goodbye old loves

In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattail
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

Mary Oliver

they have been the connection between my flesh and the earth. the protectors of my soft island feet from hard and stoney road. for me they represented freedom. defiant toes liberated from heavy, constrictive, tightly laced boots. they left fantastic tan lines zigging and zagging on the tops of my feet. the mark of zorro revealed after a hot shower. layers of camino dust and kilometers down the drain. and they had made this way with me once before. it sounds ridiculous, but i loved them. and i wanted them to accompany me to the sea. to the end. together.  i thought they were up to it. but, it just wasn’t written in the stars.

if you have had the experience of making a camino before, you probably understand how things … like shoes … take on deeper meaning and significance. a kind of inside joke between you and the universe. you and the road. and for some reason that i can’t quiet understand, i have been afraid to get new shoes. who knows. maybe a strange solidarity with my old ones. brothers in arms (feet). and it is hard to break in new ones. it feels easier to stay with the familiar, the known. no surprises. not so risky. … and these days, little by little, they have been coming apart. i could see light coming in through the sole. i was tender with them, pleaded with them, hoping that somehow my words could heal the rift forming between chunks of rubber. it was near the end when i sat in an albergue kitchen late one evening, strategizing with all kinds of tapes and glues. the french beekeeper had a few tips for me. as did the austrian business man. but it was the beautiful swedish girl, known as bella, that asked me quietly what it was that i was doing. i made light of my serious operation and said that i was simply trying to repair my old loves. so they could make it to the sea with me. she put her hand on my shoulder, looked at me straight in the eye and said, maybe it is time to make room in your life for some new loves. …

i pulled down a new pair of shoes from the shelf in the sports shop. i felt a little nervous and excited. i set my old loves on the bench next to me while i tried on the new ones. i told myself that what i was seeking was really only a back-up. a ‘just in case kind of thing’. and yet, when i walked up and down the isles testing the new shoes, i had to admit that they felt good. very, very good. and as i made my purchase, the shopkeeper informed me that they were even on sale.

back at the albergue, i sat on my bunkbed with the new shoes next to me. a pilgrim from berlin, germany with wild grey hair and an aum symbol tattoo on his shoulder sat on the next bed over and gave me a big grin as he revealed the new shoes that he had just bought hours before. together, we had a good laugh about ‘our new loves’ and compared ‘soles’.

on the camino the next morning, i wore my old sandals as usual. backups all the way at the bottom of my backpack. this will work, i thought. we can all make it to finisterra together. and it was exactly three steps after this thought, that the strap on the right sandal had broken. and not even the same bloody shoe that i had so cleverly macgyvered with my elaborate repairs. sneaky camino. right there, in the middle of the long road, it was over. it was time to let go.  no bargaining, no begging. so, i hung them on the fencepost, an offering, and i thanked them for carrying me so well, for so long. and with new shoes on my feet and coincidentally, a new friend (in his new shoes) by my side, i continued on down my road.

i don’t know how long they (shoes or friend) will travel with me … but as mary oliver says in her poem,

To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.



3 responses

  1. Kathy Gower

    They all served you well…

    and there is a time…and miles to go…

    you are needed…

    (love the Mary Oliver poem…irt serves me well, too)


    I can think of nothing nicer right now but figs and water…and counting the pilgrims by pebbles in the jug…

    02/11/2010 at 17:28

  2. new shoes new feet new life

    02/11/2010 at 22:06

  3. Kathy Gower

    another poem for you, this time Derek Walcott: (seems apt)

    Derek Walcott

    The time will come
    when, with elation
    you will greet yourself arriving
    at your own door, in your own mirror
    and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

    and say, sit here. Eat.
    You will love again the stranger who was your self.
    Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
    to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

    all your life, whom you ignored
    for another, who knows you by heart.
    Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

    the photographs, the desperate notes,
    peel your own image from the mirror.
    Sit. Feast on your life.

    17/01/2011 at 18:51

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