“Knowing I Would Return”
People walk the Camino de Santiago for many reasons. Some seek peaceful meditation. Some are on a spiritual path. Some seek healing. Others are looking for healthy exercise and interesting people. I was searching for myself. The Camino provides for all intentions.
In 2011, I walked the Camino (The Way of St. James), a 500-mile pilgrimage from the French border to the city of Santiago in western Spain. It was physically demanding and transformational. On my walk, I had burdens that needed to be resolved and left behind. A Camino ritual is to pick up a stone for a burden and put it in your pocket. You can carry this burden all the way or place it on a path marker so that another pilgrim can carry it for you. Conversely, you can take a stone from the marker and carry someone else's burden for them. The cross at mile marker 340 on the highest point of the Camino is called Cruz de Ferro. It accepts pilgrims’ burdens. On this hill, I left behind the stones that symbolized my 30-year marriage and the unresolved problems that complicated my life. Over time, intentionality and value have defined my days.
On this path, there are many rituals and legends, such as the story of Apostle St. James, who was buried in Santiago in the Cathedral of St. James after preaching Christianity to believers and pagans both. Many pilgrims have traveled from all over Europe to Santiago to honor his presence and receive his healing power. The Cathedral of Saint James, built in 1075, with a striking mix of Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque architecture lies within the walls of the city. When you enter the city, time slows down and allows you to feel its symbolism and history.
Since 2011, I have dreamed of returning to Santiago, located in the region of Galicia, where the weather is cool with blue skies and white puffy clouds except when it rains – a light lovely rain. I remember passing into Galicia and relishing the green forests and hilly terrain, as opposed to the mountains behind me. I imagined when donkeys pulled carts along these paths.
My husband Denis of five years and I arrived in Santiago in July 2023, attended Mass at the Cathedral and found the Pilgrim House. It is a welcoming place where you can meet other walkers and learn about their travels. I thought it would be a good introduction to the Camino for Denis. At dinner, we met a young man named Peter, who had started his journey in England and had already walked 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles). He was searching for inspiration on his ministry. A Danish doctor sat next to me and had just arrived from Porto, Portugal. She sought relaxation from a hectic hospital. Our plan was to walk further west from Santiago to Finisterre and then to Muxía, to experience the end of the world that kisses the Atlantic. We borrowed walking poles from the Pilgrim House and were on our way.
With the Cathedral behind us, the business of life was left to others, and we focused on our feet, our packs and the beauty of the Way. Everything we would need for the next eleven days was on our back. The path was quiet. Markers with blue and yellow symbols that represent a scallop shell showed the way. Scallop shells are native to Galicia’s coast. Early pilgrims walked to the coast to collect a shell as proof that they had completed the Camino. They also used scallop shells to drink water and wine and eat small amounts of food donated by the churches. Today pilgrims hang scallop shells from their packs to identify with the Camino. When you see a pilgrim, the greeting is “Buen Camino!!” After my journey, I was on an escalator in Madrid with my pack, and an older man shouted “Buen Camino” a few times before I realized he was shouting to me. He and I smiled and waved. It’s a special community.
As we walked through Galicia, rectangular boxes on pillars stood in front of many houses. Hórreos (pronounced OR-ray-os), as we learned, were built of stone in the 15th century to store and protect feed for animals, mostly corn. The pillars prevented rodents from destroying the annual harvest. Today, the hórreos are no longer needed, but remain crumbling with vines growing through them in front yards.
We wanted to stop at the 6-mile marker on the first day, but the albergue (hostel) was closed, so we walked another 7.2 miles to Negreira. We ignored one of the few rules of the Camino: to start slow. In the evening, Denis's calf was swollen, and I had a heat rash above my ankles and aching shoulders. Our re-assessment included booking the van service to transfer our packs for $5 Euros to our next accommodation, but we would continue to walk the 12 miles. Such optimism for 70-somethings.
The next day, we climbed a 1400-foot mountain. Wind turbines crowded the mountain ridges and lush corn fields grew everywhere. We felt sore, but nothing to complain about. The hotel was off the trail, so it came with transport. I asked the driver if the corn was sold in Santiago, because the population in this region was small. He laughed.
“The tall corn is for the cows,” he said, “and the short corn for the chickens!” That's living off the land.
