Gorma was washing out her smelly socks when she heard a strange sound. She twisted them tightly, using her strong hands to wring all the water out, then clipped each sock to the clothesline behind the albergue. As she put her other dirty clothes into the soapy water, she heard the strange sound again, like the trumpeting of a horn announcing a king’s arrival.
Gorma peeked around the side of the building, looking just past the hydrangea and rose bushes near the walkway to the front door. There she saw an animal unlike any in the Land of the Heart: big, round, gray, wrinkled, four great legs and two humongous ears and two long tusks, plus a long, strong trumpet of a nose announcing the arrival of – an elephant.
“Why in the world must I wait?” the elephant was complaining to no one in particular. “On Myland Island, where I come from, we never have to wait for anything. I get what I want immediately. This person should give me what I want. I’m tired, and want a bed, and I want it now.”
Gorma frowned and went back to washing her laundry. It had gotten dusty and dirty from all her walking, but the soapy water felt warm and soft, and as she rubbed her clothes together gently, the dirt was washed away, leaving them clean and smelling sweet. She had just finished squeezing all the water out and hanging them all on the clothesline, when the elephant’s trumpeting sounded in the albergue kitchen.
“There’s no dinner ready for me? On Myland Island, where I come from, we never have to make our own dinner. Someone else always does all the cooking, so that I can eat as soon as I am hungry. This albergue should give me what I want. I’m hungry, and want to eat, and I want to eat now.”
Gorma turned away from the kitchen and instead, went to read her good book in the comfortable chairs in the front room. She smiled at the other travelers seated there, and they smiled at her, and all was quiet and pleasant, except for a lot of banging in the kitchen, which they all ignored.
Again Gorma heard the elephant’s trumpeting sound, this time outside by the clothesline. “Wash my clothes by hand?” the elephant repeated, sounding very surprised. “On Myland Island, where I come from, we use washing machines, and dry our clothes in the dryer. Why, I hardly have to touch my clothes that way, especially the smelly socks, and … and other smelly things. A clothesline? I never use a clothesline. On Myland Island, no one has to use a clothesline.” But soon, the elephant was heard splashing and crashing in the washing sink, and he hung his heavy drippy clothes on the clothesline.
Gorma had gone to make a cup of tea in the kitchen, and after her tea and her good book, she said goodnight to the other travelers, washed her face and brushed her teeth, and slept deeply in the bed she had been given in the albergue for that night, for which she was very grateful.
In the morning, after coffee and toast with peach jam, Gorma packed up her bag with her fresh, clean clothes, put on her cloak for the morning chill, and taking Saint Thomas, her walking stick, she began her day’s journey down back roads and byways. It was a sunny morning, and as birds greeted her and the butterflies led her down safe paths, Gorma felt warm enough to stop to take off her cloak. As she took a drink of water from her water jug, she heard a strange sound, like the honking of a goose who has lost his flock.
As Gorma emerged from the wooded path, she saw a fence with a big gate for cows and sheep, and a small stile beside it, that gap the farmer uses to slip around the gate in a V around the gate post, too tight and too tricky for a cow or a sheep to pass through. “Apparently, too tricky for an elephant to pass through, as well,” said Gorma to no one in particular, for there, stuck in the stile beside the gate, was the elephant. He looked a bit panicked.
“Oh, Gorma, Gorma, thank goodness you are here. This farmer has built his gate all wrong, and now I’m stuck. On Myland Island — ”
And at that moment, Gorma opened the large gate with a simple click of the latch. It swung wide and welcoming.
“You mean, this gate?” she asked, stepping through it easily, then back again, before pushing it closed until latched once more. The elephant did not know what to say, sputtering now, not trumpeting. His name was Ben, and, as you may have heard, he was from Myland Island.
“You are correct about the stile, however,” Gorma nodded, and Ben the Elephant began to smile, with his complaining face all ready. “You are certainly stuck.” Ben the Elephant looked shocked; then his face crumpled in defeat.
“Oh, Gorma, Gorma – can you – how will I? – can you help me…get unstuck?” And at that moment, the elephant looked more like a sheep than an elephant, a little bashful and more than a little embarrassed.
“Of course,” Gorma smiled, and with a lot of encouragement and the strength of Saint Thomas, Ben the Elephant was finally free of the stile beside the gate.
“Wow – gosh – thanks – that was – on Myland Island — ” he began, but Gorma simply said,
“You’re welcome,” and walked on.
Gorma stopped to eat her lunch on a smooth, flat rock near a shady tree. She had just finished her bread and cheese, when she heard a strange sound, like the squeaking of a mouse who is searching for, coincidentally, bread and cheese. Gorma looked back down the trail, and here came Ben the Elephant, slowly lumbering UP the trail.
“Oh, Gorma, Gorma, thank goodness you are here. The woman at the albergue sent me out this morning with no food, and now it is midday, and I have nothing to eat! Women.
On Myland Island –”
And at that moment, Gorma pulled more bread and cheese from her bag. “You mean, like this bread and cheese I bought from her, at her shop next door to the albergue? Did you mean that woman? Or did you mean me?” Gorma asked, taking a bite of the cheese and munching the bread. The elephant did not know what to say, and stood blinking foolishly. And hungrily.
Oh, Gorma, Gorma, will you – how can I? – would you…share some food…with me?” And at that moment, the elephant looked more like a mouse than an elephant, very small, and willing to take the crumbs that might be offered.
“Of course,” Gorma smiled, and she broke the bread in half and gave him some, then broke the cheese and gave him some of this, as well.
“Wow – gosh – thanks – that was – on Myland Island –” he began, but Gorma simply said,
“You’re welcome,” and walked on.
Finally, as the day was wearing down and the evening began to cool the air a deep and lovely indigo, Gorma came to a fork in the road, a place where the path splits into two, and either way might be just the way to take you where you want to go. Gorma always loved a fork in the road, she stepped into the crossroads to read the sign she saw there. And who was sitting under the sign at the crossroads? Ben the Elephant. He was not trumpeting, or sputtering, or even squeaking.
“Oh, Gorma, Gorma, thank goodness you are here. The signs in this country are all written in the wrong language. I cannot read a word, so I don’t know where I am going. On Myland Island –”
And at that moment, Gorma began to read the sign aloud, to no one in particular, in the language of the Land of the Heart.
“You mean, this sign?” she asked, first in the language of the Land of the Heart, and then in Ben the Elephant’s language. He did not know what to say, so he looked back and forth, from Gorma to the sign, the sign back to Gorma, and then he looked down at himself, sitting in the dirt at a fork in the road. He looked up at Gorma, and his eyes understood, and it is just possible that his heart began to understand, as well.
“Gorma,” began Ben the Elephant, “oh, dear Gorma, would you please, if you have the time today, teach me a word or two of this language of the Land of the Heart? For if I do not learn, I will continue to lose my way, unable to read the signs at the many crossroads, and unable to hear the people, as well. This is how we live on Myland Island. But I would like to be changed by my travels in the world.”
Then Gorma smiled her best smile at Ben the Elephant. “Of course,” she replied, and as they nibbled on the last of the bread and cheese from Gorma’s bag, Ben the Elephant practiced saying the most important words he would need to continue his journey.
