(Delayed due to lack of internet in the mountains. This also means that I only recently found out who won the American election. I am blessed!)
Three months ago on August 5th, I accidentally and randomly stumbled upon the stone that best represented why I’m walking The Camino. (Previously written about HERE.) I’ve carried it with me for the last 500+ kilometres wondering if I’ll actually be ready to leave it behind when the time comes. It’s not that getting rid of a stone is hard. It’s what the stone represents and the fact that this burden has been a part of me for such a long time.
On November 5th (BTW – totally not planned that it was three months EXACTLY) as millions of pilgrims have done before me, I left my stone at the base of the Cruz de Ferro (iron cross) in the mountains of Spain – the highest point of The Camino.
The ancients believed that the higher you were, the closer you were to God. (This might explain why Charlie Sheen has a God complex.) Leaving a stone symbolizes leaving behind that which has been weighing on your soul. (I should have left my entire stinkin’ backpack!)
The day before I was to reach Cruz de Ferro, I still wasn’t 100% sure that the symbology behind my stone was exactly clear in my own head. I WAS sure though, that the darkness in my heart had grown too big and was beginning to take over any remaining light. But explaining to someone else what this darkness is, has completely evaded me. So far, all I’ve been able to come up with is this:
Every close relationship has gone down the crapper at some point. I’ve known for a long time that I have a serious crack in my “love-tank”. Whatever goes in, leaks out – eventually. And I have become so accustomed to searching for love that I’m not sure I know how to live WITH love. My parents. My birth mother. (Yup – I’ve screwed things up with TWO mothers) My sister. My wife. My kids. My God. And even the odd “friend” that was somehow able to slip through my evasive maneuvers. Some relationships have recovered – to a point. While others… well the outcome has yet to be determined.
I’ve never been great at math, but I’ve been working on an equation over the last few weeks and I’ve discovered that the common denominator in each relationship has been… ME. Don’t get me wrong, I’m fantastic at short term relationships, (which is probably why I prefer to move around rather than stay in one place for very long) but given enough time………
SO WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH ME?
A/ I’m a big fan of sarcastic jerks who subtly or not so subtly, say what others are thinking but wouldn’t dare say it out loud. Like, the old school caustic comedian Don Wrickles (Mr Warmth) for example.
I remember my Second City improv instructor telling me once that I reminded her of him. (That was a compliment, right?) And actor/comedian Ricky Gervais brilliantly KILLS me. When I was growing up, there was a guy named Jeff I looked up to. He worked with the horses. He was a loner. He was seemingly confident. He was grumpy in the mornings and dripped with sarcastic humor all day long. Basically – he was a dick.
So overall, I guess it could be said that – I like dicks?
B/ I actually prefer the darkness over the light. At least in myself. Truthfully, i feel that my darkness is also a key ingredient in my funny – and I really like my funny. It’s also been incredibly helpful with my observational awareness of humanity. It’s a sort of litmus test for authenticity. In other words, I trust dark people more than I do the shiny ones. And it’s easy to detect because plastic always gives off a certain fake odour. (I do secretly admire those who emanate authentic light. SHHHHHH! Don’t tell anyone.) I absolutely cringe at earnest. Like, when people are super nice or super polite or super eager or super keen or super esoteric… it makes me vomit just a little in the back of my mouth.
So overall, I guess it could be said that – people who don’t get sarcasm and live in Disneyland are dicks I don’t like?
A recent example… I was listening to a 30 something, long haired, British, tattooed, gypsy dude who was travelling with his hottie girlfriend, tell another pilgrim that a few years ago he walked away from everything – his house, his belongings – and has been wandering the world for years, not even knowing what day it is. “I only know seasons,” I heard him say. He had only just met this this poor bloke that he was lecturing and yet seemed to haveall the answers for him. The guy was on The Camino because he was burned out, but Captain Avoidance proceeded to share his vast years of wisdom for a good hour with this guy, capping it all off with, “Just find what makes you happy and just do it man. Just do it!” UGH… Thanks Deepak!
C/ (yet to be determined)
D/ (yet to be determined)
E/ (yet to be determined)
I am certain that more revelations are yet to come and this is because of “the others.” Maybe there is a God. Maybe there isn’t. But if there is, then the way God chooses to interact with me is indirectly and through his creation. And that includes “the others.”
I am so thankful to the many, many others/pilgrims who have shared their journeys with me, wept with me, and walked with me throughout my travels thus far. (One even joined me in silence for an entire day!) So many of them have graciously imparted some well earned wisdom with me over the last month or so. Although, one American hospitalero (hostel host) thought I was foolish to do the Camino in silence because I wouldn’t get the “full” experience of interacting with others. However, I don’t think I could be any fuller! Collectively, every pilgrim’s mess has helped me immensely in processing my own garbage. I am so thankful to each of them and I look forward to actually saying “Buen Camino” to as many as I can one day.
A number of people from my life at home have said to me, “Hope you find what you’re looking for.” And to be honest, this sentimental platitude was beginning to get under my skin. To me, I interpreted it as, “I have no idea what you’re doing or why you’re doing it or what your problem is. I have no such need or desire in my life because everything is peachy here in Disneyland.” Of course, I know this isn’t what they were saying, but it sorta kinda felt like that. However, each time someone said it, I thought, “Okay Marshall – what the heck IS your problem? Why ARE you walking 800 KM’s and spending three months in silence? And what’s this Darkness crap you keep rattling on about?”
