5 Elements of the Camino Our Country Could Really Use Right Now

On many hiking days, hiding in the safety of the Camino de Santiago often offset the incessant pain of walking 15-18 miles a day, though it was hard not to feel guilty about turning a blind eye to the news back home. With spotty wifi connections and a goal to, you know, focus on the spiritual pilgrimage, we usually allowed ourselves the privilege to only check in about the news with family, opposed to falling down the Facebook rabbit hole every afternoon. Having family members as a filter was a gift, but there is only so long one can run to the mountains and ignore what’s going on.

Adjusting back to real life has been odd, to say the least, as it was after my first Camino in 2009. Not only does your body go into walking-withdrawal, but the mental transformation of a 500-mile hike comes in strange and often-confusing waves of mood swings and the urge to hide under the covers and never come out.

The biggest shock, however, is the urge to try and spread what you see and experience when a group of strangers embarks on an ancient pilgrimage together. It is the “great adventure” we dream of as kids, the outlet for that nervous energy you feeling sitting at a desk as an adult. There are few words for it. What happens between a group with the same common goal–a goal to understand themselves better through a ridiculous physical feat–is a part of human nature we’ve suppressed. But the world needs the lessons of the Camino right now. So, I will do my best.

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“You’re Not Good, You’re Not Bad, You’re Just Nice”

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Right after the election, a meme was making the rounds, predicting that Hillary would come out on stage before the inauguration to sing “Last Midnight,” from Into the Woods.  If you’re unfamiliar with the musical, this may have looked like a jab to Hillary’s character, since after all, the song is sung by the witch.  In the song, the witch denounces the actions of everyone on stage, dooming them all, before disappearing in a puff of smoke and returning to her “uglier,” previously cursed self.  But if you do know the show well, you know that the witch is one of the strongest, most complex and powerful characters of the show.

I happen to know the show backwards and forwards because of the lucky fact that I was an introverted musical theatre child of the 90s and staged an imaginary production of this show in my living room.  Nowadays, whenever I see theatre festival notices that state, “If chosen, play must be fully produced prior to the festival,” I think about how I’ll always have the production of Into the Woods in my back pocket, the audience just won’t be able to see my cast of imaginary actors.

Anyway, to put it in a nutshell, Into the Woods sets a bunch of familiar fairy tale characters in one town, all in pursuit of their personal dream.  The Witch is one of the story’s common threads.  She has a rough past–a history of cursing the baker’s family into sterility (after being robbed by them), and oh yes, trapping her daughter in a tower.  But as the play progresses, we hear each character’s side of the story and watch them either grow into empathetic people, fall into a life of crime, or a combination of both. And as an audience, you start to question: who is justified in their quest?

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You Are My Starfish–A Camino Story

Photo via Unsplash

Photo via Unsplash

Despite the past several days throwing us some curve balls (I fell down the steps this morning–no broken bones but some pretty impressive cuts and bruises), I woke up feeling generally okay. Sure, the heat in our apartment still doesn’t work because our boiler almost blew us up last week. And sure, every day, the news reminds us that the country is crumbling.  And yet, as I tried to express in last week’s post, good things are still happening.  Maybe that’s why I can handle wiping out on my back steps, spitting toothpaste all over the room and nearly breaking my elbow.  I can take that.  Because on the bright side, I still don’t have to live through another November 8th, 2016.

After that terrible week, I felt paralyzed.  I felt that no matter what I did, nothing could fight this national disaster.  But as the days passed, and our clouds of fear slowly parted, many of us started finding very small, very subtle ways of trying to improve the days of those around us.  A coworker approached me about a Secret Santa for local low-income seniors, another friend arranged us to volunteer at a homeless shelter.  While I was there, I bumped into another friend, totally unrelated to the first arrangement, who had come just to volunteer with her husband.  Because she knew she had to do something.  Because of these, and some other random opportunities for acts of kindness, this was one of the most fulfilling holiday seasons I’ve ever experienced.

The country has seen this too.  A record-breaking donation season, a huge increase of women running for local offices, people stepping up to defend strangers, just to name a few.

But I’m not here to pat myself on the back.  I’m actually here to talk about a Camino story (surprise!).

The Camino of Animals

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Ben and I were chatting about this phenomenon last night–people’s call to action after the election.  It’s easy to feel that small acts are too insubstantial when the headlines tell you that no matter what you do, an unstoppable sentiment of hate and intolerance has been reawakened in our country.  It’s hard to feel that leaving a larger tip on someone’s bill, or going out of your way to say something friendly to a stranger really matters at all.  Why donate one place, when there are so many groups that need our attention?

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Day 28: The Keeping Your Sh*t Together Award

For the final 30 days of my twenties, I am writing one personal narrative a day that has impacted my life until now.  To read more about my challenge, feel free to check out the first post.  

Also, this 30 Day challenge is also to support a wonderful charity, Zara Aina.  Please check out my fundraiser here and if you’re able, please consider throwing a few dollars toward this amazing cause.  It would mean the world!

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As the final day of this writing challenge approaches, I wanted to write a story focusing on gratitude–especially for those who go out of their way to commit small acts of kindness.  Many of these, especially for people in vulnerable situations, rarely go forgotten.  This is dedicated to my junior high principal–

It was the end of my 8th grade year, and yet again, I found myself sitting in on a sticky plastic seat staring at the rafters of the gym ceiling.  One of the teachers was at the mic, giving a presentation of awards for students that had volunteered to save puppies or build houses for the homeless, or something else genuinely admirable.  If I had had the time to do such things, I’m sure I also would have appreciated a piece of shiny paper with my name on it.

