My eyes already touch the sunny hill.
going far beyond the road I have begun,
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has an inner light, even from a distance-
and changes us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
we already are; a gesture waves us on
answering our own wave…
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.
—Rainer Maria Rilke
12/5 Sunday DAY 0 Arrive Sarria
I’m in Sarria. Hard to believe. I took a five (ish) hour train right from Madrid, and the moment I stepped off the train I was already completely unprepared. The rain (already?!) and darkness discombobulated me. A bunch of backpackers also hopped off the train and I was immediately intimidated by their sheer number, and assuredness in which direction they needed to go. Ok. Breathe. It’s dark. It’s pouring. But you got this. Put your hood up and queue up the GPS. After a few wrong turns, I righted myself and in 15 minutes landed at my hotel. But the newness and aloneness reminded me of France. Bear with me. There’s a reason for the following story.
When I was a kid, about 21, living in the suburbs of Paris, I was given a Renault 5, taught to drive stick-shift—something I’d never done before— and pretty much left to figure out my way from the train station where I would park to catch a train into Paris (to take classes) and then return again before dusk to my au pair family, where I was to take care of the children. On the first day of this new routine on my own, I got lost. Back in 1989 there was no GPS, no cell phones and I personally had no clear recollection of how to get back home, despite being shown a couple days before by the father of the household who thought I understood French better than I did.
As I came into a round-about, I must have circled around 10 times trying to remember which of the eight directions to follow. I had completely forgotten. To make matters worse, I kept stalling in the middle of the road, which, needless to say, made unhappy French drivers proceed to give me the finger and (I think) tell me to get off the road.
At this time in my life, when there was less technology and wisdom to rely on, I believed in god. And so I begged him, with tears in my eyes and the very real fear of being lost past dark, which road do I take. He said (rather quickly), and I will never forget, Follow the sun. It wasn’t like a voice outside my head, or anything like that. But rather, a voice, not my own, but inside me. Hmm. Ok. Desperate, I was willing to do anything. As I made one more revolution, and scanned each exit for a sign of light there appeared only one clear option. It was the only road, a tree-lined, narrow road, flooded with sunlight. In fact, you could see the sun setting only from this road as it lined up perfectly along the straightness, just like an Egyptian pyramid calendar designed to tell time. And so, being the only option, I took it.
It happened to be the correct option. And onward I went, able to find my way back to my au pair family. Now that I think of it, this is, in fact, how we got around back in the day. God, zodiac signs, flipping a coin, and good ol’ fashioned guessing.
Moral of the story? None. At age 53, I don’t flip coins, but, I am once again at a crossroads, not exactly lost, but looking for the sunlit path that will guide me.
Tonight, after I checked into the hotel and felt settled and safe, I went back out to have a look around. Still rather dark and still quite cold and rainy, I thought, Where should I go? I wandered down a few oddball streets until I came to a traviesa of beautiful stone steps. Up I went out of curiosity. Not lost, but also, not sure of my surroundings. And then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw it—the big bright yellow arrow, wet and glowing under the amber street lamp. I had seen it so many times in guide books or posted by other pilgrims as this flat unflattering photo of a direction signal; but now, it seemed alive with a wave of movement. Now, it meant something. I had happened upon the Camino without realizing it.
If this arrow marks the symbol of the sun, then perhaps I’m heading in the right direction. Perhaps, once again, I should let go and rely a bit on the universe to guide me. Scary. But I’m excited to find out tomorrow and the next day and the day after that.