As darkness called to the owls in the trees and the bats in the caves of the rocky cliffs, Gorma stood to leave, looking down the lefthand path, of course.
Ben the Elephant stood too. “Oh, Gorma, Gorma –” he stopped himself, and smiling a very real and sincere smile, his best smile — “thank you,” he said, in the Language of the Heart. And he pronounced it perfectly, shaking Gorma’s hand very politely.
And Gorma simply said, “You’re – very – welcome.”
Then Ben the Elephant walked away down the righthand path, quietly practicing his new words so he wouldn’t forget. Because even an elephant sometimes forgets.
Gorma walked on, down the lefthand path, quiet and smiling. She arrived at the next albergue just in time for a bed, for which she was very grateful, and she slept deeply. Outside, the night birds spoke each other’s languages with ease, twitter-a-twitter and whoo-whoo, whoo-whoo, softly greeting each other, and politely saying, “Good night.”
Buen Camino, Ben.
Gorma finished her morning coffee in the streetside cafe, then walked through the narrow cobblestone streets of the City of Cathedrals until she turned the right corner to find the largest cathedral of all, sparkling from being washed in the night’s rain, each raindrop reflecting the soft morning sun.
She stepped inside the huge wooden doors. All was cool, and dark, and quiet. As her eyes adjusted to the dim light, she saw arches of stone, forming long hallways, more arches joining across from one hallway to another, arches overhead for a ceiling. Everywhere, the walls curved to join hands in high arches, with colored glass pictures in all the windows, birds and animals carved into the stones of the arches themselves, flowers and vines carved around the doorways.
Here rested dark wooden benches, smooth as glass, lovely for sitting and looking. At the front of the cathedral, from floor to ceiling, rose a carved and painted wooden masterpiece of images of saints (who are the best of people), and heroes (who are the bravest of people), and great teachers and philosophers (the wisest of people). It was gilded, which means it was painted all in gold, so that even in the cool darkness it glowed, warm and inspiring, with all the great figures of all those great people. At the center of them all, a tiny baby was painted. For saints and heroes and the greatest of all teachers ever born were all once born as babies sweet, and played as little children do, so Gorma knew: great oaks from little acorns grow.
Beside the great cathedral hall were many smaller chapels, each as ornate and as fine, each different and special, so that many churches were contained within this largest cathedral in the City of Cathedrals, like a gift within a gift, each box smaller until you find the prize inside the final one. So it was within the cathedral, and as Gorma wandered from chapel to chapel inside, she heard a great bell, and saw people all entering one small door, and so, curious, she followed.
She found a seat on a smooth bench near the back and quietly sat down. A priest in beautifully embroidered cape and collar said some words in a language Gorma did not know. Then the people, like a living drum, recited back some words in this same language. Their faces shone, and Gorma knew they said words of love back and forth with the priest, as he encouraged them to be good, and kind, and work hard, being good neighbors to each other, and they in turn agreed to do their best every day, and then they said, “Amen,” which means “the end of these words makes a good beginning.”
Next, the people turned to each other, and with smiles and soft words, shook each other’s hands, offering peace and friendship all around. Gorma smiled and shook hands, and received many smiles and handshakes in return, especially a beautiful, bright smile from the young woman sitting behind her on the very last bench in the chapel. Her smile made Gorma feel very happy, and at last Gorma sat down again, with all the other people, feeling friendly and gentle inside.
Then, to her surprise, a voice began to sing, just one voice, alone and full of grace. And from the last bench in the back of the chapel, the young woman sang a song of hope – for we know the song, even when we do not know the words or the language. A song of hope is so special, so pure, so sparkling in the morning sunlight after a night of rain, that it swells your heart with joy, and your eyes fill to the brim with its beauty, and words will not come…because all you can do is listen, happiness rising inside like the arches to the ceiling, bright and beautiful as the stained glass windows above, warm like the sun coming from behind the clouds at last.
After the song ended, and the last echo of her perfect voice finally faded, the priest led the people from the chapel. Gorma turned to look back at the last bench, but no one was there. And Gorma knew that sometimes, there are great people right here among us today, on their way to becoming saints and heroes and teachers and philosophers, whose images have yet to be carved into the great, gilded altars of the great cathedrals. But their voices and their hearts sing out in the small chapels of the world, unseen, unnamed, precious and holy as angels.
Gorma walked out of the cathedral, quiet and smiling. She and Saint Thomas, her walking stick, left the City of Cathedrals by a minor road, and arrived at the next albergue just in time for a bed, for which she was very grateful, and she slept deeply. Outside, the church bells in the little villages rang out the hours, softly in the warm night, so as not to wake anyone from sweetest dreams.
Buen Camino, beautiful Song of Hope.
Gorma stood trying to read the signs along the path, signs which had once been written clearly but had now been painted over, scratched out, and worn away, so that their original wording and intent were totally unclear. As she was puzzling over these confusing signs, she heard a small voice, like the sweet chirp of the smallest bird, and so, following the dancing butterflies who twirled down the left path ahead of her, Gorma soon found the source of the tiny sound.
It was a fairy, named Karolin, and she was tending to an injured lizard whose legs were too tired to skitter him along the stone wall beside the path. “Yes, I know the task is hard, and it will indeed make your legs more tired, at first. But if you do the healing work, and practice, you can regain your quickness up and down the wall, I promise you,” Karolin encouraged the lizard. And off he went, with bandaged joints, to practice how to quickly skitter-skitter.
Gorma called to Karolin, whose bright smile lit up the path. Her wings, like a dragonfly’s, quickly brought her to Gorma’s side, and she hugged Gorma with great affection and delight. “Oh, Gorma, Gorma, how wonderful to see you! Always I smile when I know you are beside me.” For Karolin’s great talent lay in healing all the wild ones in her domain, and sweet words of encouragement were a ready part of her medicine.
Gorma walked along as Karolin flitted on her dragonfly wings from one to the next of her patients. Here a blackbird ached with a wing that had been broken; now the wing had healed, but it still hurt the bird to fly. “You must not give up, darling blackbird,” Karolin cajoled. “Your mended wing will be the stronger for having been broken. Do the healing work, and practice letting go the pain, as we’ve worked on all along. You will fly away in no time, now,” Karolin explained, smiling.
Next, a wildflower struggled just to face the sun. Karolin, like all sweet fairies, hovered over it, and softly whispered, “Grow, grow.” For the fairies of this world wish for all the beauty of our wildest natures to grow strong and be revealed.
As they sipped clear water where it trickled like a song over the smooth stones, Gorma became thoughtful, realizing how she might have need of Karolin’s help.
“Karolin, what good could you do for a tamed creature? Would your medicine be able to heal him, as well?”
Karolin looked up, shaking water from her hands like a blessing over the little fish in the stream. “Oh, Gorma, Gorma, the only medicine I have is to find each patient’s will to heal, and harness that. For each body may be healed, it’s true, by herbs and wraps and rest. But the body must be used to live the life. And broken wings will hurt to fly, at first, until they’re stronger at the broken places than before.”
