On the 21st of May, I was walking through Najera and stopped for lunch at the same place I ate on my last Camino. There was one other pilgrim dining in this quiet cafe. I enjoyed the food and reminisced about my previous time at this spot. How did three years disintegrate? What were the tectonic shifts in my life? Suddenly, my eye caught a very large amber walking stick in a galvanized milk can.
I assumed it belonged to the other patron, but I felt compelled to hold it in my hand. I needed to feel the sensation of a perfect fit. I pulled the stick from the can and gently tapped the metal tip on the concrete floor. I had a big smile in case the other pilgrim thought I was trying to swipe his stick. Instead, he laughed and said, “Do you want that pole?”
I about had a heart attack and quickly replied, “Yes!!”
He smiled and said, “It was on my bunk in last night’s hostel. I tried to turn it in and they told me to keep it. I am too short and need a smaller one.”
We traded walking companions, hugged, and Gandolf became my new walking pal. So ironic that the perfect item came at the perfect time under perfect circumstances.
That same evening, I checked into a very unique albergue. It was odd because it only had two beds in each room. Total Heaven! My roomie for the night was a very upbeat man from Holland named Rob. After about five minutes of chit chat, he offered to cook me dinner.
He explained that cooking is a big part of his life. He cooks for his wife, two boys, one girl, and a 78 year old man that they have basically adopted. The older man had alienated his family and Rob does not believe that anyone should be alone. The man dines with then five nights per week.
While eating pasta with a plethora of fresh vegetables, crusty bread, and Rob’s special secret spice mixture, we began to share some stories. He was fearful about arriving in Santiago because it would mark the temporary end of a very long journey. Rob was dyslexic and that left an ugly stamp on his childhood. His father passed when he was 15 and his mother was not much help. He eventually started his own company making environmentally friendly building materials. While quite lucrative, it was not filling his soul so he sold the company. Later he went to work for a competitor, but felt the same emptiness.
Around the same time, he entered a very dark medical hole. There was a nerve problem in his spine and he could not find a doctor to help. Over the next two years, he was basically bedridden and had no use of one arm. He painfully traveled to six different European countries seeking a spinal specialist. He finally found a reluctant surgeon and proceeded with a very risky operation. The procedure was successful but he had to learn to walk again from ground zero. He returned home and half of his house was quickly consumed by flames.
His wife works in hospice (no surprise) and that gave him leeway to pursue his own professional passions without the need to generate significant income. His primary career is in theater production but his passion is the side job of grinding wheat in an ancient windmill. He snickered and told me that the pay was lousy but he would do it for free. He loves the scent of the old concrete, the “whoosh” of the blades, and the beautiful mechanics of the old fashioned grinding operation.
During breakfast the next day, he looked at me with a coy smile and said, “A new day. So many chances!”
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