Around midnight last night I started to become annoyed at the loud talking and laughter coming from the restaurant below my hotel window. I don’t think I wished any evil on the loud diners, but if my thoughts magically caused the midnight thunderstorms and torrential rains I feel only a little guilty. With the loud and sudden downpour the merry making quickly ended, and somehow amid the crashing thunder I fell into a gentle sleep.
I realized this morning as I was greeted by a dripping day that guidebook writing and rain do not mix well. My walking routine requires having my iPhone in one hand for dictation, my GPS in the other hand for directions and distances, and my borrowed camera strapped around my neck for photos. All these electronic gadgets don’t fare too well underwater, so I decided to take the train and bus to my next destination instead, Camaldoli village. Here I could catch up on writing and editing, do some of the map and photo work I’ve skipped, and send my sample chapter to my publisher as promised by June 30.
It was no small decision to skip ahead. This means sometime this summer I’ll have to return to this little town of Stia in the Central Apennines in order to complete this walking stage in better weather. My schedule pulls me ahead, though, since I’m meeting my pilgrim friend, Jacqueline, in three days at Della Verna for a week’s walk to Assisi.
Once in Assisi I come to the high point of my summer — walking for two weeks to Rome with my sweetheart, Theresa. She’s been training in Seattle for the walk and, given that’s she’s already in great shape, I know she’ll be a happy and fun partner.
In the meantime, the rain gives me a chance to do some planning, writing and thinking.
The planning part was very basic. Today my employment as a pastor officially ended and outside of some mixed feelings there is practical work to be done: I need health insurance. Before I left Seattle I’d signed up on the Washington health exchange but never heard anything back (except that they cashed my check). Today I spoke for over an hour on Google Chat over sketchy WiFi with the State of Washington and my insurer. The result? “Call back in a week while we figure out what happened.”
The writing part was also pretty straightforward. I worked on my maps of the first three stages, using PhotoShop to add a redline over the trail I had marked with GPS as I walked. Every time I use that little gizmo I give thanks to the First Churchers who kindly gave it to me as a going away gift. So after today’s efforts I have three draft maps — one for each stage I’ve walked so far.
The thinking part is the most complex of my tasks under these cloudy skies. I’m feeling disconnected from family and friends due to the distance and the length of my sojourn. I’m feeling a little sad to miss events like Seattle’s Pride Parade and First Church’s participation in it. I’m also feeling sad about the loss of a close working relationship with the great First Church staff members who’ve been colleagues and friends over these last years. I’m missing the congregation and the many familiar and loving people who filled my life. On a rainy day when I’m not walking, the distances feel bigger and the time away seems longer.
It reminds me of a feeling from my first camino, back in 2008. I’d thought I was looking forward to some solitude and I remember taking the last train before my walk, seeing pilgrims with backpacks, and resenting them for intruding on “my” solitude. Within a short time — about a day — I was reaching out to pilgrims of all nationalities, hoping for some basic, human contact to break through my newfound loneliness.
As much as I want to think I’m self-contained and self-sufficient I discover again and again on these pilgrimages how much I depend on human interaction. I loved my time in Perugia, mostly because of the new friendships with Italian language students from around the world. I seem to crave both adventure, which takes me away from what is familiar, and intimacy, which comes only with deep roots. I know this is the enduring contradiction of my life and I’m not sure I’ll ever be truly happy until I can both be on the road and in the midst of friends and loved ones.
So until I own my own jetliner and can transport everyone I care about along with me I’ll always be a little unsettled, a little restless. Gail said of me before we split up, “You are brilliant and restless.” The brilliant part, she liked. The restless part she could never accept, much less love.
As for me, I’ve come to accept the restless part. In my work its focus on the future has kept me unsatisfied with an unsustainable or unjust present. So I’ve held political office, hosted a TV show, unseated a mayor, led protest demonstrations and marches, started organizations, fought institutional inertia and publicly challenged unfair rules. I’ve sailed across the Pacific, walked over 3000km in Europe, skippered sailboats in the Mediterranean, led tour groups to Israel, Turkey, Italy and Egypt, and studied five foreign languages. I’ve completed a doctorate and raised two healthy sons. I’ve also had two unhappy marriages, both ending in painful and difficult divorce.
So much to think about, but the rain has ended, night has fallen, dinner is served in the restaurant below my room, and the sun will come out tomorrow. So enough of planning, writing and thinking. Tomorrow it is time to walk again, to take this restless me and make it so tired and happy that it has no choice but to rest. I’m walking now toward Theresa, toward home, and toward whatever rest or promise or hope the future holds.