The recycling truck came to town yesterday and wreaked more than its usual degree of havoc.
Somehow it caught itself in the thick braid of electrical cable that swags from post to post down the camino. A great concrete post sheared itself in half and smashed to the ground. A streetlight went down in a shower of glass, and the cables and guttering on the front of Marina´s house clattered to the pavement alongside. Moratinos was plunged into darkness.
Well, semi-darkness. It was a bright and sunny day, and thankfully nobody was passing nearby and Marina hasn´t arrived yet for her summer stay. No one had lights, and because the water system runs on electricity, no one had water, either. The businesses closed their doors. The street filled up with big noisy trucks from the electric company, the street light guys, the giant concrete pole supplier. They cordoned-off the camino. The job took several hours. It all happened at the busiest intersection in town, so everyone gathered in the shade of the plaza to watch the show and re-direct the pilgrims to the safe alternative along the two-lane road.
It was only a little inconvenient. Everyone made lunch from what they had on the counter already, or they hiked over to San Nicolas for a menu del dia. They talked about what Moratinos was like 50 years ago, before electricity arrived, before the streets were paved, when everyone used paraffin lamps and candles, and cooked over wood- or coal-fired stoves. They were almost all kids then, but they remember. (Manolo and Angel still slow-roast their winter lunches in a stoneware pot on the hearth.)
In the afternoon I walked with Julia over to the spring to fill water jugs. The spring is hidden away under massive ash trees, nestled between the N120 two-lane and the big new autopista beyond. Julia treated it as a revelation, she thought I had not been there before, she loves showing me new things. It is a beautiful, quiet little spot, the water that flows from the stone is shockingly cold and sweet.
The lights came back on just as the sun went down. A pilgrim arrived, a young man called Alisdair, from Cambridge. He was here last summer, he said. I had brought him home from the church and repaired his bad feet. And it´s true, I did that.
He told me how meaningful that foot-repair was to him, how that act of kindness grabbed his attention. It slowed him down and utterly changed how he walked his camino afterward.
I was flattered, of course. We asked him to stay over. His face lit up. He dropped his bag in the salon and headed out the door. He went all the way back to the labyrinth, where he knew another pilgrim was sleeping rough, and brought him back to our house. Paddy fed them on three-egg omelets and fried rice. They are young men, smart and educated and unemployed. They don´t have many prospects, but they still are full of hope, even joy.
Late this morning I sent them out the door and on their way. At the same moment a man rolled up on a bicycle. His name was Jesus. I knew him right away. Jesus Buzarra. Jesus Buzarra was one of the very first pilgrims ever to stay at the Peaceable. He slept on the floor of the little kitchen then, and he would do it again, he said, if that´s all we had.
He stopped to say hello, to see how we were, to say thanks. Thanks again, seven years later, for a space on the floor. He is biking his way from a hospitalero assignment in Navarette to another one in Samos, giving up a month of his vacation, giving something back to the camino.
And this evening, on the patio out back, I sat and thought.
I thought about how the accident knocked out our lights and brought our town out to talk with one another. I thought about Alisdair and his bad feet last year were the same feet that brought him back to us this year. And how he then blithely added another kilometer to his day´s total to ensure another pilgrim had a bed. And I thought about Jesus, too, riding from one hospitalero assignment to another,.
I thought about how overwhelmed everyone is by the injustice in the world, how protesters shout for change and voters vote for new policies and programs, and we all wonder if our leaders can discover some new "ism" to save us all from ourselves.
And I wonder if the answers are not right here under our noses, in our houses, on our streets. We can come out of the house and talk to the neighbors. If someone is in pain, patch him up. Stop in and check on somebody, see how they´re doing. Show someone where fresh water comes out of the rock. Say thanks again for some kindness done in the past. It costs nothing. And if everyone did such things just once a day or so, the benefits would be incalculable.
A policy won´t pick up the candy wrapper on the sidewalk. But we can.