Living or Just Breathing?

On May 26, my stepdad turned 85.  He never exercises, lights 40 Marlboro’s every day, and knocks down a dozen Cutty Sarks each night.  He is alive, but is that a life?  On the same day, I was about 345,000 steps into my journey and began to think about quality versus longevity.  I would much rather die early having lived a life filled with  passion for each moment.

My newest walking pal was a fine lady from Canada named Beth.  Little did I know that she would become a fixture of this Camino until the end.  Beth has been involved in television and movies for over 20 years.  It was fascinating to learn about her industry. On her current show, 300 people spend 9 long days (14 hours) to produce 1 hour of television.  I heard all the horror stories of arrogant actors refusing to exit their trailers, but my favorite involved Roger Daltrey.  He was doing a cameo on one of her shows and they developed a nice friendship.  One morning, he was strumming his acoustic guitar for an audience of one and asked her for a request.  She melted as he played Beyond Blue Eyes.  What a nice moment in life.

We hoped to end the day in a Castrojeriz.  The guidebook accurately describes this city as a “Delightfully sleepy town with a declining population now only 500 who seem permanently occupied with siesta.”  We were almost at the edge of town and could not find an albergue.   The next village was 10KM down the road and included one gigantic hill.  With waning spirits, we passed an elegant glass door with “Embed” etched across the front.  It was so out of place for the Camino and especially in this sleepy town.  We hit the buzzer and were greeted by a beautiful young lady with an infectious smile.  We split the cost and entered a world of luxury in this 10 room hotel.  While gawking at the nice room, our hostess knocked on the door to inquire about our need for laundry service.  Six euros and two hours later, our refreshed clothes were folded and delivered on a tray.  Yes, a tray.  Another nice moment in life.

They were pretty adamant about our breakfast time.  Our options were 7:30 or 8:00. Given our new found fondness for luxury, we opted for the later seating.  Around 8:01, our hostess placed a football sized perfectly browned flaky croissant in front of me. Steam was literally oozing out of this masterpiece.  Beth was not as fortunate as they plopped a lifeless doughy miniature version in front of her.  It was a flaccid croissant.  I snickered and said, “Lets cut them in half and we can both experience the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”

She said, “No, it is okay.”  After a long pause, she blurted, “What the fuck?  This is my whole problem in life.  Why do I grin and bear it when all I need to do is ask for what I deserve!”

She summoned the server and the problem was easily remedied.  I witnessed one of her biggest lessons of the entire Camino in the most unlikely setting.  What a great moment in life.

On my 2012 Camino, after walking 10 long kilometers on a very frigid morning, I arrived in a tiny village at an albergue named En El Camino.  I was greeted by the heart and soul of the Camino, a man named Eduardo.  I told him that I needed heat and nourishment.  He smiled and told me not to worry about anything and that he would fix me.  I left about an hour later and swore that I would stay there if I ever walked the Camino in the future.  That day came on May 27.

I arrived at the incredible courtyard and immediately noticed a new mural that reminded me of the U.S. artist Leroy Neiman.  The colorful painting stretched for about 40-50 feet and featured life-sized replicas of semi-clad superheros.  A perfect compliment to the oasis in the middle of nowhere.  I was stunned when Eduardo greeted me and actually remembered our previous encounter from three years ago.  Such a nice moment.

I enjoyed a long and lazy afternoon by watching storks fly to and fro the belfry to feed their youth.  These creatures can weigh up to 18 pounds with a wingspan exceeding 10 feet.  Magnificent and memorizing to observe them in nature.  So strong and majestic. All the while, sipping coffee and enjoying the moment.

Dinner was served family style at a table with 20 hungry pilgrims.  The planet was well represented with people from Korea, France, Poland, Austria, Canada, Brazil, and Israel.  After dinner, Eduardo gave me a private tour of his new hotel.  His entire family has labored to design and  build this 16 room palace.  There is a pool in the basement next to a 12th century baptism stone tub.  I am staying there on my next Camino!

I complimented him on the colorful mural that adorns the courtyard.  He smiled and told me the story.  The artist, Joan Beuno Casadesus, painted the entire wall in less than five hours.  He is 82 years old and believes that everyone that walks the Camino is a superhero.  He broke his own mold by walking the trail 22 times.  When I left the next morning, Eduardo comped my room and food.  I exited with a humbled heart.  What a great moment in life.

I spent 27 years in an alcohol induced haze and was likely on a road similar to my 85 year old stepdad.  Great moments rarely occur on that path.   I am eternally grateful to be on the other side and imbibing the wonderful moments that are available each and every day.