up behind her and said, “What! They let Americans in here?”
She turned and saw me and shouted “Brian!” And gave me this huge hug. She and Anna, a friend for hers from Germany, and I ate dinner there that evening sharing many stories. That night turned into my nightmare with bed bugs which I had shared in another post. I ended up sitting up and taking time for prayer at 3:30 am not willing to lie down anyplace again in that room.
God spoke into that experience: “The bugs you experienced tonight are a picture as well of the things you allow to crawl around in your mind, the thoughts that bite you, torment you, afflict you. You solved the bed bug issue by getting up. You got out of the place of infestation. Today, child, get up out of the place where they are. Today do not walk in the negative thoughts of evil, of temptation, of failure, of doubt, of fear, of hurt. Do not dwell there as with bed bugs, smash the offending thought. Get up out of the place where they are. Don’t dwell there. Move it!”
I wrote: “I am just thinking how often I rather allow those thoughts to die me and have at me. Today Lord I will discipline myself not to stay in those thoughts any more than I would stay in that bed. Thank you.”
Then the Lord said: “Know this, child. I love you! You can’t fail in this life. You are already successful. You’ve already arrived. I already love and am so proud of you, Son. You make me known!”
I left at 5:30 am and got on the road by 6 walking in the light of the full moon.
In my journal I came to this entry by Gayellyn: “Let this journey be our thank you for the gift you are to Westside. I continue to lift your journey in prayer and am not so secretly jealous of your trip. Today may have been exciting or exhausting, but God has been with you through it all. Know also that we are here to be with you too. The Portland to Coast won’t be the same without you! Love you Always.”