“So it must be,” Gorma nodded, “yes, I understand. And yet, I think your healing might be just the thing.” So at Gorma’s urging, Karolin followed her down the path to where it opened near the outskirts of a village. And here, lying in the sun along the path, dozed a rusty-orange fellow with a lovely, short black beard and black tip to his tail. He was beautiful to see, and it was a shame to wake him, but that is just what Gorma did.
“Saulomon, I’ve brought a friend,” she offered, and introduced him to tiny Karolin.
“Saulomon, how nice to meet you. I am a fairy, as you can see. But might I ask, what kind of creature are you?”
Saulomon stretched and smiled and winked an eye. “Why of course, I am a village dog,” he fairly sang, in his wild and carefree voice.
“A dog?” Karolin replied. “I’ve met no dog as rusty-orange as you, with short black beard and tip of tail. What breed of dog, and to which home do you belong?”
“I do not know. So maybe that’s not right. I think that I am actually a cat,” Saulomon replied, licking his front foot as if it really didn’t matter, a manner like a cat, but not a cat at all.
“A cat?” Karolin cried. “Can it be you do not know?”
“Or a chicken! How I long to live among them in their little cozy house. It all seems so delicious in there,” Saulomon said longingly, but with a naughty grin that Karolin caught at once.
“Oh, Gorma, Gorma, can it be? This fellow feels wild, but I fear he has tamed himself in hopes of comfort and ease. Can this be so?” Karolin asked, clearly concerned now.
“Indeed, little Karolin, it is far too common an occurrence, unfortunately,” Gorma replied, and they both watched Saulomon try his best to walk with his four furry legs like a two-legged, bony-legged chicken. “It’s quite funny, at times…until it becomes quite sad.” At this, Saulomon tried to howl with the village dogs, but only managed a quick squeal and a few high yips.
“That’s quite enough,” Karolin interrupted, flying directly up to Saulomon’s face and stopping him mid-yip. “The question is: do you wish to heal, or do you not?”
Saulomon looked shocked. “Heal? Am I sick?”
“Oh, in a most terrible way, Saulomon,” Karolin replied seriously. “You are wild, but you are tamed – you have tamed yourself.”
Purring like a cat, he asked, “I am wild, so you say?” And now Saulomon slid charmingly past Karolin’s soft arms. “How wild am I?”
Karolin’s cheeks flushed quite red. “There are many kinds of wild,” she nodded firmly. “You have forgotten most of them by now, save your sly charm.”
“Mmm, ‘sly charm,’ she says; I like it,” Saulomon smiled, winking once again.
“So you must choose,” Karolin held firm. “Do you wish to heal your wildness, or do you wish to go on pretending you are tame?”
“It’s so easy, really, dear sweet Karolin,” he answered. “I have them all fooled, you know, the villagers.”
“The only one you are fooling is yourself,” injected Gorma. “Saulomon, I bring you a healing fairy, and you flirt instead.”
“Ah, Gorma, Gorma, I like flirting – it’s in my blood, and in the tip of my beautiful tail. Oh, all right,” he gave in, seeing Gorma’s eyes. “Dear Karolin, if you can heal my wildness, then that is what I wish.”
“I cannot,” Karolin spoke up. “Not me. Only you.”
Saulomon looked shocked again, and annoyed. “I do not like these riddles! First you badger me, and now you leave me to my self.”
“Oh no! No, Saulomon,” Karolin replied kindly. “I will help you all I can. But you must do the healing work, and practice, and then you will be wild again.”
And so they set to work that very hour, and Saulomon worked very hard, for he had quite fallen in love with the little fairy. He practiced keeping to the treeline at the edge of the pastureland, and weaving among the shadows. He dug a smooth den into a little hillside, and finally found a delicious beetle to eat, which he hunted and caught all by himself, he was proud to tell.
As the day wore on, Saulomon spoke less and less, and playful though he was, a certain shyness crept upon him, and he stayed among the tall grasses more, and off the open path. Karolin called and called his name, and finally, he trotted out at twilight, hardly visible even to her clever fairy eyes. “Saulomon, you are the best patient I have ever had! You’ve learned to love your wildness well! I think you will be fine. Shall we start again tomorrow in the morning?” and here Karolin gave Saulomon her warmest smile.
“Mmm…I think not, sweet Karolin,” Saulomon replied quite smoothly. “I agree, I am recovering most wildly and well. Which is why I will be on my way, my beautiful, kind fairy. You can come away with me, if you would like.”
And now Karolin blushed red again, and said, “But who will heal the others?”
“Yes, so true; it’s you will do this healing. How I love you, little fairy, but I must be on my foxy way. I cannot stay.” And with that, he simply vanished into evening, and the setting sun saw just the tip of his tail before it slipped out of sight. Karolin was sad, but smiled, as she did when all the wild creatures in her care were free again. Then she flew back to check the blackbird’s wing and the lizard’s legs, hugging Gorma affectionately as always before she went, and saying goodbye.
Gorma walked on, quiet and smiling. She arrived at the next albergue just in time for a bed, for which she was very grateful, and she slept deeply. Outside, the fireflies’ flickering lights guided the sweet fairies on their dragonfly wings, bending over each sleeping meadow flower, whispering, “Grow, grow.”
Buen Camino, Karolin and Saulomon.
Gorma woke up very gently, the morning she arose in the loveliest albergue on the Camino. The sun was just starting to awaken, and so, too, the chickens in the yard, and the birds in the trees. The dogs stretched, one by one, each standing and stretching its legs, one by one, until all the legs were awake as well, and then they all trotted off down the lane, dog by dog by dog.
By the time the rooster crowed his good morning to the farmyard, Gorma was sipping her coffee in the warm farmhouse kitchen. For you see, this albergue was simply beds for weary travelers offered by a hardworking family – right in their own home! When Gorma had commented on this amazing situation the evening before, while the travelers ate supper grown from the garden and cooked by the family, the mother Marisa would say, “It is only a simple house, nothing more.” But it was something more, as Gorma well knew, for her sleep was as deep as this rich morning coffee, she woke as refreshed as the warm, soothing shower, and was delighted by the delicious cake for breakfast, baked fresh in the earliest hours of the day, well before dawn, sprinkled with the sweetness of children’s dreams.
The father of the house, Gaizka, joined Gorma for coffee and reminded her, “Now, Gorma, Gorma, do not forget all we talked about last night at supper. For we here in the North of the Country of the Heart, we are the keepers of the Freedom of the Heart, and the Freedom of the Heart is Honor, as you know. Do not forget to see the Tree of Honor, which for us is the Tree of Life, and so the Tree of Everything. For at the Tree of Honor, our fathers’ fathers and mothers’ mothers swore to keep the heart of this country free, always, and always we will do so. It is our most important symbol, this tree. You will find it surrounded by a glimmering circle of silver, and blanketed in velvet green, like the noble of our land that it is. Before you leave these high hills, you must see it, Gorma.”
“I will see the tree, Gaizka,” Gorma replied seriously, “for I already know the power it has over the people and this land. It is the magic I have sensed ever since I arrived in your beautiful farmhouse.”
“This is only a simple house, Gorma, nothing more,” Gaizka said, raising his arms and spreading his hands like a great tree, to show the utmost honesty, no magic tricks then being played.