When I got out of the van, my legs didn't work. Our legs were swollen and needed a break. Turns out we walked 21 miles that day. Not sure how that happened. During a delicious dinner, we planned to go by bus to Finisterre, rest for a few days, and then circle back to resume our journey.
In Finisterre, Denis’s legs continued to swell. At the hospital, they took five vials of blood, put him on a saline drip, and x-rayed his legs. His calf and ankle muscles were inflamed and the doctor said to take it easy. He suggested seven days of rest.
While in Finisterre, we ventured out of the hotel for a short walk to a small fishing museum. The docent was a retired fisherman with the energy and enthusiasm of a teenager! He called himself Nerium. His true name is Francisco Manuel Lopez Martinez. Alexandre Nerium is his pseudonym as a poet; he’s on Wikipedia. Nerium rounded up the visitors into a circle - two Spaniards, two Indonesians, one Brazilian and two Americans (us). He explained how the nets were created to capture specific fish. Sardines try to swim through the net to get the bait and catch their gills in the nanoholes. Small octopuses swim into a trap, eat the food, and stay there because they feel comfortable. He continued. During the beginning of ocean navigation, a heavy stone bell was dropped into the water with a long rope until it reached the bottom. The fathoms were counted on the rope to determine the depth of the ocean. To detect which fish frequented an area, animal fat was stuck to the bottom of the bell. When it was retrieved, sand, grasses, plankton, and mud identified the fish below. The creation of nautical maps relied on these discoveries. The fisherman shared his presentation in Spanish, body language, props and a bit of Brazilian, and we all understood. We happened upon him because we couldn’t travel far on our swollen legs. What a moment this was.
Pilgrims have a partnership with the Camino. You do your best, and it accepts you as you are. If you can’t physically accomplish something, you find a way. After another day of rest, we circled back to the coastal route and avoided a mountain. The Camino is about moving forward. Denis's face lit up when he saw an outdoor gym with all his favorite equipment. He tried each one and felt at home. Further on, fields of corn and apple orchards led to forests and an unexpected breathtaking beach. For the next mile on our return to Finisterre, the water soothed our feet and legs!
Along the way, you never know who to expect. While waiting for the outdoor shower at the beach we met a couple of well-toned 20-something guys from Germany and South Korea. The German shared that he was walking the Camino while on paternity leave. He explained the baby was at home with his girlfriend. We moved on because both of us were too shocked. Neither of us had a proper response to leaving your child and its mother to go on vacation. Even still, a beautiful day on the Camino ended with an Italian dinner and a glass of wine.
Finisterre, or Fisterra, as it is known in Galician, is translated from Latin as “End of the World." The lighthouse at the “End of the World” stood two miles up a hill on Cabo (Cape) Finisterre. It was a beautiful walk, with the bay to our left and Monte Facho on the right. I sat on the rocks on the edge of the Atlantic and looked toward America, thinking about how grateful I am to be completing this journey and how it has changed my life.
The "End of the World" is home to an ancient pilgrim ritual to burn an item of clothing worn on the Camino. This further symbolizes leaving your burdens behind and pursuing a new chapter of life. Unable to locate the fire-pit described in the guidebook, I found a protected cove to burn my shirt. I arrived unprepared, no matches. We looked around to see if anyone had a smoker’s face. The Spanish word for matches is partídos. The man we spoke to looked confused when I asked him. A bystander informed me that I used the word for a soccer match. We all had a laugh, but nobody had a light. Next, I approached an English-speaking waitress in the café and asked if she had a match. She loaned me her lighter. Denis kept watch, because I wasn’t sure if this was a legal place to have a fire. Seeing my pink tank top burn to ashes brought me final closure. I had kept that top for 12 years, knowing I would return to the Camino for this moment.
When I started the Camino in 2011, I was looking for something - my future, myself, whatever I could find. Today I am a writer, have a partner I love, and continue to deepen my relationships with my family and friends. And I'm getting better at eliminating the noise in my life — going places just to have something to do. It makes more time for reading, exploring new ideas and engaging in political activity.
Leaving Finisterre felt good, although Muxía beckoned from the North and became an extended destination. It’s a fishing village about 17 miles from Finisterre and takes two walking days to reach it. There are many ancient legends about the meeting of the Virgin Mary and St. James in Muxía. We will see the sun sink below the Western horizon and muse about the vastness of the Atlantic from a new perspective. Our backpacks were transported to Lires, the halfway point. This part of the walk is mainly a cart track through the forest, with views of the Atlantic to the west and more corn fields to the east. The eucalyptus trees were ubiquitous, but there was no beautiful scent, as I had experienced on the Camino before. They must need more moisture than the dense forest holds. We ate our sandwiches in a light rain after we found sitting rocks and talked about how our adventures affected us.
