(Keeping to my pledge to write thirty-four blogs, one every Monday, on how the Camino continues to affect my life– the same number as the days I walked the 500-mile pilgrimage)
Somehow I missed watching the trilogy of The Hobbit. I read the book so long ago, and always meant to watch the movie, but it wasn’t until a recent rainy day that I began the first one, An Unexpected Journey. In it, Gandalf the Wizard tries to explain why he invited a small hobbit to go on a quest to retake Erebor, the former mountain of the Dwarves, from Smaug, the fire-breathing dragon. They complain that Bilbo Baggins is small, simple, has no weapon, and is not physically strong. How can he help turn back the evil that is creeping over Middle Earth? To this Gandalf says, “I have found that it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folks that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.” ~ Gandalf (J. R. R. Tolkein ~ The Hobbit)”
The subtitle of my book, The Long Walk Home, is Confessions on the Camino. And I have yet another confession to make about my continuing pilgrimage on this planet and facing evil.
Confession: I am normally an optimistic person. But lately I have succumbed to wondering about this human race and whether our propensity to be afraid, violent, greedy, in control, lusting for power, full of hate for our fellow beings, and a willful disregard for the planet will lead to our eventual elimination. You know the headlines–the many wars and conflicts ongoing, the plight of immigrants, the trafficking of innocent people, the corruption in governments, our part in global warming. Etc. etc. etc. Are we going to make it?
In the poem, “Frosted Fields” by Eric Trethewey, one line reads, “Why are we not better than we are?” I wonder this often. Although there are many ancient stories that explain our fall, it will remain for me, a mystery. And a deep sadness.
Yet just when I am slipping into a place of hopelessness, it is indeed those “small everyday deeds of ordinary folks” of “kindness and love” that resurrect hope. Yes, a listening ear. A card. A phone call. A hug. Showing up when someone has died. Bringing soup.
On the Camino, I was able to keep going on my journey with a cup of garlic soup given with love, by an albergue host who found us a bed, or by the man who brought us blankets on a cold night. I remember the host who gave up his job as a chef at a high class restaurant to cook meals for passing pilgrims. Or the old woman who came out on the road to bless us and wish us Buen Camino. I was discouraged many times on our journey, and not everyone was kind. But most of those ordinary folks were. And it made all the difference.
Right now, my nephew and his wife are raising a foster baby after their own sons grew up. Members of a local church are growing fresh food in their garden for the food pantries. There is a group of people in Anchorage who listen with the homeless and the sick in body, mind and spirit. There are the doctors and medical staff at the hospitals who gave of their hearts as well as their talents in saving others during the pandemic. There’s a big drive right now to provided school supplies for children. I could write on and on of these small acts of kindness and love that would fill up pages and pages and pages.
This is also true of our human race. Ordinary people do these things without need of thanks or recognition.
My little Camino is to not give in to despair and discouragement; it is to become one of those ordinary people who by small acts of kindness and love keep the darkness at bay. One day at a time. It is to remember that we as a human race have known this wisdom for millennia. In the word of the prophet Isaiah, written nearly 3000 years ago: “If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.” (Isaiah 58: 10)