Rome! Took the best part of the day to get here from London, most of it getting through security at Gatwick. What a gorgeous city, warm and friendly and pulsing with the ages. I can’t believe I’m here; had no idea how much I even wanted to be here! It’s great to be in Ben’s company again. Sitting at the back of the plane on the tarmac in London I realized that even though we’ve met up places, it’s nigh on 15 years since we have flown anywhere together – not since he said he was never flying with me again because I made him hurry to beat the queue through immigration when we flew to New Zealand when he was 15. We laughed about it as we stuffed our faces on Toblerone for breakfast . . . been a while since we’ve done that too! It was an act of culinary desperation, hungry and scrambling to spend unwanted pennies as we raced for Gate 105 before it closed.
Hardly slept last night, either because I’m still jet-lagged from the loooong flight over from Sydney or because I was excited about heading to Rome and beginning our pilgrimage. Yesterday, as we created chaos packing in Renee’s sweet little flat in the heart of London, there was a slight air of bemusement in the room. How I longed for the innocence and romance of the inexperienced as I eliminated my clothing down to a handful of garments. Even though the aesthetic mind mounted an impressive case for pretty choices, the rational mind, weathered from the road to Santiago de Compostela, won out: there would be only one change of clothes for the next three months. My hair went the same way. I’d like to say my golden locks were shorn as an act of reverence for a sacred journey. You might say this is a fringe benefit. In truth it boiled down to the shampoo – to carry or not to carry . . . not.
Yesterday and the day before and the day before that, tired and heavy from the 32 hours it took to get to London, my immune system struggling to win its weary war with a well-armed battalion of flu-germs, triumphantly as it turned out, the last thing on Earth I had the energy to do was walk to Istanbul. Then, in the silent heart of stillness last night, I opened my eyes in the darkness to see my pack leaning up against the loungeroom wall, looking for all the world like a pillow case stuffed with goodies on Christmas morning, and I smiled with the contentedness of child who knows she’s loved and the anticipation of a woman on an inbound outwardbound journey.
It’s a privilege to be sharing this walk with my son. We laugh as we roam the streets of Rome about the burning between our shoulder blades because we know it’s going to get a lot worse. We smile knowingly as we kick off our shoes with a tell-tale groan and collapse on our beds in the afternoon heat because our feet are hot and tired the walk hasn’t even begun. And we breathe deeply the simple pleasure of a motel room, across from the Vatican as its happens, because come Saturday, September 22, when day equals night and summer fades to autumn, even the simplest of comforts, a clean bed . . . or any bed, a hearty meal . . . or any meal, will no longer be ours for the asking.
Ben has a grace and ease about him at the moment that is uncommon in our world. The first leg of his journey, from Canterbury to Rome, may have been a quintessential rollercoaster ride of challenge and fun – yet it has filled him also with a lightness of being that comes to those who meet life as it presents itself in each moment. His is a steady eye and an open heart. This is the gift of the road.