“Oh no, it is much more, and has the Tree of Honor to thank for it. But I must be on my way.”
So Gorma shook hands with Gaizka and hugged Marisa and walked down the dirt road with Saint Thomas, her walking stick. She saw many, many trees, hillsides of trees sometimes, but none encircled by glimmering silver and blanketed in the velvet green of a noble.
Soon, the day became hot, so Gorma stopped by the side of the road, sitting in a shady patch of grass. She ate her bread and cheese, then looked in her bag one more time. “No fruit,” she said aloud, and reached for her water jug.
“Well, Gorma, would you like an apple or a pear?” asked a voice quite close behind her. Gorma turned, and saw that the shady patch was due to a most beautiful old tree. Two smaller trunks had twisted round each other many years ago, when they were young, and now this tree curved gracefully, with full and arcing branches. Gorma saw that on one side of the tree grew apples, and on the other side grew pears. A blanket of velvety moss grew up and into the entwined trunks, and a clear stream circled the tree before flowing down the hills, flashing silver in the midday sun.
“Are you the Tree of Everything?” Gorma asked, realizing who had spoken to her.
“Well, I don’t know about everything, but we have apples, and pears. So we have more than most.” The apple half was Antoine, and the pear half was Pauline, planted side by side quite by chance many years ago. And then, growing quickly as all young things do, and chasing the sun through the course of each day, they’d ended up twirled round each other in this wondrously woven way, once two, now one.
“What does a Tree of Everything look like?” asked Antoine curiously.
So Gorma told them, “It is old, and strong, surrounded by a glimmering circle of silver, and blanketed in velvet green, like a noble of this land.”
Pauline and Antoine laughed and laughed. “Oh, Gorma, Gorma, we have only this little stream, and a blanket of moss. But we have been standing here as long as the little village down the road. So I guess we are a bit old, and a bit strong at that, if only stubbornly so,” Antoine replied, smiling.
“Tell us, Gorma, what does a Tree of Everything do?” asked Pauline, for she was most productive with her pears.
So Gorma told them, “The Tree of Everything is the Tree of Honor, where the fathers’ fathers and the mothers’ mothers swore to keep the Heart free, always, and always will do so.”
Pauline and Antoine laughed and laughed again. “Oh, Gorma, Gorma, we are just a village tree. Although, one time, a village boy fell in love with a village girl, standing right where you are now. He knew she brought her family’s cows here to drink from our stream, and nibble fallen pears and fallen apples, so he began to leave her love notes, here – just here,” replied Pauline, and showed a space between their two trunks that was still open and apart, like a pocket.
“And then what happened?” Gorma asked, snacking on the apple Antoine handed her.
“Oh, Gorma, Gorma, it was just so beautiful,” Antoine sighed, and Pauline nodded. “Here they made vows, with the village gathered round, and the birds all sang, flowers blooming everywhere….”
“They pledged their love, Gorma, here, just here,” added Pauline, and showed a space of smooth, clean stone beneath the moss. “I hear that they have children now, a family, but their house is a distance yet from here.”
“Ah, just so beautiful it was, Gorma, the wedding of sweet Marisa and young Gaizka,” and Antoine sighed dreamily again.
Then Gorma smiled, and hugged the tree, and all three laughed together in joy as Gorma told them of Marisa’s house, and of all Gaizka had said, and how the children tend the chickens and chase the dogs. For the magic of the “simple house and nothing more” was that it was a home, a real home, bound by honor, which is the solid stone beneath all love.
Pauline agreed. “And honor in a home allows a space for two to live as one, and still be two -”
“- like me and you,” added Antoine to his Pauline.
“Like me and you,” agreed Pauline with her Antoine.
“So to this village, and that family, you have become the Tree of Everything, for you have heard the vows, and held the honor of the freedom of the heart within you, in openness and joy. Thank you for shade, and for apples, and pears, and for laughter, and for sweet places for love notes and stories,” added Gorma, as she packed her bag to travel on. Then Pauline gave her a perfect pear, which she took along with a fresh jug of water from the stream, and waved goodbye.
Gorma walked on, quiet and smiling, munching on her pear. She arrived at the next albergue just in time for a bed, for which she was very grateful, and she slept deeply. Outside, the trees sighed happily in the soft breezes of the night, and somewhere tucked away among the high hills, the great Tree of Everything watched over all.
Buen Camino, Antoine and Pauline.
Gorma walked midmorning on a path along the beach, wandering among the great rocks that catch the strength of the strong waves and set the water down gently into small, shallow pools, tidal pools, which, being warm and gentle, nourish new life for all those who live where the sea meets the shore.
The tidal pools are not the deep purple-blue of the deepest part of the sea. No, they are cerulian blue, and turquoise, sapphire and aquamarine, ever-changing blues and greens like the colors of a peacock’s tail. Tiny sea creatures live here, a miniature world within a rock basin, protected and safe from the wild and wondrous waves ever heaving.
As Gorma carefully picked her way between the great rocks. she came upon a sea-woman, those creatures who resemble women of the land, but have the sea always in their eyes – you can see it there, if you look close, and quickly. She was sitting on the edge of one of the tidal pools, leaning out to speak to some young seals, who had gathered between the great rocks and the pools.
“Ah, Gorma, Gorma, how happy we are to see you! Class dismissed!” And with that, the young seals dunked their heads under the water – boop! boop! boop! boop! boop! – and were seen next far down the beach, frolicking in the waves.
“What class is this, if I may ask? For, what can you teach the seals?” Gorma asked in happy wonder.
“It’s dance, of course, as all young seals must be taught the joy and grace of moving with the sea. Would you like a lesson?”
“Oh yes, please, a lesson,” Gorma nodded eagerly, and set Saint Thomas, her walking stick, in a safe place out of the water, and there he watched over her bag. She tossed her cloak upon the rocks and stood on the beach, where the surf just tickled her toes.
The teacher was Aqua. Her mother had been a dancer and a sea-woman, too. Aqua had been born into a tidal pool, nourished with the tiny creatures born to the warm and quiet places within the sea. For Aqua was actually a dancing starfish, given the form of a sea-woman by her mother so that she might come and go her way as she pleased.
“A little deeper, Gorma,” Aqua instructed. The water lapped at Gorma’s ankles. “Keep going,” Aqua coached, smiling.
“Farther.” The water brushed Gorma’s knees. “Farther.” The water belted Gorma around the waist. “A little…farther.” The water came under Gorma’s arms, and around her chest.
As a wave broke around the great rocks, it gently lifted Gorma as if she were in the arms of a graceful dancer, then set her down again lightly. Gorma laughed with delight, looking astonished at Aqua.
“Well done!” Aqua called, laughing in return. “One more time! Dance with the sea.” So Gorma stepped in until the water came up under her arms and around her chest, and over and over, Gorma and the sea danced. Soon Gorma was springing to the right, and swinging to the left, and always the sea would catch her gently and set her down lightly.
Gorma danced with the sea until it was midday, the sun was hot, and Gorma was hungry from all her fun. She shared a lunch with Aqua of seaweed crisps and apple slices and delicious cold water with lemon, sparkling in the sun.
