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In 1973 I was a young teacher at Park View Jr. High School in Lancaster, California. While teaching a class that combined American Literature and US History I told my students a story about the legendary figure who most of the world knows as Jeremiah Johnson. His real name was John Johnston, but because of the legend that he had eaten the liver of a Crow Indian, he became known throughout the west as Liver-eating Johnston. He was a trapper, hunter, scout to General Miles Nelson, and a famous Indian fighter in the Big Sky Country of Wyoming and Montana. Even though it was Johnston’s stated wish to be buried in the mountain country he had roamed, after a lingering illness and his subsequent death in California, he was interred in Sawtelle Veterans Cemetery in Los Angeles. His final resting place was not more than a hundred yards from the San Diego Freeway.
As I ended the story, the twenty-four students in my class became outraged at what they perceived as a grave injustice that they felt strongly should be righted. That righteous sense of indignation and determination prompted the forming of “The Committee for the Reburial of Liver-eating Johnston” and the commitment to move Johnston’s bones back to Big Sky Country of Montana or Wyoming.
Although the class was victorious in the end, it was not an easily won victory – and actually wouldn’t have come about but for a series of unexpected events that were nothing short of miracles. For example, who could have guessed the timing for the movie Jeremiah Johnson to come to our small town not long after the students had formed their committee? Who could have thought that men like Roy Neil (NBC news correspondent for the lunar landing and Apollo 13) or Robert Redford would endorse a bunch of twelve year old kids doing something so outlandish? Who could have imagined that Montana and Wyoming would end up fighting over Johnston’s remains, even to the point of taking legal action against each other and involving their senators and congressmen in the battle? And, who could have ever thought that reburying a man who had been dead for seventy-five years would attract the biggest crowd ever to attend a funeral in the history of the state of Wyoming?
Although the story is humorous at times, it also presents a valuable message concerning the tenacity and strength to overcome disabilities and life obstacles. It delivers a very moving illustration of how empowering words can impact a life, as well as the vital need for innovative and kinetic education in a world of standardization.
“The Committee for the Reburial of Liver-eating Johnston – Memoirs of a Dyslexic Teacher” is an easy book to read, but not one to be easily forgotten.
Bagpipes were playing as we walked down the stairs onto the St. James Cathedral square
After a long final day we arrived this afternoon to Galician bagpipes playing as we ended our walk onto the St. James Cathedral square in the heart of Santiago. For us it concluded a 125 mile pilgrimage journey through some of the most beautiful country imaginable. Many of our days were challenging, but as we walked hand in hand down the long stairs where we entered the cathedral square we had all but forgotten any weariness and only had feelings of joy, gratitude and fulfillment. Brook and Andrea had been both an encouragement and blessing as they walked with us these past two days.
Near the square we went into the Camino Pilgrim’s Center behind the Cathedral to have our passports stamped for the
Camino certificates designating the fact that we had officially completed our journey
final time. We were then given official Camino certificates designating the fact that we had officially completed our journey. That afternoon the square was filled with pilgrim’s who had been coming in alone or in groups. People were hugging one other, some saying goodbye to those they had grown close to along the way and some out of the pure elation of being done. Some were limping from injuries they had been nursing along for days or weeks and some were just lying in the sun resting their heads on the packs they had carried so far. Everyone were asking passerby’s to take pictures with their Camino friends having the Cathedral as a backdrop so that they could forever memorialize an experience never to be forgotten. Eventually pilgrims shouldered their packs one last time to head out into the city of Santiago with thoughts of finding a hot bath, a comfortable bed and eating a celebration dinner.
The Pilgrim’s Service
The smoking incense chandelier swung from one end of the Saint James Cathedral to the other
This simple still picture of the smoking incense chandelier swinging from one end of the Saint James Cathedral to the other can’t do justice to the feelings we experienced while attending the Pilgrim’s service this morning. For those who experience the Camino as a true pilgrimage rather than merely a long walk the service is meaningful and rich. For many, Nancy and I included it marked a new season of life; a new beginning with new expectations and new aspirations. I learned a lot of things over these past few weeks, but one of the most profound for me was that I learned that a real life pilgrimage isn’t about doing, rather about being. It’s not so much about what you accomplish in life, but about how well you lived your life along the journey. Did you love well, did you serve well, did you bless others along the trail of life. It is about authentically asking if my life reflects a sincere relationship with God. I learned that true contentment comes only when a person learns to want what they already have and in learning this one simple thing they might experience a whole new level of joy. I learned that when I am anxious about tomorrow or if I live in the fear of the unknown I am constantly robbed from a life of peace and the ability to take the kind of risks that gives life true meaning and adventure. These were the simple but profound lessons I learned and have committed myself to practice and pursue for the remainder of my life.
