Oh God of Second Chances…

As we entered the rush before Christmas in 2019, I had less time and less inclination than before to write. After 8 years of blogging, I wasn’t sure anything I might write about was fresh or particularly meaningful. Then, as some friends, Sherod and I sat watching the 2020 Super Bowl, I got a call from a doctor from one of those “Doc in a Box” places. The day before, Sherod had taken my dad for help with some kind of pretty awful respiratory bug that was afflicting Dad. An x-ray of his lungs showed what looked like pneumonia. Now, on Sunday evening, the urgent care doctor who had examined him was calling to say a radiologist had reviewed the x-ray and was very certain the shadow in my dad’s right lung was not pneumonia but a rather large tumor. By the end of that week, we knew my dad had lung cancer. That marked the beginning of walking with my dad right up to the gates of heaven on August 26th of last year. On a blazing-hot summer morning as August became September, I picked up the container holding my dad’s ashes and carefully poured them into a small grave, dug in the memorial garden of the church I serve. Dust to dust. Ashes to ashes.

Six weeks after my dad got his diagnosis of lung cancer, on a Thursday morning, the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama sent out an ‘all points’ notice that all churches were to shut down immediately in response to Covid-19. Fast-forward to October of 2020 and my siblings and I found ourselves following the path of conflict and brokenness previous generations of my family have walked as they sorted through estates and who gets what. It was devastating. Plenty else went on that made it harder and harder to find much more energy than needed to get through each day.

Although, Lord knows, there is plenty left to find our way through with the Delta variant of this damned virus, bits and pieces of goodness started weaving back together in my life in these last few months, making it easier to do less self-isolating. Then, in a totally unexpected and truly marvelous way, a new path began to open for me that beckons and calls daily. I have renamed this blog to reflect yet a another new chapter (I think the 3rd or 4th since 2011, when I started my blog).

There will be plenty more to say in the days and months ahead, I hope; but this is the very brief sketch: One of my best and oldest friends has just moved to Porto, Portugal. Out of curiosity, I began to poke around with Google to learn more about the second largest city in Portugal. As so often happens with Google, I stumbled on a blog by a woman who had written about the “Portuguese Coastal Caminho de Santiago” that begins in Porto. Wait. Whaaaatttt?

For years, I dreamed, planned, prayed to get to walk the French Camino de Santiago–a trail that you enter in the French Pyrenees and follow to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The time was never right and I could not imagine a time when I’d be both young enough and have enough time off to walk the entirety of that route in what in English we call “The Way of Saint James.” I finally accepted the reality that this was one dream I had to be willing to let go of and so I did. And then, here was this alternative route (and I didn’t even know there was such a thing!). The coastal version of the Portuguese route follows the Atlantic coastline of Portugal and a piece of Spain before heading inland to Santiago de Compostela. The length of the path is about 174 miles. Many people make the pilgrimage in under 15 days. I don’t imagine I can do it that quickly but the thing is–this actually is doable, even now. I have set the goal of walking the Camino in 2022.

I have been reading voraciously about this possibility. I found a list of “what to pack for the Coastal Route.” Because there is still a whole, whole, whole, lot that needs to come together, I had to fight back my impulse to buy the backpack that’s recommended, a lightweight sleeping bag, etc., etc. But I allowed myself to get one item. There are a series of ‘albergues’–basically, pilgrim hostels–all along the way. Most have communal bathrooms and it is recommended that the pilgrim have shower slippers for the relatively few showers she or he will get to have in communal showers along the way. I could get a pair for real cheap. I’ll certainly need something very different for the actual walking but it is not time yet to do more than this in terms of purchases and they are my reminder that even an audacious dream like this one is for me, requires a level of practicality and clarity about the essentials.

The slow, patient and careful preparations are part of the pilgrimage itself, I am finding. I wake up these mornings, thinking to myself, “Buen Camino.” This is the phrase exchanged by pilgrims and by those how encourage them on along the way. Literally it means “Good Way”–as in, have a good journey, or make the journey good. In its most literal sense though, there is the simple acknowledgment that the Way–the path itself, ‘the journey,’ is good. These days themselves are good too. In fact, very good.