Heather Conn Blogs

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What thresholds have you crossed or missed?

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The Camino offers many forms of portals and thresholds.


After walking almost 27 kilometres, I arrived in the hot, dusty town of Sahagún in mid-afternoon, looking forward to rest and an albergue bed. In mid-June, the town of about 170,000 was poised for a night of bullfights.


In preparation for a small running of the bulls before the indoor event, temporary fencing of horizontal boards blocked off sections of the street surrounding the municipal albergue downtown. A youthful marching band, wearing light blue shirts and red scarves, was already playing rousing music. The young men’s brass instruments and pounding bass drum added to the loud, throbbing songs piped through a loudspeaker across the street.

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The marching band in Sahagun. I snapped this as they were posing for an official group photo.


I needed to escape the sun, noise and crowds. After searching for an opening amidst the fencing, I walked up to what looked like the main doors of the municipal albergue, an imposing former church made of brick. I tried the knob and pounded on the thick wooden doors, but they were locked. No one came.


Damn siesta time, I thought. Can’t I just come in and lie down? Instead, I had several lemon sodas at the bar-restaurant across the street, hoping to quench my seemingly endless thirst. Ah, the shade and cold liquid felt good.

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After more than an hour, I walked towards the albergue doors again, hoping that they would now be open. A young female pilgrim, sprawled on a bench to the right of the doors in beating sun, pointed past the doors to the corner of the building. I wasn’t sure what she meant. She continued to point.


I followed the direction of her finger, and found myself around the corner of the same brick building, which turned out to be the front of the albergue. It was open, and people were coming in and out. I had been trying to get into the side door!

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The Camino is full of intriguing wooden doors
in stone buildings.


An unwelcome sense of déjà vu hit me. That same day, thirteen kilometres earlier in the tiny village of Terradillos do Los Templarios (population 80), I had found a square white stucco building of several storeys that bore the sign for the Jacques de Molay albergue, my desired destination. I tried a main door covered with vertical wrought iron. Locked. I knocked and rang the buzzer. No one came. Walking around the building, I tried another door. Locked. More knocks produced no one.

Frustrated, I looked around for some shade. This was the only albergue in the village. How could it be closed at 1 p.m.? Feeling too tired to walk to the next town of Moratinos, more than three kilometres away, I joined several pilgrims in the shade who were waiting for a bus. I told them that the albergue was closed.

“That’s strange,” said one of them. “We were just there and it was open.” After chatting for about a half-hour, with no sign of a bus, they headed to the albergue and I joined them. We turned the corner of the building, perpendicular to where I had stopped previously. About a half-block down, an open doorway led into the albergue’s large grassy courtyard. Dozens of pilgrims sat at tables, drinking beer and relaxing. After enquiring, I found out that this welcoming spot, although now full, had been open all day. How could I have completely missed this entrance?

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On day one of the Camino, bales of hay in southern France
formed the gateway to the route to Valcarlos in Spain.


After experiencing this form of omission twice in one day, I began, as always, to ponder its symbolic ramifications. What else in life have I passed over or not seen, thinking it was not there or unavailable, when it was indeed?

I recognize that my impatience or fear often makes me give up too soon. Usually, if I can’t readily find what I’m looking for, I stop the search. When challenged or beyond my comfort zone, whether it’s due to fatigue, frustration or downright orneriness, I normally grumble about waylaid plans. I stop trying.

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One of many church doorways found along The Way


This is different from the spiritual concept of surrender. In that case, I can recognize, with some humility and grace, that my desired answer or solution might not be immediately visible. I can choose to trust that it will come later, perhaps in an unexpected form.

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What makes me let go, trust, and persevere in some cases, and give up in others? If my goal is clear and deeply felt, such as a creative project, I will pursue it relentlessly.

Like life, the Camino is a series of portals and thresholds. The most obvious ones are physical access points: doorways, gates, and windows or stairs leading into an enclosed space, perhaps a church or sanctuary. The mental and emotional thresholds, whether it’s leaving an unsatisfactory relationship or changing an attitude that no longer serves us, are more difficult to face.

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I love the notion, both literally and symbolically, of crossing a threshold. The hero’s journey, exemplified by Joseph Campbell, is a great archetypal example. Stories and cultural tales of all kinds, whether it’s a knight slaying dragons or Rosa Parks refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man, feature people who cross thresholds.


Crossing thresholds, big and small, determines who we are and aren’t. When we face a fear and overcome it, that’s huge. I’ll share the story of an Irish pilgrim named Anne, whom I spent time with along The Way. Ever since a dog bit her when she was a child, she had a tremendous fear of these animals. While walking alone on the Camino, three dogs approached her. But as they got closer, she didn’t run or skulk. Instead, she raised her walking sticks, yelled, and ran towards them. The dogs ran away.

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I give myself credit  for  having crossed many big thresholds, from a mountain climb to the Camino Frances itself, but my response to the little ones still needs work.

NEXT WEEK: Little miracles


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September 15, 2013 at 11:38 am Comments (4)