Day 11: Siena to Ponte d’Arbia — 25 km (15 miles)
Pilgrim lore from the Camino de Santiago describes the mid-camino walk through the Spanish plains as a “cleansing of the soul.” The long, dry and monotonous stretches test the pilgrim, bringing out the inner demons so they can be put to rest before the camino’s final stages.
Midway through this walk I wonder if the same might be happening to me, today. I may be wrestling with my mid-Camino inner demons, because as I walked Today I realized I was mindlessly playing out conflicts in my mind, thinking about the people I’m nursing a grudge against.
Arya Stark in the Game of Thrones is may be best at it. Each night before falling asleep she would recite the names of those who’d done her family wrong — and that she was vowing to kill. Calmly and coolly she would say the names, one after another.
Now, I don’t plan to put the breakfast hostess at the B&B to death, but she did get me going. Yesterday as the B&B owner showed me to my room he asked, “When do you want to leave tomorrow?” “I’d like to leave at 7:00 if possible,” I said. “The breakfast hostess gets here at 7:30,” he said, “so that’s the earliest you could get breakfast.” He then showed me how to make coffee in the ultramodern Lavazza machine.
I was in the breakfast room at 7:30. No hostess. I try to make coffee. No water in the machine. Hostess arrives at 7:55 and says, pointing to the Do Not Touch sign on the coffee maker, “Can you read English?” “Yes, I read English very well.” “Then don’t touch the coffee machine.” “Well, yesterday your boss said I could use it and taught me how.” “Oh, fine. Do you want a cup of coffee?” “I’ve been trying to make one for the last half hour,” I said, not shouting.
Little did she realize she had earned a place on my mid-camino Arya Stark revenge list.
She’s not alone. There’s also the woman who started a Facebook group named after my book on the Way of St Francis. She’s never walked that pilgrimage, but she uses the group to dispense advice — and resents it when I correct her.
There are a few others on the list. Certain people from last year’s campaign. All gun rights absolutists. Donald Trump. My cell phone provider. Some unnamed others. And as I walk and walk and walk, I find myself inadvertently rehearsing gotcha conversations with them. I look for just the right words to slay them.
There are plenty of good psychological reasons for this kind of inner talk. It’s my Jungian “shadow side” for one thing. It’s an emotional expression of the pain in my feet and legs, for another. It’s unresolved anger.
But I don’t like thinking this way. Partway through the day I said, “Enough!” and decided to find helpful and positive things to think about. Things for which I could be thankful.
And there’s so much. I had lunch at a little pilgrim rest area, maintained by a neighbor on the path. Nothing official, but it was perfect. Unmerited by me, just there from the kindness of someone’s heart. Thank you, pilgrim friends!
Another example: I’ve been meaning to mention here the fellow named Mauritzio who live just outside Lucca. He saw me coming, could tell I was exhausted, and offered me water and a banana. Thank you, Mauritzio!
There’s the nun who welcomed me to dinner last night at the San Girolama monastery without cost. Thank you.
And there is so much more. Too much beauty and live and grace around to note it all, really. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to repress the negative talk, the shadowy part of me. That won’t be healthy, I know. But I’m looking forward to more days of walking this mid-camino stretch so I can do this work of moving anger to thanksgiving.