Click, thunk, click, thunk. It is only the click, thunk of hiking poles that I can hear. It is this rhythm that must propel me the last three kilometers. However, as I round the corner and my eyes dart up the hill that promises not only a convent but also a bed, shower, and meal I see a group of six retreating down the hill. I am crushed – another one full or closed? “Its beautiful up there!” a pot bellied Irish man at the head of the pack yells down to me. “That church – 12th century! – what a sight,” the woman behind him concurs.
On this five hundred and fifty mile walk I spend eight to ten hours a day alone in my own thoughts. Exhaustion settles in slowly at first, and then all at once. From my brain to my bones I am tired. I attempted to strategically lighten my pack as much as possible, but still I carry all of my worldly possessions and there is a certain emotional baggage that I could not help but to bring along. Each morning I wake up and scoot out the door, walk until I am too tired to go further, retire to a pilgrims hostel where I immediately wash my clothes, shower, prepare my bed in an attempt to avoid the unavoidable bed bugs, eat my dinner, and rest. This night, though, is not the same.
Crisp and clean, her voice cut through the late October air bringing tears and goose bumps the way only a lone voice in an ancient sanctuary can. The wood below has bent and molded itself to the centuries of people who have sat here before me. The golden alter piece at the apse of the small chapel gleams with the brilliance of a couple that was delicately married long ago: imagination and mathematics.
And she broke your throne and she cut your hair and from your lips she drew the Hallelujah…
Quiet at first, the words explode into the air. The power of collective human emotion fills the room and the last hallelujah comes and dies almost as a whisper. Silence can be confusing and difficult and wonderfully revealing, but in this moment it feels different. This room of fourteen strangers sitting still and cross-legged for the eternity after the last note turns to silence feels is a warm blanket in the midst of a dead, lonely winter.
And love is not a victory march; it is a cold and it is a broken hallelujah…
Rosemary, basil, oregano; the familiar scents draw us to the kitchen. One lasagna after another, the table fills. Salads, roasted vegetables, and plates of cured meats and cheeses occupy the empty spaces. With a question and a smile (pass the wine?), friendships form. The chatter begins softly, but as the laughter breaks out it soon becomes uncontrollable. Recognized and acknowledged, the weight each of us carries no longer feels so cumbersome. Somehow, the air and the silence and my bones feel warmer.