Little Camino, Day 29: It Could Have Been Otherwise

(Keeping my pledge to write thirty-four blogs on how walking the Camino keeps impacting my life, the same as the number of days that I walked this 500-mile pilgrimage.)

I dedicate this blog to Jane Kenyon and offer her poem called Otherwise.

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

I fell down a mountain yesterday. I was being very careful, had my ice spikes on my boots and was descending in a series of steps in the snow. But then I hit snow blown hard as a rock and glazed with ice, where even my spikes couldn’t penetrate. In an instant, I was flying downhill, picking up speed, with nothing to grab. I was rolling, out of control. I lost my hiking pole. lost my hat, and thought, “This is not good.” And then as quickly as it had begun, the sheet of ice became a soft snow bank and I plunged into it, plastering my face.

Maybe fifty, maybe a hundred yards down the slope. I won’t go back to see.

Everything was so still. What hurt the most at first was my frozen face. I sat up, scrubbing off the crystals from my neck and head. Then I marveled that I could sit up. And I just stayed still, slowly taking stock of my body. My husband soon hurried up behind me, asking if I was okay. I shook my head, not quite knowing yet. My right leg felt like I’d gotten hit by a baseball bat. Maybe I’d hit an alder branch. My shoulder felt wrenched but I could lift it a little. I was stunned and shaky. It all happened so fast. And yet. And yet. I was mostly okay.

It could have been otherwise.

I have osteoporosis in my lumbar spine. I could have fractured it, but I didn’t. I could have kept falling another 100 yards before I hit trees. Broken my neck. Hit my head. Broken my femur instead of getting a good bruise. But I didn’t. There were a lot of things that could have been otherwise. I was more okay than not okay. I got up and walked down the mountain, warning hikers heading up of the danger. I spent the rest of the day with ice on my leg and shoulder, pondering what could have been otherwise. And like Kenyon, I noticed all the sweet details of my life: the warmth of my bed; the nourishing taste of the salmon chowder I’d made the day before; the sunshine on the birch trees; and just that I still get to be a guest on this planet.

In her amazing posting this week in Marginalian, Maria Popova writes,
In a universe governed by randomness and impartial laws, chance has been kind to us–a kindness so immense it feels like a benediction. Here we are, drifting through the austere blackness of pure spacetime on a planet just the right distance from its home star to have an atmosphere and water and warmth for life. And what life! a cornucopia of creatures moving through lushness beyond measure, born of blue oceans and shimmering shores.
It didn’t have to exist, not one bit of it–not the oceans, not the redwoods, not the octopus, not the miracle of consciousness that turns back on itself to stand wonder-smitten by the majesty of it all. And yet here it is and here we are, children of the flowers, captives of the wonderland, lulled by habit and hubris into dishonoring our benediction by forgetting the staggering improbability of it all.

Yes, this too could have been otherwise. I feel I had a wake up call, yet again, with this fall. It reminds me of the time on the Camino when I thought Steve had been hit by lightning. The same incredulity, the same stunned and shaken sense of being, the same knowing it could have been otherwise when I finally saw him across the green wheat fields.

We are so privileged to be here now for whatever time we have. My little Camino is one I renew often–to pay attention and honor the benediction of being alive, to be grateful for everything, to stay capable of wonder and reverence, to love what I love with abandon. Until it is otherwise.

I’ll end with another poem that has lingered with me for years, just like Jane Kenyon’s poem. It is by William Carlos Willams.

So much depends

A red wheelbarrow

Glazed with rain

beside the white chickens.


One thought on “Little Camino, Day 29: It Could Have Been Otherwise

  1. Oh Marcia, I am so grateful to hear that you are more okay than not okay. And also filled with gratitude that you took the time to write this blog post when you had a excuse we all would have accepted if you needed only to rest & not write. In and amongst all that I am grateful for, I am blessed to know you as Friend. It could have been otherwise. Thank you for sharing who and what you are – with me and the world.


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