The Greek poet, Constantine Cavafy, wrote wistful verses in which people love hotly all the things they are losing or missing. He’s completely human, without philosophy or illusions: just a nostalgia too deep and too wild for pessimism.
His relevance to this subject of Camino expectations? It’s this: You don’t get what you want, but at least you get to want it.
And when, after I’d completed my Camino, I saw some famous verses of Cavafy, translated to Galician, displayed on the wall of a tourist office, they helped me get sorted. Here’s my own very loose rendering of that part of ’Ιθακη, or Ithaca. Maybe you’ll see why it was on the wall of that tourist office, and why it chimed with me after I’d completed the Camino.
Find Ithaca each day inside your mind:
Bare landfall at the end of all the ways,
Poor rock to which the final wave must roll.
But stretch the journey, find delays;
Let the innumerable days and seas unfold,
Let wandering years unwind…
Then come, life-crammed and old.
Only in age, cast anchor by your isle,
Heavy with riches gathered all that while,
Not seeking wealth, here where you pined to live –
Your journey all that stony Ithaca could ever give.
They can be manual or automatic. If I have a spiritual nature, it’s a manual spiritual nature. And my manual is an old fashioned one, very chunky and clunky. This means that I never reach a point where things work because of a contrivance or mechanism. I always have to make the changes, and expect to make the changes. No automatics.
Which means no searching for transformations or breakthroughs. Reaching Santiago was to be part of a long hike, undertaken for reasons known and unknown to me. Not only was I not expecting an exhilarating conclusion, with a big psychic door opening, I didn’t want it.
To arrive at Santiago exhilarated, even triumphant, may be right for some folk, particularly those who have trudged classically, in pain, uncertainty and hardship. I’d love to clap and cheer them as they enter the plaza before the cathedral. I’d love to soak up some of their overflow.
My way and my Way aren’t like that. Nor do I want to manufacture a mock-up pilgrim experience to parade for others. I’m happy to accept my tourist status and my dawdliness. I don’t want to be elevated, to feel suddenly and wholly in charge of my being. I can’t afford large emotions that cancel the past or pre-empt the future.
Today, as I wrote the translation above, a large tooth filling fell out. How I handle this little disaster is up to me, right now and today. What occurred on a spiritual plane when I walked from Le Puy to Santiago is up to someone else. Who knows…maybe James? But not me. My job is the filling, and just today. The struggle of practical action against paltriness, fretfulness and resentment converts a gap in a tooth to my grandest spiritual arena. Silly, but there you have it.
It may sound as if the remainder of my cold-weather Camino was a fizzer. Not so.
On the contrary! If you’ve enjoyed this account of my travels, please read on.