Special thanks for a
Nancy and I want to give a special thanks to Walks in Spain http://www.walksinspain.com/ the
organization that took all the stress out of our Camino walk and allowed us to
do nothing but focus on the journey itself.
And a very special thanks to Vineyard Christian Fellowship
of Boise http://vineyardboise.org/ ,our
beloved church that gave us the resources to travel to Spain and live a dream
as a retirement gift from our 24 year role as Senior pastors.
A premeditated surprise
Nancy gave them the kind of reaction they had hoped for
What happened on the morning two days before we arrived in Santiago provided a story that will probably be told for the days and months among friends and family even after our walk has been finished. It has already been told up and down the Camino trail itself for the last few days. It is a story of a premeditated ambush so shocking that it got everyone who heard about it laughing and talking.
May 23rd was going to be one of our longest walking days on our Camino journey; nearly 15 miles. It was to be, as I said before, our second to last day of the journey. Nancy and I decided to get an early start leaving our inn at about 7:30 AM so that we could walk three miles to the next small city of Arzua in an attempt to get through it early enough to get ahead of the many walkers who had spent the night there. We were pretty determined as we walked down the main street of Arzua not thinking about anything except getting through it when a young girl walked up and greeted us as we hurried along the cities sidewalk. That was no surprise, (everyone on the Camino is friendly), except for the fact that this girl looked a whole lot like Andrea, our daughter in law. Not only that, but it actually was Andrea, and right behind her filming the surprising encounter was our Son Brook. For several minutes I couldn’t register what had happened. It was disorientating; especially considering that they had so perfectly set us up. Among other things, they had sent us an email the day before talking about all the things going on back home in Idaho (all of which had been fantasy). I hadn’t considered that email can be sent from anywhere on the globe. Not only was it amazing that they could break away from their busy schedules to come all the way to Spain, but I couldn’t figure out how they knew where to intercept us on such a long trail with so many hundreds of walkers. It mystified me. As it turned out they had been planning this ambush for better than six months and had secretly studied our predetermined itinerary. Although my reaction had been somewhat tame due to my unbelief, Nancy gave them the kind of reaction they had hoped to catch on camera. It was so perfect that after it had been posted as a video on facebook (which happened before the day was over) was watched by everyone who had ever known us. http://vimeo.com/67989841
The remainder of the day was filled with excitement, telling them of our many experiences and introducing them to the people we had met along the trail over our past weeks of walking. The Camino is filled with surprises, but none quite as thrilling as the one we experienced that blessed day.
The end in sight
Another near miss by a herd of kind looking dairy cows
This morning we started the day walking out of O’Coto in dreary fog but by 9:00 it had already started to lift. What difference sunshine can make when it comes to transforming a person’s worldview. Much of the remainder of the day was spent meandering through more Eucalyptus forests, descending and ascending through several river valleys and in one place crossing over an amazing medieval Roman bridge. We passed through the small city of Melide (got lost for a short time), then later in the day prayed for a guy we met along the trail who had a prosthetic leg. For the third time in two weeks we nearly got run over by a small herd of very kind looking dairy cows being driven to pasture. It’s hard to believe that in just two more days we will be walking into Santiago with all of the richness we have experienced remaining as only a memory.
Tomorrow will be a fifteen mile day, the longest yet, but after so many days of walking our soreness has faded and we have fallen into a daily rhythm that will be missed when our time here is finished. The Camino has taught Nancy especially how strong she really is. What a great thing to learn at our stage of life. The thought that we may never walk the Camino again saddens us a little, yet we realize life is full all kinds of trails just waiting to be taken for those with the fortitude to break from status-quo life long enough to take them.
