The 21st leg of the virtual Camino.

Times of scarcity need to be met with generosity, times of fear with comfort, times of uncertainty with presence. When we care for those around us, we create a field of love. – THOMAS HÜBL

I’ve been thinking about the bridges we pass along this route from St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Finisterre. Stone, wooden and virtual.

I’ve been thinking about the small plank walkways that haven enabled E. and me to cross the moors these weeks here in Jæren, without damaging the wildlife – or even getting our feet wet. These tiny bridges span stone to stone, from pasture to pasture, and they’re checked and repaired each spring by workers and volunteers along all of Norway’s wild trails.

My favorite bridges in the world are the covered bridges in my grandmother’s home state of Vermont. Covered bridges are like being carried over the water by loving arms. Bridges as a metaphor for connection, yes. But they are also evidence of care: the kindness we do for one another: a very long-distance “let me help you”.

And there is something even more caring when they are celebrated with aesthetic elements. Like how a simple gift carefully wrapped compels the recipient to pay attention to giver’s intention. “It’s the thought that counts.” It’s the deep intention behind the care.

And by this I don’t mean that “a lot of thought went into the gift”. I mean: this gift is a message – the message is not in the gift, but in the giving.

Receive it with a fearless heart.

I think this receiving bit is easier said than done.

Historically, gift-giving has been about the exchanging of goods or compliments. Tit for tat. Establishing social bonds and obligations. I like clear contracts. I’m okay with this really. When I know the rules.

A friend of mine once told me about the “tyranny of the gift“.  I know this exists: this is the evil twin of… kindness. I’m uncomfortable using the word generosity, because generosity implies a kind of sacrifice on the part of the giver. 

I know there is nothing that says that an act of generosity inherently involves sacrifice. But here I have it in my head and in my heart. And why would a stranger sacrifice something for me?

Why would she give me an apple? It must be poisonous. She must want what is in my sack. She is going to want what is in my sack tomorrow. Once I take a bite and then she’ll ask for money. For a favor. For… 

Something will be expected of me and I will fail – down the line – to behave properly. I will be punished.

I swear that when I was studying primates in college and tried to give food to a low-ranking macaque I felt sorry for, she had the same suspicion: “What will I have to pay for this, and how?”

After a painful minute of total stillness, she grabbed the monkey chow biscuit as fast as possible (scratching me in the process) and ran away.

And she did pay for it – because a higher ranking monkey caught up with her and punished her. (That was the last time I interfered with a macaque hierarchy.) 

Receiving a gift as an act of kindness requires faith. It also requires risk, and an acceptance of the unknown.

Accepting kindness from strangers well – without suspicion – is a gift in itself.

I know I am not the only one who was taught as a child that “thank you” is the “payment” for a gift. But it doesn’t have to be. It can be a message in return if the intention is receiving is there: I see the kindness in your gift, and I – fearlessly – accept your care.

And if all this seems odd to you. If your faith is not tested when you are faced with kindness, then I believe that – sometime in your life – you were given the greatest gift ever. 

The 20th leg of the Camino

And we are invited by our guide to consider difference. And this is another invitation that I want to pull away from.

I am an immigrant to a country so influenced by American media the people expect no difference in me. I expect no difference in them. So when it comes, subtle but essential, it burns. You know, how when you are distracted and it actually takes a surprisingly long time for the pain to register? Oh: this tiny detail is important. The knuckle touching an oven rack while you are concentrating on keeping the cake still enough to avoid it’s collapse.

Then everything collapses.

It is somehow easier when you know you are a stranger in a strange place. Easier than being a stranger in a familiar place.

Familiar is not the same as known. Even the words are a world apart.

We learn quickly to recognize and categorize the world and the things in it. People, puppies. Furry things with swishing tails and sharp claws are not puppies, they are angry cats. Women of a certain age are mommies. Women of “a certain age” are grandmothers. Things that taste metallic and bitter are poisonous. Except broccoli.

We resist those exceptions that do not fit into our system. The exceptions, and the ambiguities they present, threaten our survival.

A difference challenges what I know of the world, and to open a dialogue is frightening. But we can’t really ever know the world, it is continuously changing.

I suppose it hits every generation, too – when the pendulum swings, or the tide turns – and what you knew is only familiar now. You are an immigrant in your own country: what you thought was sexy is tacky, was classic is passé, was polite is offensive.

