“Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.” DESIDERATA
Aside from hearing myself subconsciously whisper “Oh God” as I stood weeping at the foot of the Iron Cross (Cruz de Ferro) – the highest point on the Camino – I have not said a word in two months. (WHO DOES THAT?)
And since I’m learning to enjoy my achievements… WOOHOO! One month to go!
Not talking has become a new normal for me. So much so, that I’ve forgotten to share much about my interactions with others. So here’s a few things that happen during a typical day for me:
For the most part, I let people know that I can’t speak (“no habla.”) by making a motion with my hand like I’m making a puppet speak, then shake my head “no” and then point to my mouth.
If I want a large coffee with milk (“grande cafe con leche” was definitely the first thing I needed to figure out how to communicate!) I point to the espresso machine behind EVERY counter, then make a HUGE motion with my arms, then I pretend to milk a cow with my hands. The milking motion usually helps the poor person stuck serving me go from, “What is this guy’s problem?” to cracking a smile.
If I want to sleep at an albergue (hostel) I will point to myself, then rest the side of my head on my hands placed together like I’m sleeping on a pillow, then indicate “one” with my finger (which either means one night or one person), then make a “how much” motion by rubbing the pads of my thumb and first two fingers together.
“What time is diner?” – Point to my imaginary watch, then shove imaginary food in my mouth with an imaginary spoon.
“What time is breakfast?” – Stretch out and fake yawn, then shove imaginary food in my mouth with an imaginary spoon, then point at my imaginary watch.
“What is your name?” – Using my thumb and index finger, I’ll drag them across the left side of my chest to indicate a name badge. (This only works 60% of the time. The other times, I really do wonder what the heck they think I’m doing with my left nipple.)
I will ask fellow pilgrims how long they’ve been walking for by letting my fingers do the walking motion, then a karate chop down with my left hand to the far left and then my right hand to the far right. This can also mean, “Where did you start from and where will you finish?”
And the motion I have done the most since September 25th, because I am a polite, non-millennial Canadian who feels bad that others have to put up with my vow of silence nonsense… NAMASMILE! Hands prayerful posed on my forehead, head bowed slightly with a big goofy smile! A smile really does translate well in any language.
Those are pretty much the daily communications. If those fail, I’ll whip out the iPhone from the right waist pouch on my Osprey backpack (bought at Soujourn Outdoors in Barrie 🙂 and type out anything I really want to say or ask. Thankfully Google Translate works offline, since the only internet I’ve had access to is at night. (IF the hostel has it.) It’s been a lifesaver every once in a while, since I’ve met people from pretty much every country in the world!
I usually walk by myself all day and then, when I meet up with other pilgrims in the albergue, I will explain to anyone who wants to engage with me the reason I’m not talking. I want them to know right away that I am not deaf and I can hear them perfectly fine. I do this by showing them the locked screen on my phone…
because I don’t want them feeling like an idiot for trying to treat me special and then finding out that I’m not. Do you know what I mean?
Unfortunately, I become a bit of a spectacle for the first part of the conversation. It gets really tiresome explaining why I’ve made the decision to do a three month vow of silence on a daily basis. Here is my pre-typed answer:
“Years ago I used to be a pastor but stopped because of my battle with doubt. I’ve struggled with faith forever. People keep telling me that it’s not God’s fault. It’s mine. And maybe I am just not listening hard enough. So I’m hoping that maybe if I shut up long enough I might hear what it is I’m not hearing.
I will finish The Camino on my 50th birthday (Nov 30th) at Finisterre – the end of the world.
There are soooo many reasons to not talk. I host a radio talk show. I interview celebrities about what they believe spiritually and various spiritual gurus /religious leaders and I need to shut up to learn what needs to be said. And as a new grandfather. I need to shut up and grow up!
Many relationships in my life are fractured and silence is what my souls needs.
So after Finisterre I will go to a monastery on an island off the coast of Western Sahara, Africa.
I stopped speaking September 25. I will speak again on Christmas.”
At this point, all of my stuff is out of the way and we can get onto their story.
A middle aged man from Iceland or Finland (one of those cold countries with very direct people) challenged me on this recently. I think he was basically saying, “By letting people know you are doing a vow of silence, are you not just drawing attention to yourself and making yourself the centre of attention?” True. I get it. But the only alternative that I can see is being the silent creepy guy who avoids people, making them think that he’s deaf, when he isn’t. Apparently, this Icelandic guy rubbed people the wrong way with his directness and perceived negativity. But I totally understood what he was saying. Heck, I’d probably bring up the same point with someone doing what I’m doing. My radar goes off when I meet people who want to be noticed by everyone. Heck, I used to teach that course!
After meeting me, a 20 year old boy from Sweden decided that he was going to finish the Camino in a vow of silence. Apparently, I inspired him. LOL Then he asked if he could walk with me. I reluctantly agreed. Reluctantly, because I got the distinct impression that he was doing it for the exact reason the other guy thought I might have been doing a vow of silence. It felt like this kid couldn’t wait for people to find out that he was walking the Camino in a vow of silence – for his last week. (UGH! Why didn’t I think of that? Silent for the last week would have been a lot less annoying. For me as well as others!) Call me a dick, but I pretty much ignored the poor kid the entire day. Eventually, he decided to go his own way because that’s what his “heart” was telling hm to do.
