jueves, 16 de septiembre de 2010

Peregrinos de otras lenguas

Self-renewal on the road to Saint James

By Paul Greer
There are events in our lives that change us, that are a turning point from which to gauge time—a pivotal moment whereby we make a choice. We either allow ourselves to succumb to darkness and pain or we forge ahead and rise above the anguish.
I chose the latter, which led me on a 17-day, 550-mile mountain bike journey to Santiago De Compostella in Spain. This journey was very personal for many reasons, but ultimately, I finished the adventure gaining a deeper wisdom into human nature and an increased passion for life.
Not long ago, my heart was broken. My outlook was bleak and hope was lost. It was when I was at my lowest point that I made a choice to pick up my fragile self and move on.
The emptiness and vulnerability that I felt presented an ideal opportunity to satisfy my soul. I ached to escape to a distant land to renew my body, mind and spirit and the famous pilgrimage to Santiago De Compostella in Spain was perfect. I immediately reserved an airline ticket to Zaragoza where my journey began.
The history of this famous pilgrimage to Santiago Spain is interesting. Several years after the death of Jesus Christ, St. James (Santiago in Spanish) traveled to the Galician region in Spain to spread the gospel. When he returned to Jerusalem, he was beheaded. His loyal disciples recovered his body and set sail in order to give St. James a proper burial in the last place he ministered—Galicia. For the next 12 centuries, pilgrims across Europe flocked to Galicia, the city of Santiago, to worship and to fully experience the Spanish culture.
As I planned my adventure, I could literally feel myself awakening as I cherished the thought of being physically and mentally challenged. The plan was to ride for 17-days whereby the 550-mile bike journey would be secondary to my personal reflection and prayer. The days would be filled with riding the steep mountainous terrain over the famous Pyrenees Mountains, while the nights would be filled with good wine, great company and celebration.
The first few days of my journey began along the Camino Aragones. This route leads to the Camino Frances, which is the most popular route of the pilgrimage.As I rode along the majestic route, I would often find myself in quiet solitude. There I was, biking on a trail in the heart of Spanish culture, hypnotized by my rhythmic breathing, comforted by my pounding heart, and cooled by my dripping sweat. It was during these times when I became keenly aware of one of life’s greatest gifts—good health.
It was also during these magical moments of retreat that I came to a joyful realization: Happiness doesn’t mean everything is perfect. Happiness is choosing to see beyond the imperfections. I have always strived to achieve flawlessness, only to be disappointed in the end. I now realized that I needed to accept my imperfections and transcend my perceived downfalls.
The road to Santiago was not always filled with joyful realizations, however. The treacherous road also had patches of darkness where my buried insecurities and fears confronted me. During the silence, complicated questions pierced my soul. Do I forgive those that hurt me? Do I forgive myself for mistakes that I’ve made? Will I allow myself to be vulnerable again? Will I ever find love? Can I accept rejection and move on?
Rejection is a strange thing. It has the ability to raise you up, but only after it breaks you down. Ultimately, I made peace with rejection. Through the obscurity, I recognized that the dismissal I felt was simply her heart’s need to change. Once this became clear, I prayed that her heart’s journey would lead her to a happy and fulfilling life, wherever that may be. Following this prayer, my pain subsided and I was free.
I not only pushed my mind through mental and spiritual challenges, I also pushed my body through grueling physical tribulation. There were many times when I was forced to not ride, but carry my bike over rocky and slippery terrain. I loved every exhausting minute of it.
As I rode through hundreds of small towns, I was lucky to witness humanity at its finest. All along the trail, pilgrims would shout to one another “Buen Camino” as a gesture of recognition, brotherhood, and love. Local residents would gather in the late evenings conversing with one another. Large families spanning generations would assemble at the end of the day to talk, laugh, and celebrate life while enjoying the sweet taste of ice cream. It was truly amazing.
When I wasn’t riding through small towns, I was riding through rural country. One day, I found myself out in the middle of nowhere, amongst several large bulls. Appreciating that these hefty beasts could attack at any moment, I had a four-step plan. First, I would place the bike between us; then I would climb the nearest tree. If necessary, I would use a stick to wave them off. Only if steps 1-3 failed, my fourth option was to run for my life. In the end, I resorted to self preservation and hid behind a tree; the bulls didn’t attack. Still, I learned to appreciate my natural preservation instinct which is surprisingly comforting in a primal sort of way.
And then there was the mysterious girl from Zurich, Switzerland. For two days, we passed each other back and forth on the trail—she with her horse, and me with my bike. Oddly, she didn’t ride her horse. Instead, she would gently hit the horse’s rear until the mare started running. The girl would then follow behind the horse until the animal slowed, and then the strange method would repeat. She and I found ourselves in a pattern where she would pass me going uphill and I would pass her going down. On the second night, we bumped into each other as we were residing in the same town. Our odd two-day passing encounter called for a celebration and so we drank many spirits and danced the night away. After saying our goodbyes, I watched as she headed into the woods to sleep with her horse. It was an enchanting, yet odd experience. Who does this? This was the last that I saw of the mysterious girl from Zurich.
Summertime in Northern Spain is known for its festive celebrations. Every small town throws its own, unique party, uniting family and friends from every household. The time that I spent at many of these festivals was a joyful reminder that our true priorities are revealed in celebrating the gift of life with the loved ones around you.
On the 10th day of my ride, a lifelong dream of mine came true. After spending a couple hours drinking Sangria and dancing with more than 100 local Spaniards, I spoke with the bar manager and the announcement was made: “Your next drink is being purchased by an American!” That’s right. I was able to purchase drinks for everyone at the bar. What happened next was not what I anticipated. Apparently, the custom in Spain is to return the favor if someone buys you a drink. Needless to say, it was a festive evening making many new friends.
The ultimate celebration party took place at the end of my 550-mile ride. There I was, standing in the main plaza in Santiago during the World Cup final, watching in awe as the winning goal was scored and Spain won their first world championship. At that moment, I was in the epicenter of the biggest party in the world. I felt the energy of an entire country surge through me. The vigor that I felt was truly incredible and I will forever seek that same “celebration drug” feeling for the rest of my life.
I consider myself very lucky to have experienced this journey throughout Spain. The gifts of love that I received from the people, and from myself, are priceless. The hours that I spent alone and in isolation along the trail were difficult, but necessary. This is where I learned to embrace silence and just listen. Ultimately, my broken heart was essential in my inner journey to happiness.
It is well-known amongst the pilgrims who travel to Santiago De Compostella that everyone receives something from their journey that they can bring back to their homeland. I return to the states a rejuvenated soul, and am ready to give and receive love with whomever God brings into my life. The roads in Spain helped me to uncover my genuine, authentic self. Despite life’s continued triumphs and setbacks, loves and losses, I intend to make a difference with everyone I encounter in this beautiful journey that we call life. Thank you, Saint James.

(Paul Greer is an associate professor in Health and Exercise Science at San Diego City College and coach of the San Diego Track Club--the largest running club in San Diego./Published in Sam Diego News Room)

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