But for me, assemblies like this required a special type of self care and mental armor, and luckily I had plenty of time to build this up.  I was always a decent student–it really wasn’t until I got to 6th or 7th grade that I got anything lower than an A.  But that’s about as far as my in-school achievements took me.  Theatre was the real world in my mind, for not only did it define who I was, but it was my true escape from the family issues we had been working through since I was about eight years old.  I didn’t get awards, and didn’t expect them.  “What do you do with them anyway?” I always thought.  Still, year after year of blending in with the scenery during these meetings was a dreaded moment of the year.

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A Note on Vulnerability

Creative Commons Photo by Elisabetta Foco

Creative Commons Photo by Elisabetta Foco

“The Bathroom is Downstairs”

Last night Ben and I used a gift certificate to a fancy restaurant around the corner.  It’s BYOB, and though I haven’t been drinking this month, I figured the glorious food was worth pairing with wine.  So to say the least, after 4 solid gulps of Chardonnay, I was having a time.  Not drinking for two weeks sure does make you a cheap date.  Either way, I kept it together and eased back on the wine until desert time.  By the time Ben got up to go to the bathroom, I was in a silly place.  For some unknown reason, I blurted out, “It’s right downstairs.”  And instantly collapsed into giggles as he walked away.  Why?  Because this is a tiny Montclair restaurant built in the corner of a small brick apartment building.  The dining room itself is a stones throw from one wall to the next, and so there is literally one option of where the bathrooms could be, without walking into the kitchen.  There were no steps.  Anywhere.  I am hilarious.  Why did I do this?  I do not know, I was feeling crafty, and I blame the glass of wine.

Either way, as soon as Ben turned to the corner to look at the real bathrooms, looking for the steps, he had a moment of, “I must have missed something,”  to which he turned to see my giggling with a, “Very nice, honey,” look on his face.  Marriage, everyone!

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Keep Shining, Rainbow Butterfly Girl

Creative Commons Photo by Aaron Burden

Creative Commons Photo by Aaron Burden

 

Today is school Halloween.  Which means I am currently sitting at a desk dressed as Nancy Drew as a Panda leads a group of students (dressed as a collection of Donald Trumps, Storm Troopers, cats, and football players) up the stairs to their classes.  It’s really the best.  If I could wear a costume to work every day, I would be all about that.

While leaving lunch, I pass a door out into the back playground area, where the current recess group is out frolicking as their character of the day.  There’s a clump at the tetherball area, another group playing some sort of game called Gaga (which still confuses me), and a group of girls dressed as cheerleaders are choreographing a routine in the corner.  But separated from the rest of the kids, in a fantastic beam of light coming over the top of the roof, is a girl dressed in a flowing homemade butterfly costume, which mainly consists of black clothing and iridescent fabric pieces connected to her arms.  Without a care in the world, she’s flapping around and looking at the pattern her rainbow wings are making on the concrete as the sun catches the fabric.

Little lady, I get you.  This was totally me.  And maybe still is.  When I was a kid, organized sports were not my jam.  Being forced to do this in gym was enough for me.  To say the least, when recess was no longer a thing, I was not heartbroken.  It was like, “Hey kids, go out and hope that another group also does not enjoy playing a game involving throwing a ball at your head or ramming into each other.”  As an introverted person, heading out into a crowd without structure created the same feeling I currently get when I go into a crowd of “networking” people who just want to small-talk.

Nope.  I was all about spinning around and looking at shadows.  I wanted to stare at the trees and play with the grass.  This made me a terrible softball player and a very happy theatre kid.

The thing that seems to confuse people as you grow up as a butterfly kid is that being shy means being emotionally delicate or immature.  Though of course it’s important for teachers to check in with kids who are disconnected from the crowd, there were many times I was perfectly content doing my own thing.  And as you get older, I’ve find myself defending my shyness more than when I was little.

In the past several months in particular, I’ve had several people make comments on the importance of “toughening up” and “accepting that life is hard.”  Christ, people.  Just because someone isn’t going with the flow of pushy societal norms all the time does not mean they don’t know how to handle stress in a healthy manner.  I recently read a really lovely post about being called “too nice” and why this personality choice takes as much effort as being assertive.  As expected, the first comment contained what I constantly hear: a message about passive aggression and bad intentions.  People who assume that your kindness is “manipulative” is truly the result of projecting personal paranoia, and yet it does wear on you when you legitimately want to be a nice person.  It is not a sign of weakness or subtle subtle aggression, maybe it’s legitimately “being real,” as everyone seems to love saying.  “Being real” does not have to mean being a forthright jerk.

So yes, this has been a bit of a rant against those that have thrown their assumptions about weakness my way recently.  But the happy butterfly child in the backyard was a nice reminder that there is nothing wrong with spinning in the breeze instead of chucking a tetherball at your friend.  Both are fine.  And both are what make that person happy.

So keep spinning, butterfly girl!  Just because you are on Jupiter, I will never read into your silence as unintelligence, bad intentions, or emotional immaturity. Keep doin’ your thing and I will be over here also doing my own thing.