If opening oneself to a dialogue with the unknown wasn’t difficult enough, a dialogue takes two willing voices.  A dialogue is not a call and response. It’s not a monologue and an echo.

What more can we do but to practice walking a middle way and listen? To keep perspective while considering other perspectives? A discussion that doesn’t aim at persuasion, that isn’t fueled by the hope of conversion.

I long for more discussions fueled by curiosity and compassion.

Not all differences have a resolution – only the dialogue towards a resolution. And that ongoing openness has to be enough, because the world is continuously changing.

Swallows in the feed.
Blue tits in the holly hedge
call impatiently.


The 19th leg of the virtual Camino.

Today our gentle guide encourages us to have an intention to allow ourselves to get lost.

I resist this. I came on this virtual Camino because I already feel lost: I set out from a starting point I couldn’t pinpoint, didn’t recognize – I had lost myself.

When gratitude is the ground on which we stand, we can be satisfied with life exactly as it is and relax into the unknown.  – SAGE COHEN

So, as they say: “Where does it say…” you have to know who you are to be happy where you are?

I have been going about it all backwards. Who I am is how I move through the world. I believe this. But I should be questioning the value of my own personal dogma when it comes to how I think I should be moving through the world.

If I am going to allow the world to delight me, maybe it is an advantage to be such a stranger to my own manner that I’m not able to predict what will delight me?

If I accept that I am lost, I’ll see the world through a wider lens. I’ll necessarily look more closely at the details – with an open mind.

I may well find many new versions of myself along the way.  And isn’t this what growth is all about?



The 18th leg of the Camino.

There are times I enter entirely mundane conversations outfitted in full battlegear. Purely defensive, mind you.

These days I’m able to catch myself sometimes.

These days, sometimes, I catch myself – only to persist with the stiff and cold confrontation.

There is a small, wounded animal beneath my breastplate. Wounded animals are illogical little beasts. They bite the hand that feeds them.

Today our guide invites us to contemplate which battles we can choose to walk away from and be all the better for it.

I get an almost Monty Python image of my head of a knight thrashing about in clanging armour, fighting invisible attackers why bystanders give each other knowing glances.

Some days I am that knight. There are so many battles that are long over that I am still fighting, and so many that I am anticipating – that may never happen.

What a silly way to spend my energy. I could be hiking over the same field, looking for lark’s nests, or grouse. I could be running, waist-deep through the grass. Or I could just lie back and stare at the clouds.

But I have this frightened little lemming-heart.

They eased the restrictions yesterday. One meter between people’s bodies, rather than two. Still no touching: No leaning into a friend’s shoulder when you share a laugh.

I’ve been thinking again about the healing nature of non-sexual touch. And about all the battles that have to be fought by many of us in order to bring that into our lives.

I think about Temple Grandin’s squeeze machine, about weighted blankets.

I think about how my gestalt therapist had me sit back-to-back with her. She asked me to lean on her – without worrying that I was too heavy for her to support, without fearing she’d chastise me when she changed her mind – or had had enough.

Sometimes our own bodies are the battlefield – the lines invisible, or shifting unpredictably.

Then again, maybe sometimes the battlefield as a metaphor can’t help at all to sooth our frantic hearts.

And all the armour is just… too heavy for the human body.

Even friendly fire
quiets with a sudden truce –
the river moves on

The 17th leg of the virtual Camino

I’m rethinking peace today. It is a very grown-up thing to desire, isn’t it? I mean, once you get beyond the “wishing for world peace” trope.

But I am not longing for peace and quiet. Not for peace as an absence of stimulation. Not peace as restraint.

But peace as something else.

Something rowdy and joyful.

Maybe peace is the sturdy framework for creative 6f5d8f18baae60a5af61886886bc4d78disorder?

I think of the fortunate children who are “at peace with themselves” – noisy as hell, but secure and daring.

I want that peace: that tether, or trust  – the emotional security – that allows children to explore the top of the jungle gym, the scary cupboard in the garage, and the range of inhuman sounds their vocal cords can mimic.

I want a peace that is not still, not restless, but curious.

How about peace as freedom from expectations?

Peace as freedom from judgment…

Or at least from the fear of judgement. That one is up to me.