“Now Gorma, Gorma, you must stay and watch my students give you a dance recital. Children, it is time for class!”
And – boop! boop! boop! boop! boop! – the little seals returned, all eyes on Aqua, their little whiskers twitching with anticipation. “Children, let us show Gorma what you have learned, shall we?” And as Aqua smiled, a music could be heard, of seagulls and terns, of breezes through the grasses on the sand dunes, of water upon rock, and the strange and beautiful voices of whales, somewhere far off in the mysterious deep.
The seals formed a circle and took turns diving into the center. Their flippers tipped and their noses touched. The twirled ’round each other, smoothly gliding fur on fur for an instant, and then free. Then all together, they swam far out into the waves and back again, as if they had become a wave themselves. Returning to Aqua, she kissed each upon the head, and – boop! boop! boop! boop! boop! – they turned for home.
“Wonderful! Just wonderful!” Gorma clapped and smiled. The seal pups barked their goodbyes.
“Aqua, what might you need for this wonderful school?”
“More students, Gorma, always more students. For all children can be taught to dance with the sea, and with each other. It is the gentleness of touch that lets us dance with all our hearts. And that is why the seals are such good students.”
So Gorma promised to send more students, and she thought of a few children at home, little sea monkeys who might like the dance with the seal pups in the gentle waves. Gorma picked up her bag and her cloak, and waving goodbye, she took up Saint Thomas and walked on, quiet and smiing. She arrived at the next albergue just in time for a bed, for which she was very grateful, and she slept deeply. Outside, the seal pups slipped in and out of the gentle surf, and the great rocks kept them safe from the wild and wondrous waves.
Buen Camino, Aqua.
One evening, Gorma walked through a seaside town, where the stone of the road is softened with moss along the cracks between, where ivy falls like mermaid’s hair over every wall, and the houses and shops are built tall and slim, one upon the next, some of tile, some painted bright colors, and each wall leading to something new around every corner. And so many corners there were! For each road led to several streets winding from it, some slowly moving uphill like chimney smoke, some rolling away downhill like ribbon and wrappings from a gift. As she wound her way through the twisting streets, Gorma became quite lost, a great happiness to Gorma, for this is when adventure begins.
Sure enough, just past a tall building with iron balconies like woven branches of flowers, near the tiled clock tower, a warm light shown out into the tiny street. Along with the salty-sand smell of the sea, Gorma now sniffed an aroma of rich, delicious food, and a burst of happy laughter drew her in to a small taverna with tables spread about, and chairs at each for friends to gather, as they had throughout. Plates of food, plenty to drink, and smiling good cheer filled each table save one, and so here, Gorma sat.
She had no more than removed her bag and cloak and set Saint Thomas, her walking stick, to stand in the corner, when the waiter appeared. “Oh, Gorma, Gorma, at last you have arrived,” he smiled warmly. “You shall have the Pilgrim’s Menu, such food as the weary traveler needs. Have no cares now.” His name was Gaspan, and quick as you can clap your hands, he was back with wine and bread.
Gorma broke a piece of bread, and it was strong on the outside, soft and sustaining on the inside. She tasted it, and immediately, she could smell the bread baking so many years ago in her own grandmother’s kitchen, and hear her grandmother calling to her for warm bread, warm bread, little one. This bread was like a comforting embrace in the folds of grandmother’s skirts, and as Gorma ate it, she sighed happily.
Next, she tasted the wine. Suddenly, her father’s grapevines in the sun lay before her, and she could see him scolding away the birds and laughing at the cat, who could never catch them. This wine was like renewal in the sun, seasons coming full with fruit and seasons for resting, and so for new growth as the sun returns again.
Gorma had just set down her glass, looking at the rich reds and purples of the wine, when Gaspan brought a plate of scrambled egg omelette filled with asparagus. “So good for you, Gorma; you will love this,” he told her with a happy nod. He refilled Gorma’s bread basket, then turned and was instantly back in the kitchen. Gorma took up her fork, and put the lovely soft yellow and green omelette into her mouth. And now she felt her grandfather’s hands on her own, teaching her how to use the pitchfork to loosen the mulch and soil over the asparagus patch, his hands baked brown and strong like bread from his years of farming in the sun. He spoke in the old language as together they worked the patch, fork by fork, until Gorma had finished eating her eggs and asparagus.
At once, Gaspan served steak and potatoes, and as she took her first bite, Gorma smelled her mother cooking many years ago, and heard her brothers and sisters crowding the table, all knees and elbows pushing and reaching and laughing at each other, and each laughing back. Gorma elbowed too, and laughed at them all, until they all ran off to chores or play, and her plate was finished.
Gaspan returned at that exact moment, carrying a dish of ice cream, with berries and fruit on top. As Gorma put a spoonful of the ice cream on her tongue, she was with her own young children again, though they are grown now. They were all singing, “Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you…,” and with a taste of each fruit, it was a different child’s birthday, and so she saw each one, from first to twenty, with cake and ice cream and a gift, over and over, until the spoon lay empty in the cup.
At this, Gaspan brought coffee, dark and heavy and rich, solid like the mountains where it grows. Into this he poured thick cream, smooth as the long, slow waves of the calm sea outside. As Gorma sipped her coffee, she remembered every dream she’d ever had, dreams of love, and family, and always, the dream to see the world. For as food nourishes the body, so love and family should nourish the dreams we carry in our hearts.
Full and content, Gorma left Gaspan the coins for her meal, and a shell of the sea beside them. She gathered up her bag, and her cloak, and Saint Thomas, and walked out into the early night, quiet and smiling. The tiled clock tower showed the same hour as when she had entered the taverna, and so, there was still plenty of time, to walk in the world.
Gorma arrived at the next albergue just in time for a bed, for which she was very grateful, and she slept deeply. Outside, families waked home from the seaside, laughing and happy, along the mossy stone roads, home to their own small houses, where they kissed each other good night.
Buen Camino, Gaspan.
Gorma could tell, before she arrived one afternoon, that she was approaching a farm by the sea. Fields of corn and meadows of sweet grass filled a hillside. Fences of split wood and sturdy wire surrounded the fields, and kept the cows and sheep in their pastures, safe and sound. She heard the ringing chop of an axe splitting wood somewhere nearby, and chickens clucking, and a goat bleating like a child with a chore they don’t want to do. And flowing over and under, around and through, came the mysterious smell of the sea.
As the road curved, Gorma followed, and soon came upon a farmyard with an old stone wall, a sturdy stone barn, and a stone and yellow plaster house supported by great brown wooden posts and beams. It stood solid and snug, and near the barn, Gorma saw two men, one splitting wood and the other stacking it. As she approached, the goat stopped bleating and chewed grass near the chicken yard. But the chickens never stopped clucking.
“That’s a lot of firewood for such a pleasant afternoon,” Gorma noted, nodding in greeting to the two.
“Yes it is, Gorma, yes it is,” agreed the stacker. He was lean and strong, like a forest tree, or a mountain stone, and just as dark and rugged and wise. “But you know, the weather changes, seasons too, and soon we will have need for a fire to keep us warm.”
