This is a guest post from my dear friend Constance Wood – known to her amigos in London as the ‘Paris Potter’ –The silent hand of ‘God’ at work, which we also know as coincidence, or chance, is expressed in many ways, and on my pilgrim journey through Italy with V this was manifested clearly through our choice of footwear. In preparation for the journey, God clearly instructed V to pack her Nike trainers, whispering imperceptibly in her ear, “you might think that these are for you, but I have other plans which will be revealed to you soon enough”. Meanwhile, God whispered ever so quietly, into my ear, “don’t wear those tried and tested boots that fit you comfortably; wear the old leather hiking boots that you haven’t worn in 12 years.”. Sure enough, I left home in those old boots, albeit with a nagging doubt, but by then it was too late to turn back.
By the time we arrive in Ponte d’Arbia on our first day, the old boots had created ugly blisters on both my feet, and on the days that followed they were joined by a swollen ankle and some serious knee pains. I soon came to a decision to abandon the old boots and wear V’s spare trainers, but by then I was already greatly incapacitated. This impacted both of us as we adjusted to each other’s pace; I walked more slowly, and V alternated between bouncing on ahead then circling back or just waiting for me to catch up.
To begin with I couldn’t believe that this was happening to me. I had imagined this journey so differently and thought we would have happily reached each day’s destination without too much trouble. Instead I went through the stages of grief, as though I had lost something. In denial, I tried to ignore any pains, and then I became angry at my ankles, my knees and then myself for not having the wisdom to wear the right boots in the first place. Then there was a marvellous state of grace as I accepted that I had to slow down, but we didn’t have to stop. Walking with great care, the pilgrimage became more like a moving meditation, focused only on the experience of the present moment. I thought about the many pilgrims who would have travelled the road from times past and how many, like myself, would have had inadequate footwear and would have suffered as I did. Perhaps some would have welcomed the suffering as a necessary part of the journey. Days later, after stopping for medication, and finding myself alone on the path for the first time, I became acutely aware of my surroundings and even though I had moments of fear, I was able to conquer my doubts. Suddenly the landscape opened up on the most beautiful field where an enormous oak tree stood surrounded by an array of spring flowers of white, red, yellow and purple with a receding forest hung as a backdrop. The sky was divinely blue. I was so overwhelmed that I just had to sit and meditate for a while in the silence of nature. My feet glad of the rest.