My eyes were red sore and my feet would not touch the ground for a few moments each time the bulge of a wave passed by and through me. I was thinking of the porbeagle shark that had been caught nearby earlier in the year.
As is often the case before discovering something new I find myself operating at a kind of low level anxiety. Is it all going to be okay? Is 16kg too heavy? Can I walk that far? Will I be eaten by a shark?
As I write this I’m preparing (or rather waiting) to begin the Camino de Santiago. It is an ancient pilgrimage route from many different places to Santiago de Compostela, in Spain, where the remains of St James the Greater may or may not rest. It doesn’t really matter whether or not they do rest there. As ever, it is the taking of the journey and the confrontation of whatever comes that is important.
I will be walking from St Jean Pied de Port, 500 or so miles from Santiago de Compostela. Three weeks ago and five miles into a stroll around London with an old friend my knee gave way to an old injury and since then I’ve limped, grumbled and worried my way around the local shops in South East London and onto a train to Paris. I have lived in fear of the niggling pain growing into an immobilising agony.
Today, on day four of the Paris trip, I’ve tucked three full days and thirty-odd miles under my cheese-expanded belt and the knee hasn’t given out once, even under the weight of the 16kg pack and my constant neurotic scrutiny. My back is aching and my feet are sore, but that’s not a worry, you expect a little pain.
The thing that has been on my mind is the difference between the lurking porbeagle shark and the very real injury that may or may not return.
The fact is, to complete the Camino de Santiago, I have had to overcome my knee problem. I’ve been diligent, I’ve exercised and stretched the right amount, listening to my body. For most of my years (up until very recently, in fact), I’ve assumed that you can get by without confronting your fears. I grew up afraid of so much: spiders, the dark, heights, loneliness, the sea, sharks. And for years I’ve missed out by either not doing things or not enjoying them. So recently I have taken to the mountains in Wales and slept under the stars, cowboy style. Nothing has helped my fear of heights more than sitting on the side of a mountain and just taking it in. Nothing has helped my fear of the dark more than camping in the woods with my nine-year-old nephew, joy in his eyes, not fear. Sharks I am still scared of and always will be. But it doesn’t stop me from getting in the water anymore. Spiders, however, still send me in the other direction (to conquer that I’m headed to South America- well, I’m headed to South America anyway, but hopefully that will be a catalyst, and a flippin’ good time).
I don’t want to sound too Batman, but it’s good to embrace and embody your fear. It is a strong thing to do. Tell people you are scared and they will help you through. On the side of that mountain was my best friend, who’ll be beside me on the Camino. Beside me in the water was Emma, my partner, who will be beside me on the Camino. Beside me in the dark woods was my nephew, Camron, and his joy, who will always be in my heart.
I know that out there, somewhere (besides me, perhaps, sometime), there are many sets of porbeagle eyes. So what to do? Bolt to the shore? No, it’s simpler than that. Let the waves go through you, be they waves of fear, water, sweat or all of them mixed together. Watch whatever it is, take it in, confront it. Then, when you’ve calmed yourself just a little, get up and harness it. Just get up and do it, because you can. And if you can’t, then fall off and get pulled down by the wave and swallow some salt water and sand. Just make sure you come up with a smile on your face and your fist in the air.
The uninterested eyes of the porbeagle would have watched me fall gracelessly down the wave, surfing nonetheless.