Surrendering the Lead: An Observation from the Way of Saint James, Part 2

Vallone photo part 2Continued from yesterday.

On our seventh day walking El Camino de Santiago, my husband and I rose before dawn and departed O’Cebreiro, a Celtic mountaintop village with cobbled streets and numerous pallozas—round, stone houses with thatched roofs. We walked beneath the moon and stars, soon joining a group of eighteen young adults we’d met a few days before.

Guided by a few pilgrim headlamps, we headed down a wooded track. It wound around the hill before descending to the hamlet of Liñares and ascending again. The sun began to rise, revealing an ethereal horizon of green hilltops floating over morning mist. This is where Megan caught up to us, and my husband walked on ahead so the two of us women could talk.

Megan is a blue-eyed Millennial, a genial girl-next-door with a graceful stride. She told me nothing makes her happier than teaching and working with kids. Just a few months before the Camino, she completed a MEd in educational psychology. Through the summer she worked as a camp coordinator. She enjoyed it very much, but the job was seasonal and ended. On the Camino she was pondering her future, worried that she’d found no other job and scared she never would. [Read more...]

Surrendering the Lead: An Observation from the Way of Saint James, Part 1

Jakobs_weg_wandern_640x426I could not accept retirement with grace.

Perhaps it was because retirement was not something I sought. Quite the opposite. After eighteen years as a lawyer, I’d been teaching high school English for six, loved it better than pistachio ice cream, hoped to continue for fifteen more years.

Perhaps it was because I spent a lifetime seeking education. I’d earned three graduate degrees—in law, teaching, and writing—to be the best I could in my careers.

Perhaps it was because my résumé had always worked magic. Spiffy schools, top grades, and strong endorsements had yielded a series of jobs, each one better than the one before, all landed easily.

Perhaps it was because I’d always been a workaholic. Late nights, weekends, holidays, I was there at the grindstone. Yep, you could always count on me.

Yet there I was jobless at age fifty, brought down by four high school juniors. They turned in identical essays for a final paper not assigned as group work; even their typos were the same. When I reported the incident to the dean, he ordered me to overlook the cheating. I surmised the parents were donors and resigned instead.

That was seven years ago, and I haven’t found steady work since. [Read more...]

The Way of Saint James

My Uncle Jimmy died this fall at the age of ninety. Born in Sicily, he immigrated to New York when young and served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He was married to my aunt for sixty-one years, the frolicsome father of my two cousins, a regular part of my life until I married and moved away.

I can still see my uncle clearly as he was in January 1994. The way his brown eyes sparkled. The way his thick hair swept back from his forehead. The way he arm-wrestled my four-year-old son to laughter, easing tears caused by my father’s death.

That was the last time I saw my Uncle Jimmy. Almost twenty years ago.

On the day my Uncle Jimmy died, I didn’t even know that he was ill. He’d lived in Florida for two decades and I in Seattle for three. Throughout those years our correspondence was limited, consisting only of Christmas and Easter cards with a few scribbled pleasantries. Some years, even cards were lacking.

No, on the day my uncle died, I wasn’t at his bedside hugging him. Instead, I was in a Spanish cathedral embracing a very different Jimmy, not one of flesh and bones, but of gold-plate and jewels, the bust of Saint James, apostle of Jesus, whom Spaniards call Santiago.

According to Christian tradition, after Jesus’ resurrection, James traveled to the Iberian Peninsula to spread the Gospel. Upon returning to Jerusalem, he was beheaded, becoming the first Christian martyr. His acolytes carried his corpse to Palestine’s coast and placed it on an unpiloted boat that miraculously crossed the Mediterranean, passed through the Strait of Gibraltar, and landed on the shore of Spain among the fjord-like rías of Galicia.

[Read more...]

The Way of a Pilgrim

When it comes to music, I am a lover of routine. My iTunes playlists are at least 2 years old, I haven’t bought a new album in months, and if you looked at the number of plays my Neko Case “Live at Austin City Limits” album has, you’d see that I’ve listened to it hundreds of times.

But it’s not only music that bears my signature love of repetition. Most days, I would rather read a cookbook than pick up a new novel. I return to the same poems, the same pages of Gilead, and the same Neko Case record; and if my husband wants to watch something other than another episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, I’ll quickly get on Facebook and let him watch alone.

My father once told me that I was his “cautious” daughter: that I made sure of things before I tried them out, that I was the only child of his who actually looked both ways before crossing the street. That surety came before chance. [Read more...]


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