Los Caminos de la Vida
The paths of life,
They are not what I used to think,
They are not what I used to imagine
They are not what I used to believe.
The paths of life,
They are very hard to walk,
They are very hard to travel,
And I can't find a way out.
I hope I am not as desolate as these song lyrics imply, but I have to admit to feeling somewhat lost without my husband. Nothing in my past prepared me for the road of grief and loss; no one ever told me it would be so hard. But that doesn't mean I'm entirely without direction or hope, or that I can't "find a way out."
One of the things helping me to find a way both in- and outward has been my return to reading. Not being able to read during the initial stages of grief is apparently quite common, so finding myself once again enjoying a book has been a huge relief. At the top of my "that was so good!" list is a book recently published by my friend and former writing group member, Suzanne Blazier. In September of 2019, only months before we were all hit by the pandemic, Sue did something I had often dreamed of doing but never had the nerve to try: she walked the Camino Francés, the historic pilgrimage route from St. John Pied-de-Port, France to Santiago de Campostela in Spain and then on to the Spanish coastal town of Finesterre.
It was a very long trip. And far more difficult than I realized until I read the full manuscript. From nearly-impassable trails of sharp, jagged rocks to battling constant rain and catching a debilitating cold, it's a miracle Sue came home in one piece at all. Yet, regardless of her challenges (maybe because of them?), Sue managed to find a wealth of beauty and meaning along the way, moments she made time to write about in her insightful journal that eventually became Prancing in the Pyrénées, Sloshing Through Galicia; My Way Along the Camino Francés.
I don't want to give away too much of the story, because I hope you will read Prancing in the Pyrénées for yourself, but I do want to say how much I love this book, and for reasons that have nothing to do with me ever walking the Camino.
The first time Sue's story inspired me was while her book was still in manuscript form. It was smack in the middle of the pandemic restrictions. All of my writing and art groups had closed down and the only activity open to me was endless walking, something I mentioned in my last post on Urban Writing. Back then I suppose we were each in a separate state of shock, unsure of what was really going on. My "therapy" was to walk every day. Each morning when I would embark upon my solitary and lonely walks, I would imagine I was on the Camino, making a pilgrimage of some sort to understand what on earth was happening. Some days I would walk thinking of how the world could heal itself; other days I would walk in an attempt to figure out what I meant by "healing." Thinking of Sue's trip gave me a reason to walk beyond mere exercise.
Now that the pandemic is over and the manuscript draft is an actual hold-in-your-hands book, Sue's story continues to inspire me. I keep turning over what Sue achieved, thinking of how she did it and how to use the same motivations that kept her going forward. Chapter headings such as "Solitude," "Where are you from?" and "Re-entry" have made me think of how I, as well as other readers, could use these titles as journaling or writing prompts in our own lives. Some ideas that came to mind were:
1. Write a travel memoir of your own. This might seem a bit obvious, but if you focus on trips that were more than "just for fun," what significant journeys have you taken that were deeper than rest and relaxation? How were you changed by travel?
2. What do you need to travel with? What can you leave behind? Besides being an entertaining read, Prancing in the Pyrénées definitely has its practical side. Advice on topics from language skills to what items to bring or leave at home are invaluable tips for anyone seriously planning a Camino pilgrimage. As a dedicated minimalist, I was impressed with Sue's pared-down list of travel items, from clothing to toiletries. There are so many areas in our lives in which we carry too much: shelves of unused art supplies; books on a TBR pile that will never be read; photographs of distant events that mean little or nothing to us. What do we really need to carry, not just for survival, but to be happy?
3. Many years ago when I was still thinking about what it was I most wanted to write, I took take a class on travel writing. At the beginning of the class the instructor explained the origins of the word "travel," saying that it came from the Old French word "travail" which in turn was a reference to weaving, describing the action of a shuttle carrying thread back and forth through other threads on a loom to create a piece of fabric. To my ears, "travail" was more closely related to "trouble" than travel, but I also have enough horror stories of my own to know how troublesome travel can be! In her book, Sue does an excellent job of sharing her travel-travails and how she overcame them, persevering to complete her trip in the best way possible. Have there been times in your life when you wanted to give up on a project, goal, or dream? What did you do to keep going? How did you encourage yourself? What roads or projects were you forced to abandon? Do you think of re-starting any them, and if so, how could you make that happen?The Mexican poet and Nobel laureate, Octavio Paz, once wrote that reading is a pilgrimage. He believed that readers are forever changed by what they read, and in turn they cannot help but express that inner change to the world around them. I couldn't agree more. From Sue's book I've learned how vital it is to clear the road for those who follow, write the guidebooks for those need them, and to be as honest and open about our lives as we can be. Whether you plan to walk to Spain or sit reading in the sun with a cup of tea, Prancing in the Pyrénées will be the perfect travel companion.
Tip of the Day: As an additional resource, Sue has also created a blank Camino Journal for pilgrims to take notes and record their days. Although the book is designed for travelers, you might want to think about using it to journal from the prompts I've listed above. Use it to brainstorm your most memorable paths and journeys. What could you write about them? What did you bring home to share?
While you're writing, here is Los Caminos de la Vida in its entirety. It's a sad song, but like so much of life, strangely filled with comfort despite the darkness. That said, may your path be always safe and sure.