I Thought It Might Help

Day 11 Padron – Santiago

I loved my little bunk in Alburgue Rossel.  Forgetful thing that I am though, I took the locker key with me this morning and I forgot to pay for my laundry so I will post that back before I leave.

My plan today was to have a short day.  I wanted to look around Iria Flavia again, visit the church and get my Padrona certificate.  So I stayed in bed a little later, had coffee and took my time.  I left at just before 9.00 and the first thing I noticed was the cold.  Wow.  The sky was cloudless and the air so cold I could see my breath.  I made a quick stop to add layers and put on my hat and gloves… Brrr it was cold.

I arrived at the church to find it all locked up.  I wandered around but there was no sign of life.  I asked a lady if it would open soon but she shook her head.  I’m not sure if she understood my awful Spanish but the simple fact was that it was closed.  And I was jolly cold.

Plan B… Keep walking.  Head down I marched on.  Its amazing how fast you can go when you want to warm up.  I felt at one point that I might break into a jog.  One foot in front of the other and  I was amazed how quickly the kilometres dropped away.  Before I knew it I’d reached A Escravitude… That meant just about 20km to go.  It seemed crazy to end for the day in 10km… It was only 10 in the morning. I stopped in a cafe for a hot coffee and considered my options.

The thing is that I’d got into my head that I wanted to arrive tomorrow.   I needed to arrive on the 4th.  My compostela needed to be dated the 4th.  Arriving today meant I’d messed up… That I’d ruined the plan.  Oh why did I make life so complicated?  I emailed ‘tonights’ alburgue to say I wouldn’t be staying.  I would walk on.

Back in the cold I layered up again.  I turned off the busy road onto a quieter path.  Crunch crunch crunch… I drifted back into my thoughts.  My mother was born on the 4th of December.  My mother was also buried on the 4th of December.  It seemed important that I should honour her by arriving tomorrow but it wasn’t to be. I felt a twinge of failure.

My mum was quite posh.  Born into a middle class family, her father was a career soldier and a drill Sergeant Major.  He was also a bit of a bully but he was away a lot when she was a child.  She had a twin brother and they never called him father or dad… Only ever ‘the old man’.  She adored her mother.  They lived close to each other, almost neighbours.  Her death was a huge blow for my mum.  I honestly don’t think she ever fully recovered from it.  My mum was a dress maker… A tailor.  She hand made wedding dresses for House of Frazer.  She was good.  She made all of her own clothes and ours too when we were little.  She made her own wedding dress and both mine and Mandy’s.  She could hardly see when I got married (aged just 19)… But she was determined that she would do that for us.

I never really knew my mum,  not the real woman.  I only knew the MS version.  She was told she would live less than 10 years… She survived for 30.  She always told us that MS would never get her.  She died of the flu.

I’ve no idea how my parents met.  They were an odd couple.  Sally the posh  girl and my dad from the rougher end of town.  He was one of 11.  His dad was a brute and a bully.  My dad said he could remember as a child his mother being beaten by his father.  I think my dad was dyslexic too.  He was left handed, as am I (although I had to sit on my left hand in primary school until I learned to write with my right hand).  In the 1960s being left handed was seen as an obstacle, thankfully these days it is seen as creative.  My son is very left handed so I’m guessing it’s genetic.

Regardless of how they met, they did love each other.  I think that love waned in the years after my grandmother died but ultimately I think it survived the darkest years and stayed constant.  For all his faults my father loved and cared  for my mother until she died.  She spent the last 12 years of her life unable to perform any task alone.  12 years in bed.  12 years being fed and bathed.  The night before she died she kissed my father goodnight and said she wasn’t ready to go.  That shook me.  How much pain and suffering could my mother take?  Seriously how strong willed must she have been?

I asked Gerry to send me some photos of their wedding.  They looked so young and happy.  I said I wondered what their life would have been like if luck had been kinder.  Gerry said that my mums illness was maybe the catalyst for it all and I found myself typing the thing I’ve felt all my life… Maybe if I’d never been born.

I was listening to this song.  I heard it yesterday in a bar in Padron… Which… Shock horror!!! Had no peppers.  I went in for a drink and Piments de Padron… Lo siento… Not today.  Well that was a crushing disappointment.  But the song was playing and it spoke to me.  Hence why I asked for photographs.

I thought about this weight that hangs around my neck.  I feel guilty.  I feel like I caused this.  I wasn’t loved.  I should never have been.  I’ve spent my whole life seeking validation.  I don’t write these blogs for self pity or adoration.  I think I’m trying to figure it all out.  If I do better.  If I try harder.  They might love me.  I might be good enough.  But they are both dead now and they’ll never tell me I’m good enough.  I’ll never hear them tell me that I was loved.  You know just writing this I’m aware that I have no memory of either of my parents saying I Love You.  And now they are both gone I never will.

