It’s been a tough 6 weeks with constant stomach pain, and grief and stress all coming up to be loved and healed.
Last weekend my body voiced its need to rest, heavy and lethargic with no desire to go anywhere or do anything. So I rested at home watching a new favourite series, Call the Midwife. I adore Sister Monica Joan with her poetic, mystical, deeply emotional and wise nature.
Contemplating what I would write about today in light of my current challenges, I remembered when I was walking the Via Francigena, how the ever-changing weather and the mud that clung to my boots tested me almost daily. And so I felt inspired to share some excerpts from my forthcoming book, The Path We Make.
“After the rain comes sun. It managed to break through the clouds for large parts of the day. I welcomed its warmth on my skin, pausing to bask in the simple pleasure of it. Yet after the rain also comes wet grass and mud. Although my map showed that the canal path continued all the way into Châlons-en-Champagne, I followed the guidebook’s detour via Juvigny and trudged through 500 metres of thick, gunky mud that clung to the soles of my boots, gluing my feet to the ground. I hated the mud to the point of repulsion. I hated how it felt under my feet and I hated getting dirty. After stomping along for a time, I was relieved to turn onto a gravel path, but after 900 metres the gravel led to more wet grass and thick mud. The last 100 metres I walked through were a tangled mess of knee-high grass and blackberry bushes. The Red Beasts were wet again and so were my feet. My soles were clumped with mud and my pants smeared grey-brown. I missed the turn onto Rue St Martin that led to another field, but I didn’t mind walking along the hard bitumen for a while longer. At least my feet weren’t getting wetter or coated in more mud. Two kilometres down the road, I turned onto a gravel track back towards the main trail that became four more kilometres of clay and wet grass.
If I had to choose between walking all day in the rain on bitumen roads or walking in the sunshine on muddy wet tracks, I’m not sure which I would choose. They were both short straws: the bitumen punishingly hard, the rain a pain and the mud just plain repulsive. I tried to find something positive about mud and wet grass but couldn’t. It was annoying and gross and that was all. I was so happy when I finally turned back onto the concrete towpath and scraped the mud off my boots with a small stick. I had never spent this much time outdoors with limited shelter, exposed to whatever weather swept through, and with the need to keep moving. Unlike the week I walked through Tuscany in summer, when it was hot and hot only, I was experiencing four seasons almost every day, often numerous times each day, and it was testing my ability to accept what is.”
The Via Francigena pilgrimage tested me deeply and consistently on emotional, physical, spiritual and mental levels. But for all the challenges, there were many gifts. Here’s another excerpt from my book from when I was walking from Berry-au-Bac to Reims in France. Kermit cloak is the name I gave to my green rain poncho.
“During the day I cursed the weather frequently. Melbourne is renowned for having four seasons in one day, but on this road it was four seasons every hour. Kermit cloak on then off, warm layer off then on again. Repeat, repeat, repeat! As frustrating as the weather was, it had its blessings too. A sudden shower forced me to put Kermit back on and then five minutes later the sun came out scorching, leaving me cursing as I ripped the Kermit off again. I rounded a corner and saw a host of yellow and purple wildflowers glistening in the sun. My cursing turned into cries of amazement.”
Amidst the frustration and trying times can be great beauty. And if there’s no beauty to be seen, don’t lose faith. The weather will eventually change, as will the seasons and the terrain you travel. Keep breathing.
With love and courage