(Blog post from March 2020)
Early this morning the clocks sprang forward one hour, symbolically reflecting this time of change and our forward movement into Spring. I hear birdsong all around me (all the more audible for the lack of vehicle hum and city noise that usually fills the streets here).
I frequently see storks overhead, making their way to the cathedral turrets, building their nests and ‘clacking’ the news of their arrival and the blossoming of another, new, vernally-eternal season of growth and renewal.
It’s March 2020 and I’m in the Northern Spanish city of Logroño, slap bang on the route of the Camino de Santiago, which I cross every day on the way to the supermarket to buy groceries and other essential supplies. I’m far from my official home…but I feel at home here.
I’m sharing an apartment with 3 fellow pilgrims from Korea who started walking the Camino on the same day as me. Life, the ‘Coronavirus crisis’ and similar temperaments and goals threw us together at the time that Spain announced its State of Alarm and ‘lockdown’ and we decided to stop here temporarily, to take stock and to see what would come next. We’ve been told that this total lockdown period is for two weeks, and we’re hoping that, when it ends, we’ll be able to continue our Caminos to Santiago.
We’re not permitted to leave the apartment to exercise (police patrol cars cruise the streets with loud hailers urging people to respect the ‘lock-down’ and motorcycle cops stop and question anyone not obviously out shopping or walking their dogs) but the weather is still beautiful and sunlight floods in through our windows each day.
Within two days of moving-in our boiler broke down, leaving us without hot water or heating. Our landlord was profusely apologetic and did all he could to solve the problem as quickly as these strange times allowed him to. Five days, three engineer visits, the installation of a replacement pump and several cold showers and bucket baths later, the boiler was fixed. In true Camino fashion we made jokes about the lack of creature comforts we’d taken for granted only a few days before; were grateful for the fact we had an electric cooker, which enabled us to prepare hot meals; and savored the pure luxury of hot water again when it finally returned.
But during the ‘cold shower’ days I found myself thinking “How many people in Refugee Camps around the world would be overjoyed at the luxury of being able to just turn on a tap and have instant, clean, plentiful cold water to drink and in which to bathe?”
Thousands. The answer is thousands. Thousands of fellow human beings who feel sadness, joy, gratitude, frustration, pain, despair and hope, just like us; regardless of their nationality, their language or their beliefs. People far from home and desperately in search of somewhere to call a safe and secure home once again. It was a reality check and a sobering thought.
When the lock-down first started the people of Logroño (like people around the world I’m sure) seemed to go into a state of emotional and psychological lock-down too. The things that I’ve come to truly love about Spain and its people (their openness to others, their enthusiasm for greeting and talking to complete strangers in the street; their relaxed and appreciative attitude to simple pleasures like food, a good cup of coffee or ‘chupito’, conversation, nature and the outdoors) all these seemed to vanish overnight.
I found people suddenly reluctant to make eye contact, unwilling to smile or return a greeting, unable to look around them and just appreciate the beauty of nature or the fine weather with which we were suddenly blessed. It was public fear manifested on a grand, disconnecting and disconcerting scale. But it didn’t last.
No doubt it was the shock of adjustment to the lock-down, the uncertainty about how long it would last, and the worry about what would be the ultimate cost to individuals, families, communities and the world at large. These uncertainties remain but, being human, resilient, sociable and open by nature, people here have started to relax, to smile and to greet each other once again – as a new ‘normal’ settles in.
People seem to have quickly adjusted to this new reality, to be feeling more at home with it and this, to me, is what the word ‘home’ really represents.
‘Home’ isn’t a physical place for me (although I appreciate that for many it is), it’s the feeling that that place provides. A feeling of safety and of ease, a place where we feel able to breathe, to relax, to kick off our protective boots, loosen our social ties and just ‘be’; knowing that we’ll continue to be loved and accepted for exactly who we are and that the sky won’t fall in.
One of the principle reasons that I’m able to feel at home here in Logroño, sharing a flat with 3 people who were complete strangers to me less than 3 weeks ago, is because I have the emotional safety and security of the love of family and friends. Many of whom are very different to me, but all of whom accept and love me as I am.
Family members who initially were keen for me to return to the UK but who understood my reasons for staying here when I explained them after serious reflection and thought. Friends who keep in touch with me via the miracle that is modern technology and the social media platforms that connect us. Platforms that can be used so easily to generate and spread creative, positive messages of love, compassion, hope and understanding, or destructive messages of fear, drama, judgment and hate. The choice is always ours.
Just as the choice for how we react to and engage with the world and the people around us is a daily and infinitely renewing choice; a metaphorical Spring if you like. Every day gives us the choice and chance to blossom into something more, to grow into a way of being that is bigger than we were before, if we’re prepared to embrace the (sometimes painful) growing process and allow it to occur.
Now is a time of crisis in the world but the Chinese symbol for crisis also means ‘change’ and I’ve found myself reflecting on the fact that how we choose to interpret and respond to this change will determine the lasting effects of it on us and the world around us.
If we allow ourselves to be placed in ‘emotional and psychological lock-down’ by our fear then it will underpin all of our decisions and responses, leaving us feeling unsafe and ‘far from home’. We’ll be more likely to experience ‘dis-ease’ within ourselves and disharmony or disconnection in our relationships with others. And it’s my belief that the world needs less dis-ease and disharmony right now, not more.
“The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but it is really fear.”– Gandhi
If we begin to divide our thinking into forms of “them and us” and target our fear or anger (which is just the aggressive face of fear) towards a “them” that we’ve created in our imagination, then we’ll only be contributing to the epidemic of destructive dis-ease in the world, not helping to heal it.
But I don’t believe that any of us want to consciously do that. I believe we all have the ‘homing device’ of our hearts calling us to lean into our fear, to support one another and to spread harmony, compassion, understanding and connection…in any way that we can.
We are a brotherhood and sisterhood of fellow human beings however diverse, on the surface, we may seem to be. We bleed the same blood, we cry the same tears, we feel the same pain and we’re all on the journey that will, ultimately, lead us all home.
"I am an incurable romantic. I believe in hope, dreams and decency, love, tenderness and kindness. I believe in Mankind" - Leonard Nimoy