On I walked in the cold cold morning.  My face hurt from the cold and tears just would not stop rolling down my cheeks.  The path meanders through villages and fields and a little more  forest.  More muddy stretches more frosty shadows and on I walked.

How could I be better.  I thought of the women in my life who I admire.  I should be kinder.  I should be like Linda.  Seriously the kindest person out there… She is the epitomy of a Pilgrim.  I should be strong like Maggie.  She walked her first camino in her 60s, wrote a book about it and then moved half a planet away from home to follow her heart.  Or maybe I could have the courage of Maggie (Magwood). She walked her first camino with her daughter and then every year since she sets forth alone on epic journeys and I am in awe of her achievements.  I have incredible friends who are selfless and brave and truly amazing and I fear I will always fall short.  I remember asking Jaqui in her final days if I had been a good enough friend.  Maybe I should ask St James just please… Make me good enough.

The sun was rising and I was hungry.  I stopped on a bench and had the last two slices of now stale bread with a little cheese and cold water.  Maybe I was taking this Pilgrim lark too seriously?

I chatted with his nibs.  He teased me with images of hot tea.  I love him so much that my heart aches.

I came to a section of trail that was still drenched and sodden.  Euw.  Cold wet mud.  I tried to walk around but the leaves lulled me into a false sense of security and I felt the cold water seep in.  Oh well my feet were already cold so what the heck.

Back on the trail.  Through a forest.  The sun was shining but its rays were just not getting through.  I was looking at the markers.  Counting down the kilometers.  Show me a sign I thought.  And there it was.  14.14.

I laughed when I saw it.  14 is mine and Ger’s lucky number.  It made me cry again.  I just want a hug from him.  I played Fix You by Coldplay.  I cried some more.  All alone in the forest and sobbing like a six year old.

I sent a link to Gerry.  I said because he fixes me.  He replied and said I’m not broken… Just a little dented.  Like Fabio (Matts car, a Skoda Fabia).  That made me laugh.

On I walked.  Through O Milladoiro and onwards.  From here it really does feel like 10 kilometres of suburbs.  The sun was high in the sky and layers had been peeled.  Hat, gloves, coats all packed away.  I was down to a t-shirt but was still hot.

As I walked up a hill I thought about why we loved the number 14… Our first conversation, the first I love you, we moved in together, valentine’s, ollys birthday, my birthday… So many 14s.  I stopped.  I’d thought it.  My birthday was a 14… It was part of the reason why that was our number.  The day I was born did mean something after all.

On and on I walked.  Down a hill and up a hill.  Gerry phoned.  Come home he said.  Don’t stay there alone.  Come home. I cried some more.

On and on I walked and before I knew it I was there. Looking up at the newly renovated towers, gleaming under a blue blue Galician sky. It felt a little surreal.

I checked into the Parador.  Then walked down to the pilgrims office.  A priest handed me a ticket.  Number 67.  There was no one else there.  A buzzer went and the screen flashed number 67.

Where did you start walking she asked.  Why are you walking.  I tried to explain but the words wouldn’t form in my mouth.  I breathed.  I walked because I wanted to get a compostela for my father.  He died and he wasn’t always a good man.  But if there is a heaven I want him to go there.  I want him to be with my mother.  And I thought if I walked and if I did this it would help.

They understood.  Five people trying to help me as I stood there and cried.  Tissues.  Water.  Words of kindness.  Thank goodness there were no other pilgrims.  They wrote the compostela.  For my Father.

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I returned to the cathedral and hugged the Saint.  I went down to his tomb and prayed. Please let him in.

Gerry sent me a message. He booked me a flight home.  I realised that the best way to honour my mother on her birthday was to be at home.

I had thought that it would mean more if the compostela was dated the 4th.  But now I think it makes no difference at all.  The most important thing is that it’s done.

I am drained.  I feel wrung out.  I knew I needed to walk.  I had no idea it would effect me in this way.  I’m not fixed, maybe I’ll always be a little broken but maybe at least I have a greater understanding of what drives me.  I need to fill my world with people who bring joy and walk away from those that I’ll never please.

It’s time to go home.

Happy birthday for tomorrow mum.  Dad I hope you finally find your peace.

Tell the people who fill your world that you love them. I cannot tell you how powerful those three little words are.

16 thoughts on “I Thought It Might Help

  1. I remember Susan Sontag saying that she saw some holocaust photographs in a bookshop when she was 12, and “something inside of her broke”. Although she knew there was nothing she could do to affect what had happened in those terrible times, she believed that she could divide her life into before and after seeing those photos and the awful knowledge they brought.

    I think the same is true when we look back to traumatic times from our past, a time when something broke inside. Much as we fervently wish that we could have had the understanding or the power to have done more, so we could have altered or ameliorated the situation, we didn’t or couldn’t, and that time has gone. And maybe the participants are long gone too.