Eventually, the novelty of the “big silent Canadian guy” always dissipates and THAT’S when the magic happens. Soooooo many in depth conversations and tears and honesty and vulnerability between strangers have happened along The Way. That’s been the real beauty of The Camino. I’ve kept daily logs of my side of these interactions because I would type out my questions or comments in Notes on my phone. It’s been fascinating to go back over and read two months of these beautifully authentic transactions.
A few times, I’ve needed to borrow a phone and call an albergue to find out if they’re open before I walk another 15 KM’s just find out that they’re closed and then have to walk another 20 KM’s to the next one. Then I remember – DAMN… that ain’t gonna work! It would be the worst crank call in history.
For this, and many other reasons, the Spanish people have been incredible! Always happy to help out a pilgrim! Even make phone calls on their behalf. I LOVE SPAIN! I can’t wait to be able to say “yes” the next time one of them offers me a drink! Which has been DAILY! (As a result of starting the Camino hungover, as well as realizing that I had become too much of a slave to alcohol over the last few years, I also decided not to drink until the Camino was over – on my 50th birthday. November 30th is just around the corner and yes, I plan on enjoying my achievement with some incredible Spanish wine.)
What have I missed the most being silent? Probably singing. OH – and being able to interject something funny at just the right time in a conversation. (I LOVE DOING THAT! I was kicked out of schools – yes, plural – for doing that. Well, for only doing that!) There were many times I tried to quickly type out something funny, but by the time I was finished typing and fixing stupid autocorrect…. the moment had long since passed. But in true Drew fashion, I attempted the funny anyway. People were like, “What? I don’t underst… ohhhh you were trying to be funny. From the conversation we had about five minutes ago?’ *Pity laugh
Like I said before, not talking has become the new normal for me. Sometimes it’s incredibly lonely and other times, incredibly peaceful. Kinda like The Camino.
DESIDERATA “Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.”
Oh, and this JUST happened!
Last night I had a dream that I was walking back home. Like home, home. I was following an older Spanish farmer and his Light wolf. His wolf and I had become good friends along The Way. When I stopped at my house, the old man stopped with me and stood there admiring it. Then, as I was saying goodbye to his Light wolf, he asked how long I had been walking. Just then, my daughter came outside and told him that it had been months and that I had been in silence the entire way. The man was very impressed and expressed just how happy he was that I had become friends with his Light wolf.
WHAAAAAT THE?? (For those of you just tuning in, this will make more sense if you read the post about the wolves.)
*IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS ABOUT MY VOW OF SILENCE, PLEASE ASK. I’M SURE I’VE FORGOTTEN TO EXPLAIN SOMETHING! 🙂
Hi Drew – finally have some moments to read thru some of your posts. I loved spending some time with you, and find myself really wishing I could have a conversation with you once you are done with your vow. In the meantime, I’ll settle myself for gleaning what I can from your blog.
“People keep telling me that it’s not God’s fault. It’s mine. And maybe I am just not listening hard enough. So I’m hoping that maybe if I shut up long enough I might hear what it is I’m not hearing.” – I find this terribly exciting and frightening in equal measures. Yet I love the sincere pursuit it represents. I would love to hear you talk about the various ways you experienced this over your journeys.
While I expect that you will find richness and discovery in hearing from yourself, and hearing from others – I think bit that can be frightening is hearing from God. I’m reminded from my own experience, and the experience of others, that God, too, works in silence. I wonder if you’d appreciate the song, “The Silence of God” by Andrew Peterson. He speaks of the “Holy , lonesome echo of the silence of God.”
Whether you hear silence or voices (joke kinda intended) – I look forward to hearing more about what you’ve learned.
3oth November – Happy Birthday, Drew! And no doubt you know it’s St. Andrew’s Day – a national holiday in Scotland 🙂
Congratulations on your Camino. It was nice running into you in The Pilgrim’s House a few weeks ago. I’m back in Northern Ireland, typing this in front of a nice log fire.
If you’re going on to Finnesterre, make a point of watching the sun set up by the lighthouse.
Good luck, Drew. The Camino is only beginning.
Funny… I was just thinking about 50 yesterday… Yesterday marked 16 months to 50 for me… so I have 16 months to go before I hit the same land mark you hit today. I guess that is enough time to figure out how I am going to leave the 40’s behind.
This past week I just met a lady who was 106. So from her perspective.. you haven’t even passed the half way point yet. I am happy for you that have had the energy and strength to take on the Camino.
Way to go, Drew!!! Enjoy the rest of the journey… looks like there is lots to see yet and more stories to listen to.
Ruby from Calmar.
Drew… if you haven’t seen it yet, consider this a belated birthday gift. It’s the Shack movie official trailer. just got released yesterday.
Happy Birthday, Drew. I hope you do get to enjoy the day after your birthday without praying to the porcelain god after too much Spanish red wine.
Thank you for having been a meaningful part of my Camino experience (and my longest culinary experience in Santiago :-). I am thinking a lot about our conversation and the fact that your silence helped me. It helped me hear the essentuality in your questions, it helped me to accept pauses or silence after a formulated thought – quite soothing experience in fact not having to rush off to the next “push line” but to linger just a moment longer on what was said – like savoring the red berry fruitiness of a good Rioja wine seconds after.
I have taken pleasure in reading your blog and the way you write so anecdotically. Thank you for having crossed my Camino, thank you for having helped me on my journey to self-forgiving…. I envy you a little on your last stretch to Finisterra which I personally feel so strong about (death in Santiago, resurrection in Finisterra), but I guess I just have to go back for my resurrection experience ;-). Take the Camino back home with you and don’t let your refound voice fog up these awesome memories.
Thank you Drew
Martin from Toulouse