Snow storm in O'Cebreiro
A matter of perspective
Only a week ago Nancy and I stayed the night in a small historic village called O’Cebreiro. It was the highest location in the mountains when we crossed from Villafranca to Triacastela. The night there had been cold and because the heat didn’t work to well in our room Nancy and I slept together in a narrow single bed (solely for survival mind you). Anyway, we left early the following morning feeling that there was going to be change in the weather. We made a major decent that day through a layer of clouds into the valley below. That’s when I started to complain about the thought of walking day after
Already we find ourselves feeling a little sad to see it come to an end
day in the rain. (Today was the third day of walking in full rain gear) All this to say, that this morning as I went down to check out of our inn I noticed the headlines of the local newspaper and the picture that accompanied the front page article about the struggle many Camino pilgrims were having getting through O’Cebreiro due to a snow storm there. The picture alone (attached) put things for me in a different perspective all together concerning walking in a little rain. Now I find myself thanking God for his perfect timing and divine grace on my life having gotten us through that region with decent weather. (Never mind those other poor pilgrims who half froze to death walking through O’Cebreiro. They are getting the great blessing of learning about the joy of suffering – after all, this is the pilgrimage of St James who wrote about counting it all joy when we experience various kinds of suffering.) Anyway, in the end they may be the winners, but I guess I’ll cling to my more selfish perspective all the same.
The finish of today’s 13 mile trek leaves us with only four more days of our journey before entering Santiago. Already we find ourselves feeling a little sad to see it come to an end. Every day we make more friends along the trail, and the aches and pains of walking are now only a memory.
A pilgrimage or just a long walk?
There was an increase in the sheer numbers of walkers
They say that some 300,000 people walk the Camino every year. Today I believe it. After returning to the main trail and entering the small city of Sarria yesterday, we noticed a subtle change. There was an increase in the sheer numbers of walkers and even a noticeable change in the attitude of other walkers along the trail. So many of those we had met up until now had been laboring for weeks and some even months. It seemed to us that there had been a sense of camaraderie between the walkers and a sort of seriousness concerning the Camino experience that was rich. As we walked through the last week we had been embraced even by those that had been walking for over 500 kilometers, all the way from the border of France, even though we had been new comers to the journey at Villafranca. Today has felt somehow different. The trail had become congested with people who had just started the trek at Sarria. We discovered that in order to get the official Camino stamp in Santiago a walker had to prove he or she had walked over 100 km. Sarria is 105 km from Santiago which makers people legitimate Camino pilgrims.
There had been a sense of camaraderie
Today was a 14 mile day and it rained much of the day causing me to look down at the wet slippery trail rather than outward at the still amazing vistas, but it gave me the chance to evaluate my own heart and think about the reason why I had decided walking the Camino was a good idea. I had to ask myself the question, was this walk really a pilgrimage for me or just a long walk. I came to the conclusion that it really doesn’t matter why anyone else is here, or what their motives might be. This is a private matter for every walker. I realized today that what I get out of this is between me and God. And at the end of the day I concluded that it really was my hope that for Nancy and I it will be a time to hear from God at a significant juncture of our life. We have a week of walking between here and Santiago yet to go and so it will be my prayer that God will continue to meet us and even surprise us in some way so that we will know all this really is his idea from the beginning. We love you all and are anxious to see you soon.
An unexpected Sunday morning on the Camino
We bought lunch in a market on Sunday morning
I had lost all track of time and after walking several miles this morning we came to the small town of Palas de Rei which seemed to be asleep even at 10:00 AM. Passing by a historic Catholic church we noticed a number of familiar walkers standing at the door looking in. Having forgotten it was Sunday I figured they were waiting to get their Camino passports stamped. (Every pilgrim is required to get a stamp at least once a day somewhere along their daily route to prove they had been in each major village or town and one place that can be done is in churches.) Anyway, thinking it was a good idea, we followed the
Casa de Somoza -a place where a familiar scene from the movie “The Way” had been filmed
small line of people into the church only then to realize we had entered the beginning of a Sunday morning Mass. The priest had already begun to sing the opening prayer. The remainder of the service was naturally in Spanish, but the Holy Spirit was authentically present and we left our time there feeling blessed for the experience.
Leaving the church we picked our way through the narrow streets of Palas de Re until we happened upon an open air market where we purchased fresh fruit to get us through the remainder of the day. Today was going to be a shorter but one of great beauty. For several hours we made our way through several small villages all the time walking under the canopy of a forest of Eucalyptus trees until we entered the village of O’Coto. As we entered the small village where we would be spending the night in a historic old inn we passed a roadside bar called Casa de Somoza which is now known because it had been a place where a familiar scene from the movie “The Way” had been filmed. Several times through the day our spirits were enriched and lifted with hope as the sun broke though the rain filled clouds with rays of warmth. It was a good but unexpected Sunday.