    My father steadfastly refused to speak of his war experiences to my sister and I, no matter how impatiently we insisted. At the end of his life, he told me that he’d refused so his children would never know that such evil as he’d seen existed in the world and our lives would be happier than his.

    A lifetime of photography (and all the lovely dogs I’ve known) have taught me to live in the present. But that’s just me.

    Great blog Colleen. Every photo assignment always includes ‘thinking time’. Same’s true, obviously, of Camino walking …

    Liked by 3 people

    • Beautiful words again Jim. One aspect of the camino that I cherish is the thinking time. It helps so much with understanding and sorting and then putting things away… not in a sealed up closed kind of way. But in a healthier ‘I’m done now’ kind of way. I am grateful that I can take the time to go walk… I think sometimes if the world could do that then it might be a kinder fairer world for us all 😀 (ps how are you Portuguese Camino plans coming along 😀 )

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  2. Hello Colleen,
    I have just read through your blog if this Camino in one go (rather than each day as it arrived). I cried at the end. I hope to bring joy to our walk together next year. I am so looking forward to the whole experience.
    Suzy
    PS : did Sheila make it ?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Suzy… It sounded like I spent the week crying but honestly I didn’t 😂 it was a beautiful walk and I met some lovely people. I will come back again and do a mix of coastal and central but hopefully not in the rain ☔😂. Home to plan the next one now. 🤣

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  3. I hope you don’t mind if I comment on your post, with my different experience and opinions. Your post was very touching and well-expressed, and made me stop and think about my own parents today. Maybe my comments will give you a slightly different perspective, which might (or might not) be helpful!

    It is important to recognize that we are all imperfect, as only then can we forgive ourselves for doing things imperfectly! Recognizing my failings keeps me humble – and that is different from lacking in confidence. I would be arrogant if I thought I was without those flaws.

    I don’t recall my parents saying much “I love you” very often, nor do I to my kids. However, I have never felt unloved, nor do I think my children have felt that way. Those words are only symbolic – not as important as actions. Sure they are nice, but there is lots of room for different styles of expression. Probably the absence of those words is more important when there are other problems such as you describe. Similarly for symbolic dates – it is fun and satisfying if you can mark them in a traditional way, but failure to mark them shouldn’t be seen to invalidate the original event or emotion!

    I often think about the many ways I could/should have done better (i.e. been more openly sympathetic) with my parents in their last years. However, I don’t dwell on those negatives. I try to celebrate their memories in ways that suit me, rather than feeling I must do it “by the book.” I described some of my experience with my dying mother under “Anne’s Story” on my blog.

    My father was forced to write with his right hand when he was a child in the 1920s. However, when I was a child starting school in the 1950’s, my mother made it very clear that I should write with whatever hand I wanted, and that my father’s experience was antiquated. In other words, she “had my back” and that mattered more than symbolic words of love. I don’t recall any teacher ever disagreeing. I have always been proud to be a leftie!

    I’m glad you are home now, and I wish happy birthday to your mother!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for such a considered reply… I very much appreciate it. A great deal of it makes perfect sense and it’s good to have things more in perspective and from a different point of reference… It offers clarity… So thank you ❤️ I’m waiting for my flight now but I did very much enjoy this walk. I’m sure I’ll be planning the next one soon. Maybe we might venture further afield? Who knows. But I’m grateful for the opportunities… And the friendships we all make along the way xx

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  4. Well done, well walked, well told and well felt. A very moving story that all your friends will appreciate. Of course we ALL supported you every step of the way.
    A Baudelaire quote to fit your music – very autumnal and philosophical to fit your mood :

    Les sanglots longs, des violons, de l’automne, blessent mon Coeur, d’une langueur, monotone;
    Tout suffoquant et bleme, quand sonne l’heure, je me souviens, des jours anciens, et je pleurs.
    Et je m’en vais, au vent mauvais, qui m’emporte, de ca, de la, pareil a la feuille morte.

    This needs to be sung or chanted with a slow sad rhythm for the first 2 lines and then a jolly lively last line.
    I can actually imagine you on the camino being blown along by the wind like a dead leaf – hence the funny cheerful ending.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Ah Matt had to learn that in primary school. The teacher said it was moving that the English boy choose that poem because her parents would listem to BBC world service during the war… Waiting for it to be read… As a sign that the allies were coming. Very sweet.. Will have to try it when I next walk on a windy day 😂😂😂

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  5. Well Colleen I think you have achieved an enormous amount in your life that you should be very proud of… we are all a little be dented none of us perfect.
    I will raise my glass tomorrow too. To them and to you. Be happy enjoy life and your amazing achievements. ❤️

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  6. Dear Colleen
    Congratulations for another wonderful and successful Camino, your words today we’re full of emotions and love and the pictures spoke out very loud..Thank you..My reply is “SMILE” smile by Charlie Chaplin with lyrics …Regards to your family lots of love cuddles and kisses…A

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