When Lauren first brought up the idea of walking the Camino de Santiago in late April, I was surprised. It was one of those things that had always said she wanted to do, and I believed that she would do it one day, but I just didn’t think it would be now. But after thinking it over for several days, I thought, why not? Indeed, as she and I discussed, this seemed to be the perfect time for her to do this, not just because of her employment situation, but also being the right time for her, personally, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually.
For a week prior to her departure, the whole idea of the trip still seemed ephemeral, a house of cards that could fall apart at any moment. And then, quite suddenly, it was happening. And yet, it still wasn’t real for me. Even though Lauren had laid out all of her gear next to her backpack, even though I knew the flight time, the shape of what was to come had not fully coalesced in my mind.
I was excited for Lauren. I knew that she was excited, and I shared that feeling with her vicariously. I was also excited at the prospect of a month at home alone. Though I love Lauren very much, I cherish time to do things I want to do, and to be perfectly honest I was looking forward to a month of writing, catching up with friends, playing video games, and watching sci-fi movies. A month of having fun, Shannon-style. I remained blissfully ignorant of how Lauren’s trip would really affect me. Intellectually, I knew that I would miss her, but I felt none of it.
A last-minute going away party to wish her Buen Camino was my final opportunity to enjoy her company, and it passed in a whirlwind of laughter and well wishes. And then she was climbing out of the car at the airport and walking to the terminal. But something of me went with her. Part of my heart was hooked to her, and when she left, she unwittingly tore a piece out of me and took it with her, leaving a ragged hole behind. I was consumed with an immediate, overwhelming sense of loss and loneliness. I drove home in silence, listening to the sound of the wheels on the road and my own thoughts echoing around inside my skull. A month without seeing her first thing when I wake up in the morning, without finding her curled up with a book when I came home from work, without her affection or her smile (or her cooking!).
Back at home, I realized that I didn’t know anything about the Camino de Santiago aside from the few brief questions she had answered. I didn’t even know how far she would be walking. I looked it up – 700km from Pamplona to Santiago, 440 miles! And with this first overwhelming fact, I needed to know others. What was the trail like? Where would she stop first? How would she manage her diet in a country known for its carnivores?
Even the first day after she was gone, friends and family were asking me questions about Lauren’s trip and I had few answers. Then, precious text message began to filter in, and word by word her journey began to unfold. I studied each text message as if it were a haiku or a zen koan. I hoped to discover clues to where she had gone, what she was experiencing, how she was feeling, a secret cache of knowledge hidden between her P’s and Q’s. A simple message like — Awesome blisters. Hills today and rain. Only 19k. — seemed ripe with possibility, a whole landscape of sights and sounds. And so I began to do the only thing I knew how – I began to write.
Each blog post was a surprise for me. How much could I uncover through these few phrases delivered to me like messages in a bottle one day at a time? I marked how far she had traveled, where she started, where she arrived. I wrote about how I imagine she felt, trying to grow the germ of what I knew into the idea of what I thought she was experiencing. In doing so, I moved closer to her.
Writing each blog entry helps me to feel like I am on the journey with her in spirit, if not in body. It has helped me to feel connected to her. That ragged hole is no longer there. Instead, we have a thread that joins us in spirit though we are three thousand six hundred miles apart. That thread hums and vibrates with each step she takes, each message she sends, and each word that I write.
I am her chronicler, recording the passage of miles, the passage of towns and villages. I am also a messenger. My words became a bridge between her isolation on an ancient road devoid of media saturation and instant communication, and you, friends and family who follow along, who send your wishes and love and prayers. Your kind words not only to Lauren, but also to me, have helped me to stay motivated and excited about the coming days of Lauren’s journey.
Thank you all so much for reading, for your encouragement, and for your love and generosity of spirit.
And Lauren, thank you. You have inspired me, and I feel closer to you now than before you left, though you are far away. Your dedication, your endurance, your willingness to face the unknown, both in front of you and inside of yourself, is an inspiration. It moves me to do the same. I love you.