Today’s Miles: 19
Total Miles: 3,888.1
Near Valbonne, France – January 25, 2017
Patricia gives me a hug and a kiss on each cheek as the tram slows for her stop. Then she wishes me luck and rubs the top of my hand.
“Energía, energía, energía!” she says with each stroke.
I laugh. She smiles at me. The doors open and she disappears onto the street.
I met her two days ago, a connection through John and Berney in Vermont to Sarah in Gallarate to Sarah’s dad on a trip long ago to Brazil where he met Patricia before I was even born. So many chance threads woven together.
“I have a friend in Nice!” Sarah told me back in Gallarate. “You have to meet her if she is on your way.”
What Sarah forgot to mention is that Patricia doesn’t speak English and I don’t speak more than three words of French. When we first met in a square near the old town in Nice, we both fumbled for words until we gratefully realized we both spoke a bit of broken Spanish.
Over dinner that night, I realized she had no idea that I was walking across Europe. I was just this bearded stranger who had shown up in her city. She only knew that I was a friend of Sarah’s and that was enough for her to offer me a place to stay.
I took yesterday off, spent it wandering down streets looking for pastry shops while Patricia worked. After, the two of us ate dinner as Trump yelled and whined his way across the French news for half an hour. Reporters were examining the chaos of the election and his first days in office.
It looked like the reports you see back home of failed states, the ones you stare at for a moment when they flash across the news, then shake your head in sympathy even as you forget about them. It’s harder to forget when it’s your own country falling apart, when you see the things you care about collapsing.
As the program ran on, Patricia asked how a person could be elected after losing by 3 million votes. Once again, just like in Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, I found myself explaining the electoral college, its legacy in slavery and the 3/5ths clause, and how this old remnant lingers on like a stain from a past America pretends doesn’t exist but refuses to wash out.
Patricia exhaled in the “bfft” sound that the French seem to use when dismissing something ridiculous or too dumb to bother with. I nodded and tried to make the same sound. The program ended with a hopeful note as pictures of pink hatted protesters flooded the screen.
I step off the tram a few stops later, into that same square where I first met Patricia. I buy a loaf of bread and a lemon tart in a patisserie as I walk to the promenade along the beach. It’s a wide open space, meant for people to gather and enjoy the ocean curving along it.
There’s a circular pavilion halfway down, just off the promenade in a park. It’s filled with stuffed animals, flowers, handwritten signs and notes, flags, candles, and pictures. There are thousands of things, stacked in piles and placed all around inside and out of the structure, all left in memory of those who died when a terrorist drove a truck down the promenade last summer.
I think of walls, and hate, and the way we cleave ourselves into groups of us and them. How it all spirals and feeds into itself, the hatred creating more hatred, more terror, more reasons someone is willing to die to hurt others. Back and forth. Back and forth. How many more terrorists will we make before we realize a better way?
I think Kahlil Gibran and the book The Prophet:
“Oftentimes have I heard you speak of one who commits a wrong as though he were not one of you, but a stranger unto you and an intruder upon your world.
But I say that even as the holy and the righteous cannot rise beyond the highest which is in each one of you,
So the wicked and the weak cannot fall lower than the lowest which is in you also.
And as a single leaf turns not yellow but with the silent knowledge of the whole tree,
So the wrong-doer cannot do wrong without the hidden will of you all.
Like a procession you walk together towards your god-self.
You are the way and the wayfarers.
And when one of you falls down he falls for those behind him, a caution against the stumbling stone.
Ay, and he falls for those ahead of him, who though faster and surer of foot, yet removed not the stumbling stone.”
The Mediterranean stretches out ahead of me in a cool, blue arc. It’s been a great run of friends, from Stuttgart to Freiborg to Aarau to a cabin past Gotthard to Gallarate to Santo Stefano to Nice, one after another, friend after friend, this amazing string of humanity I am lucky to be part of, that fills me with life.
I walk along, watching the waves crash on the rocks, passing people out for strolls, and taking bites of that lemon tart. Ahead there is nothing but open possibilities, a thousand different ways to go and I have nothing pulling me this way or that, no friends to meet, no particular route, just a general sense of west, of finding the Camino de Santiago somewhere, of going forward.
But I am not afraid. I walk forward happy, hopeful, stumbling stones and all, because I know that there are many friends waiting for me ahead. No matter the path I choose or the route I take, they will be there waiting, I just have to go with an open heart and meet them for the first time.