Denis said, “My experience is different from yours. You are here after walking hundreds of miles on the Francés Camino. It's a personal and emotional experience for you. But I enjoy the peaceful walk through the countryside, following the way markers, and spending time together without distractions from the outside world. It was also intriguing to see how people live in these rural villages.” I asked about a favorite time.
Big smile. “Working out on the gym equipment in the park was awesome, and going to the Asian variety store called the China Store, where you can buy a bag of bolts and panties on the same visit.” This was so heartening to hear. I knew Denis was enjoying himself, but it was different from our usual journeys to the cities. I initially hesitated to share this walk with him, because it is so personal. Another grateful blessing.
We stayed at our first albergue in Lires. Denis agreed to stay in one; without this experience, it would not be the Camino. It was cozy, only four bunks to a room. The largest room I had slept in had more than 50 bunk beds. The albergue was connected to a hotel and a restaurant, which is unusual. We hesitated to dine there as a hindquarter of beef hanging in a glass freezer stood in front of the dining room. We rarely ate red meat. But we found a few fish dishes on the menu and a table in the corner. The fish stew with noodles was delicious, and the Spanish flan, baked custard topped with caramel and whipped cream, brought back more memories. So wonderful.
One last mountain range stood between us and Muxía. In deference to our legs, we took a taxi to downtown Muxía near our hotel. When we made the hotel reservation, the host asked if we wanted twin beds or the matrimonial bed. A perfect way to distinguish between a European double (twin beds pushed together) and a single bed. Muxía (pronounced Moo-SHE-a) is solidly located on the side of a hill overlooking the authentic Galician fishing village. It survives on tourism and on rich fishing grounds offshore. It’s known for beautiful sunsets and more legends.
Muxía is connected to the Camino because St. James was sent to Santiago to convert the pagans to Christianity. Believing he had failed, he came to Muxía to rest and heal. As the legend goes, the Virgin Mary arrived in a sailboat, assuring him that he had been successful with the pagans and should return to Jerusalem. The boat turned to stone, and the sail remains on the Atlantic shore as a mammoth stone with miraculous healing powers. Denis took off his shirt and tried to move the sail. Another fitness model photo!
Muxía had a festival that weekend, and we danced to Spanish music in the streets. The instrumental music was recorded as young women sang from their hearts on stage. This is a tradition we need more of in the US.
Back in Santiago, I had to finish a project that inspired me in Finisterre - a tattoo of the Camino shell above my left ankle. I never thought I would get a tattoo in my lifetime, but inspiration overwhelmed me. I love it. Now I carry with me every day the joy and knowledge I have learned on the Camino.
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Ever wondered what the solstice represents beyond the longest and shortest days of the year? Or about the energy in earth, water, air, fire, and spirit?
Bridget didn't wonder about this until her husband died. She was lost; she went through the motions of life with the help of Jameson Whiskey. Not too much, just enough to numb her feelings. Her children were in high school experiencing the future and Bridget was struggling. On an afternoon trip to her childhood mountain, she encountered women who would influence her life. Technically, they were in her bloodline, and each had a unique magical skill to help Bridget open up to her past and future.
These magical concepts were new to me, but after reading Martha's book I feel more enlightened about possibilities. Perhaps an opportunity to look beyond what is in front of me.
The Turn of Awakening is a page turner and educator. I look forward to Bridget/Brigid in the next book in the series The Turn of Seeking.
Martha Ellen Kilcoyne is my sister and I give the highest recommendation to this book - A great summer read. You can read more at www.MarthaEllenKilcoyne.com or purchase at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BXBJY2MT
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February 3, 2023 was an important day in Massachusetts. Democracy prevailed! I was part of the Kristin Kassner campaign for State Representative in the Second Essex District (Ipswich, Hamilton, Rowley, Newbury, Georgetown and part of Topsfield.) Here is the story I wrote, published in Commonwealth Magazine.
Isn’t winning by 1 vote enough?
