This evening is the first time since I've been on the road that I've been able to have more than a bit of time connected to the internet and can write something a bit more substantial than what I can do using my mobile phone's text messaging to get reports from the road posted to this blog (with the great assistance of ever-faithful John Steffen, doing the hard work of transcribing what is on that little mobile screen to the blog).
I am presenly in the town of Brienne-le-Chateau and the guest of the local parish priest, Père Norbert, a very young priest (ordained just seven years) and doing a great job here and in his more than fifty surrounding villages. I accompanied him this afternoon to a bi-weekly Mass at the local nursing home and was invited to give the final blessing in English; the old ladies were delighted!
Today was one of the tough days on the road, not because of rain or too many kilometers, but just one of those days when nothing feels right: the backpack is out of balance and hanging too low, the back beneath it itches from mosquito bites, not enough to eat for breakfast so energy is low, etc. Discouragement takes hold. I think every pilgrim has these days; nothing tells you they are coming, and they go away just as quickly as they come. Often they are a harbinger of something very good just ahead. But while you are in them, they are a pain. Mass with the oldsters took the edge out of this particular one, as did finally getting to see the past three weeks of emails waiting for me: so much encouragement from so many friends and family and folks from just about everywhere on the globe. Thanks so much to all of you!
This pilgrimage experience is very different from the much shorter one I did four years ago; it is less intense ("Gotta get there!") and more diffuse, because the whole thing is so stretched out. Certainly, I am much more alone now. I have to depend on my own emotional resources much more if I am to keep going. Maintaining good mental attitude is really the name of this game since the temptation to discouragement is always lurking in the background and sneaks up on me when I let my guard down. I find myself saying, "I can't do this!" even though I AM doing it! The refrain of the Spanish hymn is the key to staying afloat emotionally: "Un dia a la vez!" One day at a time.
The popular image in America of French people being slightly snobbish finds no grounds out here. They are being terrific with me in each village and town I pass through. Their kindness to this stranger passing by loaded down with pack and sweating like an old pig and only able to squeeze out a few broken words in their language has been gracious and generous beyond my wildest imaginings. They know well what a pilgrim is, and they care for their pilgrims with delight and joy. They seem to sense that helping us is a blessing upon them, as indeed, I trust and hope, it is.
So what do I think about all those hours on the trail? Surprisingly little. I live in a very limited present out there that extends up to the next crown of that hill and over to that field on the left and the other on the right. Mostly, I just walk. Sometimes I talk to myself. For awhile each morning, I try to pray for those who have asked me to do so and those I care about and their needs; but the explicit, word-driven prayer rather quickly settles into non-words, then steps, then fields, then the roadside crucifix which I pass by with a nod to Jesus, then the next village with its church steeple and its bells drawing me in at the Angelus. Sometimes an old hymn plays in the back of my brain for hours, just hanging there, repeating itself over and over again. That is prayer too.
So, my friends, I'll keep going as I am able and will keep praying as I go. Say (or walk) a prayer for me when you think of it.
I don't know when I'll have internet access again, so it will be back to the brief daily text message reports for a while.
It has taken three tries and nine years, but as of July 2012, I have finally walked the entire Way of Compostela from my former home in Leuven/Louvain, Belgium, to Santiago de Composela!
My contact e-mail remains the same: firstname.lastname@example.org; I am always happy to receive mail!
Grace and peace to you all!
Friday, July 27, 2007