No Cowboy coffee here!
No cowboy coffee here
The attached picture has nothing to with today’s journey except for the fact that Spain has a different idea about coffee than the average Idaho American.
Today we discovered that walking all day in the rain is not the end of the world. We left Samos early this morning walking under a bank of dark gloomy clouds in hopes of getting to Sarria before the rain really let go (which we were told is the norm – it normally rains harder in the afternoon). But by 10:00 the rain started to build in intensity and kept up all the way to Sarria. The good news was that thanks to our family connection to REI (our son Brook has worked there for over fifteen years) we walked several hours in the
Walking all day in the rain is not the end of the world
steady rain and stayed perfectly dry. Our rain gear really did work and in the end it turned out to be an awesome day. Because we had taken a side trip to Samos we had, as I said, taken a less traveled path back to the main trail through some beautiful wooded, hilly country for another six miles before reconnecting with the main Camino trail. I knew it would be a lonesome stretch and had prayed late last night that the Lord might give us a companion to walk with. (Uncertainty loves company). Anyway, about a mile out of Samos we came upon a lone 72 year old lady named Mary who we had previously run into in a coffee shop.
In the end it turned out to be an awesome day
She seemed very pleased and relieved to see us as she too was looking for a little companionship. What a courageous woman she was, leaving her comfortable home and husband in Washington DC to walk the Camino. She was an inspiration to Nancy and I. She and her husband had been US ambassadors in Africa and although her husband had a health condition that kept him from coming along, he had blessed Mary to do the Camino without him. At 72 she still had the vitality and ambition to live life at its fullness. One of Nancy’s and my main prayers this entire time has been that God will put in our hearts a drive and a dream to stay vital and make the years ahead really count. We want to live the “advent-ure” more now, in our golden years, than ever. Today we survived the rain (no big deal) and after spending time with Mary are ready for whatever God has, not only tomorrow, but for the rest of our lives together. That lesson alone has been worth the trip.
May 15th – A path less followed
We hadn't seen anyone all morning
We were awakened by hard rain pounding on the slate roof of our upstairs room last night just before midnight. I’d been dreading the thought of walking all day in the wet rain after hearing gloomy stories from veteran pilgrims which motivated some late night prayer. We woke to a clearing sky but suited up with leggings and rain gear anyway (oh us of little faith). Off we went after an early breakfast and while most of the walkers turned right at the bottom of the village taking them on a shorter, more direct route to Sarria, the next small town on the trail, we instead turned left and headed down an alternate route which would take us through Samos a small town seven miles to the south. Samos was known for its ninth century monastery, the largest and most famous in Spain, and the trail to get there was said to be beautiful.
The trail was less traveled and if it hadn’t been for some thoughtful pilgrims who had taken the time to paint small yellow arrows on rocks and walls here and there, finding our way would have been challenging at times. At one point we were stopped by a farmer and his wife who were driving their cows to pasture down the narrow path we were following who were kind enough to point out a turn we nearly missed. About 11:30 we broke into an open place and found ourselves
We found ourselves looking down on the small village of Samos and its magnificent monastery
looking directly down on a beautiful valley which contained the small village of Samos and its magnificent monastery structure. Descending down a path which turned onto a narrow winding cobblestone street we came to a bridge that carried us over a picturesque river and onto the main street of Samos. There we found a café and stopped for some late morning coffee. Today’s walk has been much easier than normal and proved not only to be a nice rest after the last couple of days, but a delightful morning of fresh fragrant air and breathtaking scenery; much to the contrary of the day I had envisioned during our night of worrying about the pouring rain. Here again I became aware that the Lord was trying to gently remind me to take the Apostle Paul’s advice where he told us to “… not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”. He had again reminded me to not only trust him for the journey, but to give him thanks for it and relish it. More and more I have become aware of how destructive anxiety can be and how it continually robs us of the joy of so many special moments in life.
Later that afternoon we met a monk in a market who I would describe as truly jovial. He invited us to join him at the Monastery that evening to hear his community of monks sing monastic prayer. He also told us how his communities of monks were famous for making organic forty-three percent Spanish liqueur. He was a lot of fun and it was evident to us that the spirit had been moving among them in more ways than one.