There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle. Albert Einstein
There are two things of which I am sure: there are no mistakes and there are no coincidences. That means that everything is just as it should be and everything is a miracle. Nary a doubt. Yesterday I received two e-mails from different persons, one of whom is a close friend; the other not so. The first included a publicity video of five Taiwanese men, all over eighty, three of whom have heart conditions, one with cancer and the fifth having lost his hearing. They all sit around a table in a nursing home, each encapsuled in his depressive memories, each as listless as the next, when suddenly one of them slams his fist down on the table and says: Let’s get motorcycles! The video goes on to show how each is lifted from his hopeless state with the project that leads them to train for six months in preparation and then take off and travel 1,139 kms. during 13 days, from the north to the south of Taiwan, on motorcycles. The tagline: For ordinary people with extraordinary dreams.
The second e-mail included four photographs of a woman well into her nineties. In the first, she is on her back, balancing a couple of very heavy barbells on her two feet with her knees bent. In the second one she has stretched out her legs and is holding them two feet off the ground with the barbells still on them (I can’t do that even without the barbells for fear of throwing my back out); in the third picture, she is doing the splits while holding on to her right foot and looking up at the camera. In the final one she is standing, completely bent over touching her nose to her leg bone without bending her knees.
Am I supposed to understand something here? No doubt. Yesterday morning I had my exercise class with my personal trainer. In Madrid, I enjoyed a hands-on experience, whereas here I must make do with Skype, listening to his voice and seeing his face on the screen. I spent the whole hour complaining:
“I can’t do that. No. It hurts.”
“What do you mean ‘bend down and swing to the right’? Are you crazy? I’ll split in two or fall over.”
“I should do What??? Not on your life. Not doing that. NO.”
It’s a miracle he puts up with me. It’s a miracle I put up with myself! As I watch the video and look at the photographs I realize that I have been wrong. Yes, I have aches and pains in my body. My knee hurts, the shoulder isn’t so hot, the hip wakes me up at night and the ankle –malformed from birth- is definitely not what it used to be since I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis. Occasionally my wrists get twinges, if I eat too much salt I retain liquids and I now begin to understand why people past a certain age are called “old farts”. But the only reason I might be going downhill is because I began believing I was. I have been wrong: the only place I really have osteoarthritis is in my belief system: I have been sitting around cultivating the rotten idea that there is nowhere to go from here but six feet down.
So after watching the video and seeing the photographs I sat back to think. True, I have often said that I don’t like to travel and if you are talking luxury liner around the Caribbean or the 21-cities-in-seven-days type tourist run, then I’m not lying. But to travel around Europe on a motorcycle: now that might be a different proposition. Just the scene on the video where one old guy guns his motor and soars off down the highway sent shivers up my spin and put butterflies in my stomach. What if…
Just yesterday I was at a friend’s new house that overlooks the rolling hills around Salies and offers a distant view of the Pyrenees, and I began thinking I would look for a place where I could have a view like that. Then I could sit on my terrace and… vegetate? No. Supposing that instead of buying something that ties me down, I train, really train for about six months or even a year so that any mode of travel would be all right. What dream have I buried in my heart never to be considered again? And there it is! El Camino, Le Chemin, The Way. Santiago, Saint Jacques, Saint James. How many times have I heard myself say: “What a shame I won’t be able to do it in this life”? How many times have I seen the sign with the conch shell, or sighted a book, or heard someone mention something, and felt the sigh of renunciation in my chest?
But now that I think about it, the same thing happened to me when I used to think about living in Madrid. I would sigh and say: “Too bad I won’t be able to do it in this lifetime”, and look what happened: in 2001 I moved to Madrid and now I’m even living in France. When did I think I would do that!!! Just considering how many things in my life I really believed I wouldn’t do or be able to do I’m suddenly flabbergasted! I was never going to get divorced or give up smoking or become a writer or write again in English or stop drinking or enjoy living alone… As a matter of fact, as I look back over the 68+ years I begin to understand that what I thought I would or should do and what I have actually done seem to be two different things. And yet, I have done everything I ever dreamed of doing in my life: every single dream I have had has come true and NOT because I fought and struggled and made it come true. No. It just happened.
I was never going to finish my graduate studies and then when my children went off to primary school, my psychoanalyst asked me why I didn’t go to the National University and study literature which was what I wanted to do; the National University had never accepted high school as equivalent to the secondary and preparatory studies in Mexico up to two months before I applied and was accepted so having believed I would never have a career, I suddenly had one! I never thought I would be a writer as I had dreamed of being, and then suddenly I was kidnapped and there was no way I could not write that book so life made me a writer and I published eight more over the next 12 years. As an adolescent I feared I would never find anyone to marry so circumstances arranged a blind date with a medical student about to graduate and I had thirty good years with him, and he was a marvelous dancer, something of which I had always dreamed. No sooner had I married than I began to fear I would not be able to get pregnant, but life not only gave me two children but also put them in the order I desired: the boy first, the girl afterwards.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that I have had a truly gifted life. How much of this would I have missed by just looking at the things I thought I wanted and didn’t have? I would have missed the doughnut by obsessing about the hole. So, coming back to the present, maybe walking the Camino de Santiago is not such a crazy idea. After all, just because I have an ankle that aches after three blocks and a knee that suffers from a touch of arthritis and a couple of lumbar vertebra that are not the most stable in the world, that doesn’t mean I can’t do the Camino. There is always a bicycle or even a motor bike; I heard someone did it with a donkey and supposedly there are horses. I don’t know; that is not my business. My business is to stop complaining, get off my butt and begin training for the Camino de Santiago. Life will arrange for me to get there or not. And seeing as my life is a series of continued miracles, I have no doubt that life will do what is best for me.