A Pilgrim Tale: day seventeen

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You hear about the meseta long before you get here. It can be one of the great trials of the camino. I had expected long, endless days of unbroken plain. It hasn’t turned out to be that at all. Until today. Today is flat and straight with the road stretching out as far as you can see. We begin the hike with a 17 kilometer stretch between towns. No towns mean no food. Or bathrooms. It could be awful, except for one thing.

Today we meet the storyteller.

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Otto is a retired electrician from Winnipeg, Manitoba. Because my daddy also made his career as an electrician, we already have that. He is becoming something of an archivist of tales of the trail. He tells us several, beginning with his own, a tiny bit of which we heard last night.

Otto and his lovely wife, Maria, had been planning for some time to walk the camino. She celebrated her sixtieth birthday in December of 2014, and was thoroughly enjoying the life they had made for themselves, each of them looking ahead to the joys of retirement. One night, a couple of months later, the two of them spent a quiet, easy evening at home. Maria made phone calls to all her siblings and enjoyed catching up with them. She and Otto called a granddaughter to ask about an important event she had just celebrated. Then, she sent Otto to the store. When he came back, she was gone.

His children encouraged him to carry out the plan he and Maria had made and walk the camino. He carries a packet of letters written by them and by his grandchildren. He opens one each day. The one today was from his daughter. It was a letter her mother had written her when she was walking through a difficult time. She asks him to read it as though Maria were speaking directly to him.

He wears Maria’s Virgin of Guadelupe medal on a pink cord given to him by one of her friends. When he speaks of his bride, his voice is tender and sweet. His amazing hat was knitted by 6 year old granddaughter Mia from yarn that belonged to her grandmother.

I hear no bitterness in his story, only gratitude. He tells us about all that he is learning on the Way, as though he were giving an account to the camino.

I am learning to slow down. My feet have taught me that.

I am learning to give it away. My back has taught me that.

I am learning to follow your signs, or I will walk the path twice. My eyes have taught me that.

The camino asked, “Yes, but what has your heart taught you?”

My heart has taught me that when you arrive at an albergue early and get to choose a lower bunk, then a tired, older pilgrim comes in, you give him the lower bunk. When you are the last person to get a spot at the albergue, and someone weary and hurting comes stumbling in and is turned away, you give him your spot and move your burning feet to the next town. When someone is running low on food and water, you share what you have with him, even if you have little.

Then the camino said to me, “How have you learned these things? Are you bragging about your deeds? Remember, be humble.”

And I replied, “These are things that others have done for me.”

You can see why we will stay close to Otto, hungering for his words like a certain group of fishermen who walked with another storyteller long ago…

 

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In the afternoon, we walk for a space with Sieglinde and Hans Pieter from Stuttgart, Germany. I’ve been seeing her for a few days now with her jaunty, feathered hat and flippy pink skirt. It is good to finally meet them. In July, they stepped out their front door, much like a medieval pilgrim would have done, and began walking toward Santiago. They are walking still (30 September). Their children are 23 and 21, the same ages as two of ours. And they, like we, are at a transition. We talk about family, and faith and art. And the world keeps getting smaller…

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This evening, we sit around a table with James from Ireland, and our friend Adam and feast on fresh local trout. And tell more stories, and spin more threads…

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How long the road is. But, for all the time the journey has already taken, how you have needed it in order to learn what the road passes by.

~Dag Hammerskjold, Markings

*I have tried to capture Otto’s stories just as he told them. With a certain storyteller’s license, of course. Feel free to add or correct as necessary, Otto. 🙂 xoxo