The chopper CHOPPED! another log. He was muscular and strong, like a lion, or a wolf, and just as fair and rippling and intelligent. He said nothing, but his sharp ears and sharper eyes missed nothing, either. Like his axe.
They were brothers, Svend the stacker, Wolfgang the chopper. They had built the farm together, and being both so smart and strong, had kept it well, so well it grew, everything they needed and more that they could sell. They gave Gorma a cup of coffee and some toasted bread with strawberry jam, and as Gorma munched happily, she noted something else. “This is a large amount of work, even for two so strong as you. I would think you’d hire a youth to do the woodchopping, at least.”
And at that, Wolfgang CHOPPED! another log, his wolf eyes flashing. “Oh we did, Gorma, we did,” assured Svend, standing tall as a tree. “But, oh Gorma, Gorma – I think he is a mage.” And Wolfgang CHOPPED! another log.
“A mage, you say,” said Gorma, cocking her head in that way she does when she has many questions yet unanswered. “How do you know?”
“Well, he said as much,” said Svend, and Wolfgang rolled his eyes at that. “But also – Gorma, Gorma, he has the power to disappear.” And at that, Wolfgang set his axe down, took off his glasses and wiped them clean. He looked at Gorma and, cocking his own head as well, nodded twice.
“He does not run away, but disappears?” And Gorma looked around the farm in one wide sweep.
“It’s true,” Svend replied, “because he never misses breakfast in the morning. And here it is too wild a place and far too far from any town for him to run and not run into danger.” Svend pursed his lips together in a frown and shook his head. “We do not know how to manage him; yet, he won’t leave. Every day for over a week, every time we give him a task to earn his keep, like chopping wood –” and Wolfgang CHOPPED! another log – “he disappears.”
Gorma sipped her coffee. “I’m surprised that, though you both are smart and strong, he can outfox you in this way. Still, when we only use one tool when we have many, we are bound to run into little mischiefs we mistake for mysteries. So now,” said Gorma, leaning in conspiratorially with Svend and Wolfgang, “let us open wide the toolshed, shall we?”
Wolfgang CHOPPED! his axe into the chopping block, where it held fast, as he wanted it to, and he and Svend took Gorma to the toolshed door. Svend opened it for Gorma, and they all peered inside the dusty shed together.
“Yesss,” said Gorma, and she began to smile. “Yes, here’s everything you need.” So Gorma reached into the shed two times. For Svend, she found carpenter’s pencils, and a roll of thick paper used to patch a broken window until repaired. Svend looked at these items in his hands as Gorma reached the second time into the shed and brought out for Wolfgang the great furry bearskin their father had left them long ago. He held it up in front of him with both his hands, then looked at Svend, and Svend at him, then both at Gorma, puzzled.
“Well, shall we wait for breakfast tomorrow, or shall we find your mage and manage him this day?” Gorma asked with a wink, popping her last bite of jam on toast into her mouth.
They walked back up to the barn. In a bit of a theatrical voice, Gorma called, “Oh Svend, I wonder if you could make me a drawing of your farm here? It is so peaceful, and I would be so happy if I could have a picture of it on my wall. Make sure to include everything, yes? Every chicken and chopped piece of wood, so I remember well.”
Svend looked startled, but then smiled and gave Gorma back a wink of his own, and soon was happily sketching out some scribbles, every barn cat and bale of hay, steadily recreating the farm upon the paper.
“Oh Wolfgang,” Gorma called again, “you must be tired from your woodchopping. I’ve brought you ale, and thought, refreshed, you might like a short rest.” So Wolfgang quenched his thirst, and stretched out on the bearskin beside Svend, and fell asleep.
Gorma helped herself to coffee from the kitchen, and she brought Svend an ale as well. She waited nearby, sipping and humming, until his drawing was nearly complete, and Wolfgang stirred and woke. Then Gorma huddled down beside them, in the middle, speaking lower than before. “How go the scribbles, Svend?” she asked, for Svend seemed stuck on one small detail near the barn.
“Ah, Gorma, Gorma, what a day, what a beautiful day I’ve been having. What a joy it is to sit and draw the things I love.”
“And how about you?” she asked Wolfgang, who had risen to one elbow, lounging comfortably beside his brother, smiling from the bearskin now. He, too, seemed pleased.
“Hmmm,” she hummed, as Gorma looked around the farm, “then what could be amiss?” She smiled slyly. “Anything that isn’t right? Oh, now what could mar this day on your sweet farm?”
Now rested, Wolfgang’s lion eyes flashed brightly blue and brilliant, and his nostrils twitched because he’d caught the scent.
At the same time, Svend’s artistic eyes took a closer look; his fingers tapped his pencil on the paper near the barn like an axe to CHOP! the thing amiss from all his lovely work.
They stood together, pointing at – “The goat!” yelled Svend. And in that instant as it tried to run away, Wolfgang opened up his mouth and ROARED! Just like a lion.
Then the goat transformed before them all. And standing small within its place a boy, with ragged whiskers on his chin, who’d fooled them for a goat by acting as one. He was not quite a man, not yet, but neither was he a mage, those magic folk who help the moon to send us many dreams.
“The goat,” said Gorma calmly. “And a goat you’ll stay, bleating and whining about life’s necessary chores, unless….”
“Unless what?” asked the youth, in a shaky, goatlike voice.
“Unless you walk from this farm now, today, and never return. You don’t belong here, on this farm – you sought it out because it is so near the sea. You are no Mage – you are Magellan. Your chores are found on ships to sail the seas, to find new lands, and navigate by stars. Stop dreaming in the moonlight, little goat, of better tasks and better days. Go do your part – go live your life – the world awaits.”
And so, young Magellan walked down to the beach, where he found a ship ready for him, and away he sailed with a crew of fellow youths, for many months, and years, always chasing new horizons, distant lands. For Gorma knew that some have sea legs and some stride the earth, and different ones will grow in different ways, some with many rows to hoe, some with wild oats to sow, and some in need of getting their feet wet.
Svend and Wolfgang toasted each other with ale, and laughed out loud, and took the time to walk together every day – through the farm, over the hills, along the road, and out to the sea. There Svend would draw, and Wolfgang would rest content, watching the gulls fly over the waves, and every day, what delight they took in these small joys.
And sometimes, they would walk to the toolshed, open wide the door, and reach inside…for more. The best tools, after all, are those that help us do the tasks that make us our best selves.
But that was all to come, and now, as Magellan sailed off, Gorma walked on, quiet and smiling. She arrived at the next albergue just in time for a bed, for which she was very grateful, and she slept deeply. Outside, the chickens stopped their clucking, for it was the dark of night, and first the moon and finally, the stars, sailed over the albergue, the farm, and one small ship beyond the horizon.
Buen Camino, Wolfgang and Svend.
It was midday, and Gorma felt the hot sun beating down on her head, her back, and even felt the heat in her feet. She could feel it in her feet because she was standing on hot sand, waiting at the shore of the bay for a ferry boat to take her across, so that she might continue her journey. Many passengers had just boarded the ferry, so many that it was very full, and so Gorma had to wait for the next boat. She watched the ferry pulling away from the shore and slowly putt-putt-putting across the water toward the far shore.
