I awoke at 4:30am and felt absolutely sick in my stomach. This hadn’t happened on my journey so far. Other types of pain, but never sickly dread. That’s what it felt like. It was still raining, and it had been all night. I got up to do morning pages, not convinced that I would be walking at all today.
I have observed for myself and many others I’ve know over the years, that there certainly is some truth to what was identified perhaps tongue-in-cheek by Douglas Adams, and that is that the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything is truly 42. It is not surprising that it was Deep Thought that discovered it. My 42nd year was one of big changes, and I have called it my ‘meaning of life’ year ever since, so it was when I noticed that this was day 42, I was expecting something big!
I realised that I am nearing the end of my journey. This meant I would be leaving France soon. I never like leaving France. If only I could find a way to stay. It is turning into a big effort dragging myself up this final mountain, but it is dragging myself metaphorically through the idea that I will be leaving and ending this amazingly insightful time that is the real dead weight. I wrote a quote this morning from Pierre Gerrin, “ce n’est pas tont to qui marche sur le chemin, c’est plutôt le chemin qui marche en toi“. You don’t walk on the way, the way walks you. Maybe I don’t want to leave the walk just yet. It is such a tempting way of life. Reiner has lived like this for 8 years. I’ve met many people who return every year to follow a new version of the way. What does it bring them to? A great simplicity perhaps, or access to great generosity and a way of living that is deeply personal and functional? For some it is the next step from abandoning all your possessions, putting faith in a higher place, that you will have everything you need if you just walk. It is a very interesting thing to do, and will be so much an ongoing part of your life if you do it, even just once. It is alchemical as Guillaume said. It is real and purposeful.
Reflecting on these things, I began to re-visit my intentions for this trip. What have I learnt about forgiveness, discipline and purpose? I have practiced discipline and purpose, the walking and the writing have been clear reflections of this. But I found myself wanting in the forgiveness department. How do I do that, I asked? Accept what has happened to you, and that each person has played an important and vital role in your life up until now. Each character has played their correct part according to the script for you life. Accept this. This is the purpose of your life. Just to accept that all is for a reason, and that reason is to bring you to know yourself and know God. Don’t doubt that this is true. Reiner said as much. You chose your life. Your body will continue to show you the way. It is feeling again. Watch it, listen to it. It operates to keep you safe. It has turned the corner. The switch is set back to ‘on’. You have been re-started. Trust your body. Trust yourself. Trust God. You will never know such love as you have now. You are the light that God has sent to the earth. Claim that light and shine it on everyone your meet. This is a cause for celebration, not trepidation.
Funny how things turn out. At breakfast Marion tried to gee me up – “everything will turn out OK”. I started asking the hosts about taking a morning bus. I found out what time it passed by and where it stopped. It is the first day of spring in Australia, and Anita’s birthday. Gradually, everyone left, the couple who were starting out on their journey together (in more way than one), then Marion and Sylvia. Out into the rain they all went, but it wasn’t the rain that was keeping me.
I stayed, packing my bag up, planning my bus activities. I spoke to Karine about it. She was a volunteer who had been helping out providing welcome to pilgrims for a little while in this place. She was leaving today and so was the other hospitaliere, she’d left already. I explained to her what had been happening for me. The distractions with my house in Australia, and having to constantly check whether there were bookings was taking a big toll. We had a long chat, with a cup of tea. She told me to be still, take my time to decide where to go next. She told me of the little walks I could do around the village – the shrine down by the river to the place where a fisherman and a shepherd on separate occasions had seen an Apparition of the Virgin Mary, the chapel of Mary Magdalene up at the back of the property. Find solace in those peaceful places. Do what you need to do to be strong. She suggested if I could do without the money, why not take my house of the website, and cut email ties with Australia. I decided to take my home off Airbnb, and just trust that things would be OK when I return. In the morning the wifi wasn’t working, but it meant that I had time to contemplate what to do. There is nothing I ‘have’ to do. Not even go all the way to Col du Somport.
Calm. Silence. Trust. Confidence that all would be well. Go your own way. Take time to be still. It is all clear.
Karine said goodbye after we exchanged email addresses. She said I could have lunch with the community, she would tell Piere that I needed to stay tonight as well.
I took Karine’s advice and walked slowly around the town, to the Boucherie to see what they had, to the Virgin’s statue, then to Mary Magdalene’s chapel where I stayed for an hour. As I walked back along the pruned plane tree path that curved around the hill, the ground felt softer. I got back at 12:30 and suspected I was missing lunch, however I felt that I needed to connect to block out my Airbnb and tell my flatmate that I wouldn’t be contacting again until I was back in Australia. I realised that some people like drama, and want to draw you into theirs, no matter where in the world you are. This is their way, but it doesn’t have to be mine. I have never warmed to it, and it has taken this episode for me to realise that some people are so completely wound up in themselves that they don’t give anyone else’s needs a second thought. I don’t have any space for this deep anxiety in my life. Everything will work out for the best. Yes, thy will be done, indeed.
There is no meaningless parroting for me any more. I want to live like this. I don’t want to have goals, I want the best life for myself, and I know that it will come with complete surrender. I will be asking so much more now, asking my body when it signals to me, asking myself when I am faced with a choice. There really are strong forces here to protect me. I know it. I no longer feel afraid in trepid situations, with cars and guns. I know that I am safe. What relief.
Lunch was pasta and roquefort cheese, I’m glad I stayed! After lunch I lounged for a little minute and then heard the bells. I thought I’d make myself scarce in case there were new arrivals at 2pm. I slept until 3pm and heard two new people. Then I ventured downstairs to the toilet and was surprised to find the green-eyed Benjamin in the welcome area. He had stayed in Oloron for another night. I went upstairs again and back to bed.
Another pilgrim arrived and was shown my room. Her name is Diane. It is nice to have some people to share the space with. A new energy. I wrote my journal for over an hour.
I went down to the dining room for dinner, and there was confusion, part language and part beligerance about whether I’d paid for dinner. After getting to a more calm place, I was frustrated that I was again being drawn into a drama, that was probably my own creation. I thought that Karine had said that what I paid covered me, but I ended up having a discussion with the guy who took over from Karine as hospitaliere. I got upset, as I really thought I had settled everything, and I was running out of money. In the end I was in tears, and said that I wouldn’t stay for dinner if it was such a problem. I walked back out into the cloister, through the welcome room and upstairs to my room where they new hospitaliere came to tell me I should come to dinner. I wasn’t to be convinced, and stayed crying in the bedroom. This day that was meant to be a chance to collect myself, was turning into something different altogether. I went downstairs eventually and Benjamin kindly shared some noodles with me. He seemed sympathetic to my plight. He is a happy fellow, who is always singing or whistling. Tonight it was Take 5 – the first tune so far that I’d recognised.
Let’s hope I feel OK to walk tomorrow, I don’t think I could manage to stay another day. I felt my welcome had well and truly worn out.