Before embarking on the walk, several fears gripped my heart: Was I physically up to it? Would I encounter challenges beyond my endurance? What would I discover about myself? What would happen if my 85 year old mom got ill while I was walking? How would I find out? How would I get back in case of an emergency? Was I emotionally and mentally ready for being alone? For walking alone? To be gone from home and on the Camino for almost two months? It helped that there was a crew of family and friends to cover for me and make sure that things were taken care of at home, but still the fears were there.
As it has been in almost any endeavor in my life, I harbored fears of not being good enough, of not succeeding, of failing. I cannot attribute these fears to my childhood because as the oldest child of adoring parents and blessed with grandparents and aunts and uncles who loved me and showed me their love, I actually developed a pretty healthy self-esteem. I was indeed blessed with a happy childhood; consequently I developed self-confidence and self-assurance. No. I believe these fears of not being good enough came from some other place, perhaps it was because I was raised along the U.S. Mexico border in a working class family, with our lack of resources and substandard services; perhaps it comes from being a woman of color in the U.S. and receiving subliminal messages of one’s worth. I am reminded of Lorna Dee Cervantes’s line from her “Poem for the Young White Man Who Asked How I an Intelligent Well-read Person Could Believe in a War between Races,” that spoke of a “nagging preoccupation with the feeling of not being good enough.” In school these fears surfaced repeatedly. but I always managed to make the honor roll, to shine. After all, my mother had sent me off to first grade with these words: “aprende todo lo que te enseñen,” and indeed I learned everything they taught me, and then some. Pero aun asi, I have had feelings of insecurity, of not measuring up. The imposter syndrome I’ve heard it called in academia. No se. I truly don’t know what brings them on, these fears. I just know the feelings are there. So, as I am wont to do, I acknowledged them and then left them behind as I got ready for the Camino.
In my usual fashion, I plunged ahead, confident that I would succeed, or at least that I would give it a try. What is the worst that can happen? I asked myself. I don’t finish. I suffer an injury. I am embarrassed by my failure. I contemplated all the various scenarios, and in the end came to the conclusion that I just had to do it. So I did.
“¡Qué valientes,” people would often exclaim when we spoke to locals along the way. My friend and I joked that what they really meant was, “¡Qué locas!” It may have been that they thought we were courageous because we were walking the pilgrimage in winter, when it is the most challenging. But, it is more likely that they thought this because we dared to undertake the grueling walk at our age AND in winter. In any case, they seemed amazed and in no small measure jealous! I found comfort in their amazement and in their words, for it proved that I might have reason to be afraid, but it also proved that I defied the odds, and as we walked and enjoyed the beauty of the rugged terrain in winter, we imagined what it was like in spring or in summer, rejoicing in our experience, every step of the way.
In hindsight, the fears proved to be unfounded. I survived. I was in better shape physically, emotionally and mentally after walking the Camino. Most of all, my self-confidence got a boost; I felt as if I could do anything! The cold weather no longer scares me; after all, I walked in the snow in the Pyrenees! Upon my return, my mother greeted me with open arms, proud of me and my accomplishment healthier than I had seen her in a while. I had never felt more centered nor had I ever felt more in tune with the universe as I did while walking. I know that if something had happened, it too would have been for my highest good, that the minor contretemps, obstacles, and challenges, all proved to be providential in the end, as I will relate in later posts. Guilt is punishment for the past and fear is punishment for the future, goes a popular platitude. I am not sure that I buy it entirely, but for now I know that the fears I had before making the walk helped me prepare. Guilt? Well, that’s a different story.