Sunday, June 3, 2012

Camino de Santiago, Day 21: León

Just León. There is no to in today's itinerary. We have spent the entire day in what is easily my favorite city along the Camino so far, a former Roman military garrison whose name derives from legion.

I say we because Marian and I are back together again, earlier than planned. She came by my table facing the cathedral at the end of lunch and showed no desire to be anywhere else. I just woke up from a luxurious nap to find her in the next bed. So — good.

Tomorrow we plan to leave before dawn and head for Hospital de Órbigo, an ambitious 37 kilometers away. It was Marian's idea to "front-load" the week so that we can easily reach Foncebadón at the approach to the Cruz de Fero by Wednesday and make that symbolic Calvary the heart of our week on Thursday morning.

Today is day 21, a number representing majority, completion, three 7s, success. For us it was a total rest day, to gather our forces and perhaps, yes, to honor the Lord. We have been blessed in our Sundays so far. The eve of our departure was a Sunday, and we attended a first communion mass in St. Jean Pied de Port. The following Sunday we saw another first communion in the brimming-with-life church where Cesare Borgia is buried. Last weekend we attended a vigil mass at the cathedral in Burgos, then came out onto the streets to find a city-wide fiesta dedicated to the White Virgin in full explosion. In a few minutes, I will wake Marian and we will go to mass at the equally stunning cathedral in León.

I sat outside the cathedral for much of the day: for breakfast (a double café con leche and two chocolate crossiants), for lunch (a perfect tortilla, which I discovered is really an omelette if you take away the default potato, made delectable with shrimp, vegetables, and a side salad).

And I sat and I watched and I talked with whoever came by. I watched a terribly deformed woman in a wheelchair, no younger than 50, barely able to breathe but attended by a family member as the chair motored slowly past. I saw Marie and Michael from Mansillas, and Lindsey from many places. I saw old couples out for their Sunday paseo (promenade), far more moving to me in their dignity and togetherness than the hipper younger couples in stiletto heels and skinny jeans. I saw the German couple always so friendly, whose names I have not learned, and Sara, the young German woman who has befriended Marian. And I watched a boy fresh from his first communion, complete with South American dictator costume, joyfully helping his disabled younger sister along the street.

At breakfast I sat with three English-speaking adults: Greg from Portland (OR), whom I met at the albergue in El Burgo Ranero; Marie, a mother of two and grandmother of five from Dieppe, New Brunswick; and "Rick," a very successful Harvard MBA now based in San Francisco who has called Boston and Zurich home and originally hails from Brooklyn.

Then the morning passed and I took a seat at the same café facing the cathedral. Greg and Marie passed by without stopping, while Rick finally, almost apologetically, asked if he could sit with me again. We passed a companionable hour, he writing in his journal, I drawing a ridiculously amateurish cathedral in mine, one that nevertheless retains a certain mysterious integrity.

And I told Rick that he had said something at breakfast that stuck with me, as it still does now.

We were talking about the remarkable coincidences of the Camino, the things that happen that make you think, like my uncanny meeting with Nacho yesterday. At breakfast, Rick had said that these were mysteries, pure and simple, and that it was not necessary to understand mysteries or attribute them to anything. I heard in this statement something quite common here on the Camino: a desire to leave God or anything higher out of the equation. Life is a mystery. What else do I need to know?

But all morning I wondered: What is a mystery novel without a solution? It is an unthinkable tease. What is a question without an answer? A torment. What is a code without a key? Gibberish. And the world, to my eye and to my heart, is neither tease nor torment, and it certainly isn't gibberish. This world must mean something.

The mystery must have a solution, the question an answer, the code a key. And not to seek these answers is to be less than human. The heart desires an answer, and yet we sit silently by, allowing the code to remain uncracked.

That's the condition of so many people today, and it is the reason I choose to believe in God.

[NOTE: This series of posts on my Camino continues here.]

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