“I am not so sure about this boat,” a deep voice stated from just behind Gorma. She turned and saw an enormous man, nearly a giant, talking with his traveling companion, a man of ordinary height and manner who was nodding slowly, his gaze drifting and turning with unanswered questions, some, possibly, even about the boat.
The giant man introduced himself to Gorma. “I am Pablo, and this is Juan Carlos. We are pleased to see you, Gorma.” Friends for many years, they were taking a holiday together. Pablo and Juan Carlos had arrived in this small place from a great city, Barcelona, constables who keep order and keep safety in the city by keeping watch and keeping calm.
“But you are more than this, I see,” observed Gorma, who can always tell when there is more to a story.
“Ah yes, Gorma, you must know that Juan Carlos here is deeper than these waters. He is a philosopher, a student of the meaning of all great ideas in the world. Juan Carlos reads in books the words of all the saints, and all the kings, and all the wise.”
“A steady man, who finds in books the meaning you still seek abroad, perhaps?” asked Gorma, much to Pablo’s great surprise.
“Oh, Gorma, Gorma, how true it is, for I am not a student like Juan Carlos. I read the books, and they are fine and wondrous things, and yet they do not tell me what I seek to know.”
“The book you seek is still being written,” Gorma told Pablo with an encouraging pat on his arm, for she could not reach his shoulder as you might usually do. Pablo smiled, and looked out into the bay, watching for the ferry, while Gorma and Juan Carlos talked of all the things you must with a philosopher, like love and honor, justice, war and peace, and soon they heard the putt-putt-putting of the ferry boat come back to harbor.
They paid their coins, and with Saint Thomas, her walking stick, Gorma boarded, as did Pablo and Juan Carlos, and a long line of other travelers, as well. Gorma was glad to be off the hot sand at last, and she enjoyed the gentle rocking of the ferry boat upon the water as they waited to depart. But Pablo’s face was clouded with worry.
“Ah, Gorma, Gorma, I am not so sure about this boat.” He watched uneasily as the ferryman loaded more and more travelers onto the deck. “The ferryman’s pockets ride low and heavy with all our coins, and now the boat rides low and heavy in the water with all these people. How many people can such a boat hold, Juan Carlos?”
But Juan Carlos had no idea, for that would be a fact of boats and numbers, not philosophy of right and wrong. Of this he had some sense, however, and looking at Pablo turning side to side, trying to count all the heads of all the people he could see, Juan Carlos knew that something now must surely be amiss.
As the ferry pulled away from the shore, the boat sank low and swayed so badly, all the people gasped and cried, “Oh no! Oh dear! Oh my!” Gorma nearly lost her balance, had it not been for Saint Thomas. As the boat turned toward the farther shore, Pablo saw the water lapping over. Keeping watch, he calmly noted where the ropes and railings were, and so kept track of danger as the ferry passed the midpoint of the bay.
But then it happened that the ferryman’s heaviest pocket, which could barely hold the weight of all those coins, began to tear. And when it split, the coins came raining down around his feet, and in his haste to grab the coins – he let go the wheel. The ferry pitched and tossed and turned in crazy circles as the ferryman was scrambling for the money on the deck.
“We’re sinking!” someone yelled, and it was true, and all the people started screaming, pushing toward the center, trying not to fall into the bay.
“Now I’m sure about this boat, I am – oh Gorma, Gorma, take care of Juan Carlos!” shouted Pablo as he dove into the bay. Then Pablo, that giant of a man, swam underneath the ferry boat, and bracing his shoulders with all his might, he lifted up the boat upon his back and started swimming while he carried it like a heavy pack.
All the passengers on the boat cheered and cheered, until one person noticed, “Hey! We’re headed out to sea!”
“Oh no! Oh dear! Oh my!” the people gasped and cried. They tried to shout a warning to Pablo, but he could not hear for all the water in his ears, and he could not see where he was swimming for all the water in his eyes. He only knew that he had to keep order and keep safety, for all the people depending on him, and that was what he was doing, though his back was aching, his arms and legs were burning tired, and he could hardly catch a breath of air.
Then Gorma heard a splash! and heard a person wail, “A man has fallen in the water!”
“Oh no! Oh dear! Oh my!” the people gasped and cried. And Gorma saw that it was none other than Juan Carlos.
Juan Carlos matched great Pablo’s strokes, and swimming nearly hand in hand, he led his friend back toward the far shore of the bay, and not the open sea. For when you know the meaning of love and honor, justice, right and wrong, you know that one who will save lives by risking his own is like no other. Juan Carlos sought the greatness in human beings; and now he saw in Pablo beat this tremendous kind of heart.
As they brought the ferry safely to the farther shore, the passengers on board all cheered: “We’re saved!” Then they hugged and kissed Pablo and Juan Carlos, who were both very wet, until they were both very embarrassed. But this is how it is, when you are heroes.
The ferryman’s coins had washed into the bay, and now his empty boat was slowly sinking. Gorma, having boarded first, now picked up Saint Thomas and disembarked, last of the saved. She laughed with joy at the the parade following Pablo and Juan Carlos into town to the taverna.
But Gorma walked on, quiet and smiling. She arrived at the next albergue just in time for a bed, for which she was very grateful, and she slept deeply. Back at the taverna, the celebrations, singing and dancing and laughing all together, lasted far into the night.
Buen Camino, Pablo and Juan Carlos.
Gorma was walking a cobblestone road leading to a tiny village when she came upon a thin monk, bald-headed, robed in the colors of the countryside. His face was calm and peaceful, and he carried his few possessions in his bag.
What Gorma noticed most of all, however, was how slowly he walked. The monk’s pace was so slow that Gorma caught up to him in ten quick steps, so she greeted him hello.
The monk broke into the widest, most cheerful smile Gorma had seen in many days of walking. “Oh, Gorma, Gorma, hello hello! How is your Camino?” His name was Brother Jon, and Gorma told him it was most pleasant, and so they walked together for a minute or two. But no matter how slowly Gorma walked, she could not walk as slowly as Brother Jon. Gorma began to suspect that he was not moving forward at all, but as Brother Jon never stopped walking, this could not possibly be the case. It wasn’t simply stepping in place, because he did in fact move forward, but she could not see how it was happening.
Gorma tried to ask Brother Jon how this trick was done, but he quickly changed the subject, saying, “Oh, Gorma, Gorma, I have such concern! I cannot find the monastery cows! They are the wealth of the monks here, all we have. We use the milk to make delicious cheese that we can sell in the village market – but this morning, as I was tending them, the cows wandered off the grass and down the road, beyond the village, and over the hill. And as slowly as I walk, I don’t know how I will catch them in time for milking tonight.”
“How do you know they went so far, Brother Jon, when we are not yet even to the village gates?” Gorma asked, for she suspected there was more to this story than wandering cows, and more to Brother Jon than met the eye.
“Oh, Gorma, Gorma, I see things some do not. I have the sight of all who walk so slowly on the way, so I can see what was, what is, and what might be in days to come.” He pursed his lips together in a thoughtful way. “But – it seems my vision lately is so dim, clouded dark as night, my steps are slowed the more for fear I cannot find my way. So while I worried about my sight, I lost the cows my brothers entrusted to my care.”