I had been stuck in processing purgatory when it came to actually being able to define exactly what the “Darkness” was. However, some really fascinating things began to unfold as a result of my listening to the others.
Early one morning, as I walked around a stone building to get a better view of the mountains, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a massive dog. He was suspiciously chained up out by the back shed. We made eye contact as I slowly approached him. His face was Dark, but his energy was light. Then, as I reached out to pet him……………………..
he laid down on his back and wrapped his arms around me.
After a few minutes of playing with the Dark one, his best buddy came around the corner wanting in on the action. This one had a Light face.
I had seen the other Light faced dog earlier, but it wanted nothing to do with me. He was busy doing what he was supposed to do.
It wasn’t until I played with the Darkness that the Light showed up.
As I sat with them both, watching the sun rise over a breath taking horizon,
I remembered something a German pilgrim who was battling Lou Gerhig’s Disease (ALS) reminded me of a few weeks earlier.
He spoke of a famous legend that has been passed down throughout the ages:
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
I NEED TO STOP FEEDING THE DARK WOLF!
Besides – he is tired at this point in his life. You can see it in his eyes.
I got to thinking – the Dark wolf probably doesn’t even need to be chained up anymore, does he? But what if the Dark wolf is allowed it’s freedom and it bites the ones we love? Or maybe it begins to harm or devour the Light wolf? Than should we not put the Dark wolf to sleep/kill it? Or maybe both wolves can continue to live together? Unchained, side by side, as one, in one?
Finally, the time had come to walk to the top of The Camino and lay my burden down.
As I’ve mentioned before, another pilgrim showed me that it’s okay for grown-ups to wish for things. So I wished for three things that day. (Oh THAT’S original Drew.)
1/ That no one else would be around the cross when I laid my burden down. (It’s just so embarrassing sobbing in front of people.
2/ That the sun would make an appearance. (I had been walking in a cloud for two days.)
3/ That maybe, I could get a sign. Something to really make me shake my head and ponder the interactive and tangible existence of God.
As I approached the Iron Cross, I wept openly because… NO ONE WAS AROUND.
And here’s something ELSE that I really don’t want to share. I’ve spent a lifetime rolling my eyes at people who say this kind of stuff, so trust me when I say that I still have a tough time with this one. Up to this point, I’d been keeping my stone buried deep in the backpack. But because it was the day to leave it behind, I brought it out and kept it in my front, left pant pocket. I tell you this without exaggeration. (I can’t believe I’m about to admit this) I swear that I felt the stone vibrate in my pocket numerous times on my way to The Iron Cross. Like a mobile phone! (Go ahead. Judge me. I totally would!)
(No the flame in the rock has not been photoshopped!)
I also can’t believe that I am about to admit THIS. As I stood at the foot of the cross, I heard myself whisper through my stupid tears, “Oh God.” These were the first words that have escaped my lips in six weeks! And yet, I don’t feel like I’ve broken my vow. Maybe because it was a whisper in isolation? Maybe because I remember a few people telling me before I left, to give myself some grace when it came to my three month vow of silence. But I remember thinking that when I say I’m going to do something, I do it. Grace is new to me. But at this point in my life I have become fully aware that I need to keep practicing non-judgemental, compassionate self awareness. (Thanks O-dot Yogi.)
After a good hour of sitting in a nearby stone shelter (because it was raining/sleeting/hailing) contemplating the impending moment of the day, my second wish came true.
It was time to stop thinking and just do it.
Now, this might sound silly but I was trying to figure out HOW I would do it. Would I throw my stone on the pile or place it with the Light side on top, representing my determination to suppress my Darkness? I decided I would throw it and however it landed, I would take that as a sign.
After throwing it, I immediately walked towards my stone to see how it had landed.
Then, I sat back in the shelter, smoked my Scottish tobacco in my Irish briar pipe and thought about how my stone had randomly landed.
Then, I went and found my stone, picked it up, walked over to a rock wall at the base of the cross, found a loose rock, pulled it out, placed my stone behind it WITH the light side facing up, then put the loose rock back in front of it. (It reminded me of that scene from Shawshank Redemption when Morgan Freeman found his cell mate’s tin with money and directions to join him in paradise, buried behind a rock in a stone wall.)
I’ve always had a hard time leaving things to fate and chance. Choice feels better for me.
Not long after I had left the Cruz de Ferro, I was on my way to visit a Camino legend – Tomas a legit member of The Knight’s Templar.
Walking through the eerie mountain mist I thought I saw… NO WAY!
Another pilgrim from Finland showed me something one night a while back. I’m embarrassed to admit I had not heard of The Desiderata before. However, this brilliant piece of inspirational literature has resonated so much with my soul and who I want to be as a grandfather, that I have decided to try and memorize it during the last month of my 40’s. Memorizing has always been my greatest battle. For whatever reason, my brain is missing the component needed to retain information. I still have nightmares that I’m on stage in some production that mom forced me join. (She was the first one to see the creative performing arts side of me and not just the class clown.) Just as the production turns it’s attention to me, NOTHING comes out of my mouth, because the lyrics or the script has completely left my brain.
It’s taken me five days to memorize 30 words, but this is what I focus on as I walk to 50.
“Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”
Max Ehrmann, “Desiderata”
The Light wolf is full… for now.