It has now been a month since I retired… and it is good. Still lots of things going on, but there’s a little more space in my life and I like that. In that space I’ve had time to ponder and there are two places my mind often goes: my traveling last year to visit our retirees outside of New England and my time as a pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago.
I greatly treasure the traveling I did last year. It was a wonderful adventure as I gathered with retirees and they shared such rich stories. The story of my life has been enriched by each of their stories. My way was also enriched in the process of traveling; I had the chance to visit with people in lines at airports, at meals on the train, as I needed help on buses, and with cab and Uber drivers. I’m thankful for all these modes of traveling along with the automobile as they allowed me to get from one part of the country to another quickly which gave me more time to spend with retirees.
No matter how I traveled to a section of the country I ended up traveling in an automobile. Though my husband, Richard, was with me for a couple of trips I was usually alone in the car. I’d often turn off the radio and just enjoy the quiet time between my visits. From my car I saw beautiful landscapes as I traveled, but over and over I found myself longing for more time, the time that comes with walking. And that is one of the gifts of retirement, I have more time in my days and walking requires time.
I’ve always enjoyed walking, but it was my time as a pilgrim on the Camino that showed me what might happen if I slowed each day to the pace of walking. I quickly fell into a rhythm of getting up and walking, visiting with other pilgrims, eating meals, meeting hosts, enjoying quiet time, journaling and then sleeping in preparation for the next day of walking. It was a slower pace; one that I think will be good for retirement. I wanted to walk the Camino as a way to prepare for my “Elder” years, my final third of life. It provided just what I had hoped in ways that I would never have imagined. Most of all it encouraged me to walk at my own pace, to slow myself down, to let go of plans, goals, and accomplishments. Good practice for retirement.
The slow pace of the Camino helped to heighten my senses. Often I would have to reverse my steps Walking along the paths I found I could hear the birth of a breeze and listen to it grow for a time before I finally felt the rush of air cooling my cheek. Sometimes I would smell water before seeing it in a creek or irrigation ditch. Other times I would hear water and would follow the sound until we went our own ways while other times I was rewarded when a river or creek came into sight and confirmed the sound I’d heard.to find the tree or plant that had produced a particularly inviting spicy aroma or sweetness that I couldn’t leave behind but needed to breathe in deeply.
Walking allowed me to experience the nuance of the night fading away into a new day. I remember spending the night with “overflow” pilgrims on a cot in a gymnasium one night. The next morning I left through its back door and entered into an inky black night. The sky was bursting with thousands of stars greeting me and they took my breath away. I had to stop… and as I did I saw a falling star’s graceful arc. As I began walking I saw four more stars fall before the first light of morning began to break and the dark of night started to lose its hold. Gradually, ever so gradually on these mornings my eyes would start to make out my surroundings on the sides of the paths: the outlines of trees, barns, fences, bushes, rock, and terrains.
I learned that first light is much earlier than sunrise. Sometimes I’d feel a slight breeze as the sun began to warm the air before I could see and feel its warmth. Sometimes I’d have to turn around to the East and stand there or walk backwards if there was a sunrise too glorious to miss. The beauty of the earth’s atmosphere turning towards the sun never got old.
The first time it rained I was concerned. How would this steady downpour affect my walking? I need not have worried. Though it was uncomfortable walking in wet socks I found the rain brought the pilgrim community together in a new way when a covered portico became the place for us to shed our raingear, take off our boots and squeeze the water from soaked socks. We left those socks and raingear flung over the railing and went into a packed café to dry our bodies and souls while cupping our hands around hot coffee. As I left I noticed what I didn’t hear – the rain; it had stopped. The overcast afternoon and damp socks kept my feet cool and I ended up walking nineteen miles. When I arrived at the albergue they handed me newspaper to stuff in my boots and then I lined them up with the many other boots, equally damp and dirty and emitting the pungent smell of a long wet day’s walk.
My reminiscing about the Camino brings to mind slight breezes to stiff winds, the warmth of the sun on my body and the coolness of a damp day, the hidden path ahead moving through the mountains and the long vistas seen from the top of mesas. The smells of eucalyptus, dank caves, musty ancient churches, tortillias patatas, dormitories, pilgrims, and dirty boots crusted with cow manure were all part of the Camino. And while I enjoyed all my traveling last year, from jets to many different rental cars, I’m ready to slow down – to return to the pace of the pilgrim. It’s time to exchange the speed of the interstate for back roads and walking paths, time to pay more attention as I pass through. What will my senses experience as I walk further into retirement? What’s will I find on the path of retirement?