A sunny, yet chilly March morning dawns. Today is the day I will take that single step and begin my “stroll,” as it were. A friend of mine suggested that I call it that (as opposed to, say, the Bataan death march) in order to keep positive about the now 240+ kilometer count for the 10-day period. With my husband/children off to work/school, I resist the lure of the coffee pot and say my morning prayers while slowly getting dressed for my walk. Note to self: get some workout clothes that actually fit. After a several-minute search for my tennis shoes, I find them on the shoe rack in our foyer. As I knock them together, a lovely ball of dust/cat hair puffs out of the shoes. Hmm…not a promising beginning. I lace them up and pull my white socks up a little farther to cover the haven’t-been-shaved-since-November ankles.
I step out the door and the bite of the morning air has me longing for my cozy bathrobe. But I pull the oversize sweatshirt sleeves over my hands to ward off the chill and walk down our street toward the center of our little village of Jabeek in the Netherlands. The bells of St. Gertrudis ring 8:15 a.m. just as I pass the church. I fancy that it’s God saying good morning, and my heart leaps a little in response. Here I am, Lord! I’m on my way!
Tuning the corner, I run into the groenegrocer, aka the local farmer who runs a little store with fresh veggies, honey and eggs. (Those eggs are the best in the region, we’ve been told, and we’re inclined to agree). The groenegrocer is walking his little black and white dog. He seems pleased to see me walking, and comments in passing that it is a nice morning for a walk. Of course, him saying this is like me saying “It’s a nice morning to breathe.” Walking is an ingrained part of Dutch culture. I smile, answer him with my meager Dutch, but don’t stop to chat.
About seven minutes into the walk, however, I do stop to stretch. I notice a tightness in my right calf and thigh, but my back and my heels (problem areas) seem to be doing fine. As I resume walking, I take a series of deep breaths and the sheer pleasure of feeling my body move floods through me. I’ve been sedentary for so long that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to feel the whole machine working as it’s designed to do.
I turn right onto a narrow, paved road that divides a farm field. This long, straight stretch of road was where my 12-year-old daughter Madeleine first successfully rode a bicycle. An early bad spill on her bike while she was learning to ride had arrested the process and only the threat of missing a week-long school trip, where biking skills were required, motivated her to climb back on the bike. She was so determined that day. I was working so hard to keep up with her, running behind her trying to keep one hand on her seat, but often failing. I remember feeling ashamed I wasn’t physically fit enough to keep up with her and to take part in this rite of passage as effortlessly as other parents seem to. She ran off the road a few times, sinking her bicycle tires into the soft farm fields, sometimes even falling. But she was focused, persistent, and eventually she found her balance.
As I walk that very stretch of road, it occurs to me that that this pilgrimage is like Madeleine finally learning to ride a bike. Like her, I have a specific goal and don’t want to let this opportunity slip away simply because I am afraid to do what I have to do to prepare. And let there be no mistake – I am afraid of this trip. I am very likely going to suck wind in a huge way and struggle every moment of every day. And yet, I still want to do it more than anything. Weird.
The road begins to meander through a shaded, woody area and the warmth of the sun is instantly missed. But rather than hurry through this shady section of the walk, my gait slows. The road is uneven here, and it is more dirt and rock here than asphalt. I plan every footfall carefully and take my time.
Will there “shady moments” in this training period and on the Camino itself? Undoubtedly. This will not be a perfect ideal of a pilgrimage. I don’t expect it to be all sunshine and happiness. When moments of darkness come, perhaps in the form of fatigue, blisters, and bad weather, I pray that I can respond the way that so many other pilgrims have: with unshakeable faith and trust that even though I may not be able see it right now, the light is there.
I walk for a grand total of 20 minutes this Wednesday morning. Not a lot, I know. But it’s 20 more minutes than I normally walk. And every bit of it felt good. I’ll be adding more every day, but am taking a slow and steady approach to my physical conditioning.
Thanks for walking with me today. More tomorrow…