“Oh, I see,” Gorma answered with compassion now, for those who see what could be possible but cannot take the steps to reach it yet, are often mistaken for the ones who have no real vision at all. So Gorma knew. “But Brother Jon: is it not the pace of all the mystics ever born to walk the way so slowly as you do? For you are not just walking – you’re connecting time with meaning, all your steps a meditation, and a prayer. What does your vision tell you, Brother Jon?”
“Oh, Gorma, Gorma, all my sight is dark this day, as dark as if no moon shone in the night. I cannot see the way now, all is empty, all is darkness, all is black.”
“Trust your vision, Brother Jon.” And as she said this, Gorma took her walking stick, Saint Thomas, and with it touched his sandals, so that they almost seemed to glow upon the road. “Your feet must tread a path that only forms as you start walking on. Step forward in faith, sweet Jon, and follow thus, until you find the sight your eyes so plainly see.”
So Brother Jon walked through the village, meditating with each careful step upon the curious words that Gorma spoke, to see what he might see. Step by step, evening approached, the whole day spent in mindful steps, and Brother Jon came to the mouth of a deep cave. He stopped, afraid, but his sandaled feet most clearly urged him on, until finally, he stepped into the cave.
Now all was dark. Brother Jon heard a dripping, faintly now beside him, now behind, and so he stopped again. The silence was so very full it sounded like a whisper in his mind. Looking all around, he could see nothing, only blackness, so he reached into his bag for tools to make a light.
With the strike of that small flame, the flickering light revealed a long and empty space, filled with air and quietness. The flame went out.
He struck again another flame, and this time could see just rock and earth, a cave of time and long-awaited meaning. The flame went out.
So striking for that small flame one last time, he raised his eyes to heaven for a prayer.
And there upon the ceiling of the cave, he saw a herd of wild and beautiful cattle, painted there 10,000 years ago. Red and black, the cows and bulls lay curled, or stood and grazed upon the ceiling. And as he slowly, slowly stepped, his achingly slow steps, Brother Jon thought that he could see the cattle moving. In fact, so slow as he had allowed his mind to be, he could start the see the whole herd softly walking.
So he slowly lead them home, these most beautiful and oldest of all cows, and when the other monks looked up, they saw just Brother Jon and the milk cows returning as the sun was sinking, walking back along the cobble road.
But Gorma knew that he had found the sight he never lost, deep in the depth of the darkest cave, where all that was once wild and dangerous can be tamed with a quiet mind, a spark of vision, and the courage and faith to look up when all you know tells you otherwise. This is the path that is no path – until you step forward, trusting yourself, and the way you walk upon the world.
Gorma walked on, quiet and smiling. She arrived at the next albergue just in time for a bed, for which she was very grateful, and she slept deeply. Outside, the night was inky black, dark as the soundest sleep, in the softest bed, in the longest, quiet night. The perfect night for dreams.
Buen Camino, Brother Jon.
One fine day, as all days on the Camino, the path led beside an ancient stone church. Gorma was drawn to it immediately, not for its great ornate arches or windows, but for its simplicity. Standing alone in the misty fog, it felt very old, from a time long ago, filled with songs and stories she could almost hear. Just as well, it was the Church of San Tomás, and so of course Gorma gave her walking stick, Saint Thomas, a drop of the holy water in the basin near the entrance, so that he might be refreshed, then leaned him against the heavy wooden doors, so they could speak if they wished, wood to wood.
As she turned from the doors, Gorma saw an old man disguised, with white hair, a blue shirt the color of a sunny sky, and eyes trained to hide the truth of suffering. He was sitting at the edge of the foggy churchyard, looking far away into another time, pretending he was studying the birds in the trees above.
“It is peaceful here, don’t you think?” Gorma asked him, settling onto the bench beside him, for she knew he was not at peace, and wanted to see how he would answer.
“Aye, this churchyard could bring peace to the Devil’s own,” he replied, still looking out into the beyond.
“What is it brings you here this day?” Gorma asked him, wrapping herself warmly in her cloak while eyeing his thin shirt in the chill, for she was certain it was not by chance, and wanted to see how he would answer.
“Ah, well a man of Northern Ireland can often be found sitting among the tombstones of a churchyard. Which church is the only question,” he replied. “Just by chance, I happened into this one, along the way.”
Gorma studied him carefully now. “And where will you be going from here?” Gorma asked him, for she knew perfectly well, and wanted to see how he would answer.
“Oh Gorma, Gorma, this is the question that worries like a dog at a bone, is it not? Where to be going from here?” He said his name was Stephen, and he was from the North of Ireland, where things are not always as they appear. Stephen had gained a fortune for himself there, but had lost something precious in the bargain. “Now I wander this road, my way without purpose. This path or that, makes no difference to me, for they all lead here, to headstones in a churchyard. It’s a life wasted, really.” And he let out the deepest, saddest sigh.
“Where is your home?” Gorma asked. “You could go home.”
“Indeed, between Belfast and Newcastle, at the foot of the Mourning Mountains, stands the home of an old man, that I moved into when he passed. This is where I live.”
“But where is your home?” Gorma asked again.
“That’s what I say to you, Gorma, there at the foot of the Mourning Mountains, the home of an old man passed is where I live.”
“Where – is – your – home?” Gorma asked a third time.
“Ah, Gorma, Gorma, the whole of Northern Ireland is home! The troubles, the quiet, the green lands, mountains, and the wild sea. I stay in that house, but my feet get to itchin’, and I have to go out and walk the paths again. I cannot stay in that house! I have no peace!” And here Stephen’s eyes looked fiercer, more determined.
So quick as Saint Thomas learned the thoughts of the old church doors, Gorma took the knife of love that Hernani had given her, and used it to cut the misty shroud of regret that surrounded Stephen. He blinked at Gorma in shocked surprise.
“Your life is not wasted – don’t you see?” Gorma said, still standing, now gesturing toward the clouds above. “You have forgotten what you love, and the tears you work so hard to hold back have veiled your vision. Your vision of your kingdom, Stephen; your kingdom, that place where you truly live. Can you see it now, without the mist obscuring your sight?” Then King Stephen of the North of Ireland rose to take a stand, and looked into and beyond time, clearly and with love, and saw his kingdom standing open, waiting for him to return.
Peace is loving the troubles too. Gorma knew that hard though it may be, we must not squander our talents and fortunes on cold comforts. We must spend them, like our days, in the service of our most noble purposes – what we were born to do. We cannot keep our hearts locked away; a king’s ransom will just as well pay for a kingdom to flourish, after all.
King Stephen looked back over his shoulder at Gorma, and they both smiled. His white hair shone with wisdom and experience, and his sky blue shirt had become his royal cape, tossed over one shoulder as he stepped forward with purpose, head held high, returning at last to his true life.
Gorma picked up her walking stick and walked on, quiet and smiling. She arrived at the next albergue just in time for a bed, for which she was very grateful, and she slept deeply. Outside, gauzy clouds passed gently across the face of the moon; but they did not last, and soon the moon shone clearly over the Camino, and far away to the North besides.
Buen Camino, Stephen.