Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Camino de Santiago, Day 24: Astorga to Rabanal

If my father had a Great Commandment, it was, Tell the truth. The corresponding parable was the story of George Washington cutting down the cherry tree. "Father, I cannot tell a lie."

As a result, I sometimes think that truth-telling is hard-wired in me, occasionally to my detriment. It makes me a terrible negotiator, usually. "I'd like $100 an hour, but just between you and me, Bill, I'd volunteer if you asked." That sort of thing. Fortunately, I held my pathological truth-telling in check when it came time to sell the publishing business I owned with Katie. If only the buyer had known that I would have walked away for one dollar. But then Katie would have killed me.

When you're a father yourself, telling the truth comes harder. I think of my father as a straight arrow who could not lie, but then I remember some of our conversations when I was a grown man. I must have given him many reasons to speak his mind, to correct my errors of judgment. How often did he hold his fire?

I thought of my father today, as I have many times on this Camino, and of keeping his counsel when he might reasonably have done otherwise. Marian and I walked together out of Astorga this morning, but we said little. This stretch of the Camino, roughly since we split up temporarily in Terradillos last Thursday, has become more of an inner journey—less about the people we meet like Simon and Sam (our hobbit friends) or Ricardo (Gandalf)—and more about the thoughts and feelings we have. So we walk together and talk about personal questions (as we did yesterday) or we walk apart, either literally or in silence (as we did this morning).

I thought a lot about Randy and Donald, two friends, one living, one passed, for whom I am carrying rocks to the Cruz de Fero. And I took approach photos with my iPad as we neared the mountain ridge where the cross stands atop an enormous cairn of pilgrim stones. I thought more of my writing life, a subject of yesterday's talk with Marian, and I had a new insight about how my writing and theater interests can intersect when I return home again, in a way that can serve my faith as well. And I thought how tired I was. After 31 kilometers yesterday, we had set an initial target of Rabanal (21 kilometers) with a possible goal of Foncebadón (27 kilometers). Though I dearly wanted to reach the latter village, which is only 2 kilometers short of the Iron Cross, I was pretty sure I didn't have 27 kilometers in me today. Marian and I had provisionally agreed to make Rabanal our mutual default goal.

Then, near noon, at a bread-and-jam stop by the side of the road, she said that she was thinking about going on to Foncebadón. She didn't ask if I want to go with her. She was thinking of doing it herself. Apparently, she had talked with some young people back at the last village and there was a very cool hostel in Foncebadón where they serve vegetarian dinners and where, presumably, some of her friends were planning to spend the night. I kept my counsel.

We walked on a bit, and she shared with me some thoughts about her future plans after she returns to the States, probably later in the summer. These plans seemed at minor variance with things we had discussed yesterday—no biggie, it's just that my paternal ears picked up what sounded like a subtle wind shift. I kept my counsel.

As I walked along I wondered if I shouldn't speak, and if I spoke, when and how and from what angle. Then on our final approach into Rabanal we passed a shepherd and his flock—the first sheep we have seen on the entire Camino. We have seen horses, cows, storks on most churches, plenty of dogs and cats, but until that moment, no sheep and definitely not in a flock of 150 or 200, as these were. It was such a striking sight that two other pilgrims ahead of me had stopped to take pictures. A grey mongrel bitch stood beneath the shepherd's staff, eying the sheep warily, ready to pounce on strays.

I thought of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, and I had a moment's reflection. If, as I deeply believe, my Camino is guided by a power greater than myself and far wiser and more loving, why should Marian's Camino be any different? She and I are both sheep from the same flock, both baptized, both Catholics, and both, within our personal limits, observant.

So when we sat for lunch by the side of the road in Rabanal, eating food that Marian thoughtfully had bought for us yesterday, and she paused to say grace after I had already started eating, I kept my counsel again. And when she said that she thought she would go ahead to Foncebadón, I said that she ought to get going, so that she would have a bed in the hostel her friends were staying at. I didn't say what I would do, but after lunch I followed her to the top of the village to see her off with a hug and a kiss, and a promise that, come what may, I would meet her for breakfast tomorrow in Foncebadón.

Then I sat on a bench and thought some more. But not for too long. Suddenly, I knew that I should stay in Rabanal. I jumped to my feet (not easy) and headed back downhill to the first posada that had a place for me. I will leave at 4:45 in the morning, in order to be in Foncebadón in time for breakfast. May the Good Shepherd guide my steps, and Marian's too.

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

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