There’s this part of me that loves the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” because, in sad and lost moments, I wonder how much my own life actually matters. I imagine that if I were to disappear, it would be like pulling a fist from a pail of water. I need a reminder, from time to time, that nothing could be more untrue.
I think it would be outstanding if a movie could be made for ME like that. For all of us! We all need an individualized reminder of our own Wonderful Lives. I doubt that classic will get a Naomi White-oriented remake, but this experience makes a pretty darn good substitution. It’s been a clear example to me of the theme that is showing up over and over in my own life and that gets significant airtime in the circles that matter – small actions DO MAKE A DIFFERENCE. Sometimes all we need is one person being creative or brave or thoughtful or kind to remind us that we have it within ourselves to be that way, too.
This story happened in 2002, when the current incarnation of the Camino de Santiago was still being developed, before there were anypilgrim albergues in the village of Villar de Mazarife. It was before the new Polideportivo sports complex on the edge of town, before all the new houses went in. Before the playground. Before the mosaic at the entrance. When there was just one supermercado and not two. When it was just a small, dirty little town surrounded by potato and sugar beet fields and an enormous, luminous sky.
I was travelling with a new Camino friend named Simone who, in the space of a couple of years, would become my sister-in-law. We must have left Leon later in the day because we arrived at nightfall, 17 km later, hoping to find an albergue open. What we didn’t realize was that there were NO albergues in this town.
Peeking down a street wide enough for the farm equipment that was its regular traffic, we saw a tired building with the lights on and a man working inside. We rapped at the dirty glass pane. He ambled over, opened the door and I explained our situation. As it happened, he was rehabilitating this house in order to turn it into an albergue and was fine with us sleeping there for the night. A few of the rooms had mattresses on the floor and we chose one, knowing we’d have to huddle together for warmth as there was no heat and it was nearing the end of October.
Our host, Jesus, cleaned up his project and left momentarily, returning with a couple of potatoes, an onion from his fields and a late tomato from the garden. Dinner!
He left for his own dinner and Simone and I sequestered ourselves in the tiny kitchen, turning on all the stove’s burners for warmth. The windows fogged up cozily. I’d brought a small selection of watercolor crayons along for when the creative spirit moved and, before he left, had asked Jesus if I could draw something on one of the plaster walls of the kitchen. He shrugged. “Me da igual.” It was all the same to him.
Simone rolled a spliff and smoked it slowly while I drew what we had been walking by and through and under – wheat fields, cypress trees, an expansive sky and blazing sun, poppies. I added a verse I’d found on an albergue wall that had captured my imagination. “Ser peregrino es olvidarse de lo que se deja y vestirse por un tiempo en los harapos de lo desconocido.” To be a pilgrim is to forget what one leaves behind and to clothe oneself for a time in the rags of the unknown.
After a chilly and short sleep, we left the next morning and carried on.
The following year I walked the Camino again, being sure to stop by the now-completed albergue to greet Jesus. He happened to be in the doorway when I walked up. “Hombre! Noemi – aqui estas! La abuela de todo eso!” The grandmother of all this. I was the grandmother of what, exactly?
I followed him inside.
The hallway was covered with art. As was the inner courtyard. And the stairwells. Both of them. And all eight of the bedrooms. And the dining room. Every available surface had been covered with drawings and writing. I was stunned. Unfortunately, he’d had to redo the kitchen and so my original drawing had been sacrificed, but he insisted I draw something else (which, as of two days ago when I visited for the first time in 8 years, had also disappeared – no doubt fallen victim to a periodic painting). Somehow it didn’t matter at all.
I got my Jimmy Stewart-It’s-A-Wonderful-Life moment! I truly did! If I had not scribbled my own version of “I was here” that chilly night, Jesus’ albergue may not have come to be covered with art. But maybe it would have. Perhaps someone else would have had a Jimmy Stewart moment instead of me. It doesn’t matter. What mattered is that I could see in a concrete and irrefutable way, that my passing through and sharing my light lit a bunch of other candles.
A few thoughts from under the bed and scrawled on the walls.
Never knew I could feel like this…It’s like I’ve never seen the sky before.
End of three weeks on Camino. Still search and waiting for Godot!!
I had nothing to offer but my own confusion.
Soy feo. Pero soy el unico q sabra amar de verdad. (I’m ugly. but I’m the only one who will know how to truly love.)
A candle has nothing to give but wax and a wick. It’s not until it is willing to SACRIFICE what it has that it can truly fulfill it’s PURPOSE: to provide warmth and light to our world. Are you ready to sacrifice yourself to live out your purpose?
Don’t fuck with Jesus.
This, too, shall pass. Until then: fetch wood, carry water, walk the earth.
I can’t think of anything pretentious to say. It’s still too early.
God is dead. -Nietzche
Nietzche is dead. -God
We’re all just walking each other home.
I was here.
I was here. Thousands and thousands and images and words on those walls and they all boil down to this – I was here.
That’s my take-away this year from the Albergue de Jesus. I was here. I AM here. May I be present to each person in my path, knowing that we all have a deep, basic, primal and frequently unmet need to be seen. Really seen. Seen and acknowledged and blessed.