An insider’s perspective on Kristin Kassner’s strange odyssey to the State House
ELIZABETH A. KILCOYNE
Apr 27, 2023
IN LAST NOVEMBER’S election, Kristin Kassner, a candidate for state representative on the North Shore, flipped a seat from red to blue by a one-vote margin. But it didn’t come easily.
Despite the will of the people being affirmed by a district-wide recount and court challenges to the election running their course, the Republican incumbent she defeated continued to occupy the seat for a full month after lawmakers were sworn in and began serving their two-year term.
It was a snub to democracy that we should not allow to be repeated.
Read the rest of the story in Commonwealth Magazine: commonwealthmagazine.org/courts/isnt-winning-by-one-vote-enoug
Please comment so I know you're out there and rooting for democracy!
In recent months, I have been coaching / managing a state representative race in the Second Essex District and writing an essay on this unprecedented experience. Here is the first paragraph:
"In the 2022 Massachusetts midterms, Kristin Kassner, a candidate for state representative, flipped a seat from red to blue with one vote. Despite the will of the people, her Republican opponent continued to sit in her seat after the inauguration."
I hope to publish it soon so I can share it with you. The following is an essay on a recent trip to Paris. Enjoy!
"The Paris Bribe"
The drums beat for the dancers. Children play at red tables set up by young people in red aprons. Two older men play a game with a roller and wooden trough I have never seen before. A father and son play chess with pieces they have to walk among. Skateboarders careen over jumps. The Place de la République in Paris is an intentional park for people to gather. Traffic is rerouted, and people watch out for each other.
Circling the park is a protest of middle aged men and women with scarfed heads. The leader, clad in a brilliant purple garment, stands on a moving truck bed. He waves the Mali flag and speaks into a microphone. Posters shout, “No! NO! NO! Too much injustice! We demand the departure of the new prefect of Yelimane!”
Our room at the Crowne Plaza overlooks the park. A double glass door opens onto a balcony with an intricate rod iron railing. It can get noisy. That’s how we know everyone is awake. Denis and I are in Paris for a week before he delivers a paper at the International Cycle Safety Conference in Dresden. I hesitated about the trip to Dresden, thus the bribe.
We’re not big foodies. The menus are French. Back in the room, we use Google to plan our dinners. Every block has a sidewalk café with croissants and fabulous gooey disserts, and we like that. But where’s the food? Ah, a restaurant on Rue Saint-Martin serves dinner at 7 p.m. and we snatch the last reservation! It’s a neighborhood place. The only entree we recognize on the menu is chicken – delighted. By 9 p.m., the diners are talking and raising their glasses to other patrons. We respond in kind.
We travel everywhere on the Métro in Paris. Its hub is located under the Place de la République. The metro takes us to the Centre Pompidou, an overwhelming collection of galleries and libraries in an ultra-modern building. The utilities are attached to the outside. This unusual texture, painted in bold primary colors, is itself an art piece. We ride on the outside escalator to the highest floor and work our way down the more the 1 million square feet of art and books! No, we don’t see everything in one visit. But the multi-colored circular forms of Robert Delaunay catch our attention, along with geometric forms of Wassily Kandinsky. Great art energizes us.
I am no stranger to the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris’ Tuileries Gardens, with Monet’s Water Lilies floating in two oval-shaped rooms. Back in 1971, there were very few people in the museum, and my best friend and I sat for hours on pink velvet-covered benches to write home and admire the complementary presentations of the lilies. Today, the crowd moves around wooden benches, and we use them to rest. Outside, the Tuileries are quiet on this sunny day as we make our way along the gravel path until we see a flock of children running after huge bubbles. A bohemian-dressed woman smiles as she holds her bucket and giant bubble wand. Beyond them is a majestic water fountain. Red chairs encircle the large round pool and beckon us to sit awhile and have a conversation with the person in the adjacent red chair. So welcoming, we sit down. These chairs are set out every morning and put to sleep at dusk. It is impossible not to compare this image with the popular lone benches in many public parks in the United States.
Seeing Le Tour Eiffel lit up at night is like being in a romcom. We immediately buy tickets for an evening dinner cruise on the Seine. We adorn ourselves with the fanciest clothes in our suitcase and hop on the metro to the dock. We order Champagne in flutes, the same excellent entrée as in the restaurant, and live dangerously with a custard and chocolate mousse dessert crowned with edible flowers. Romance is thriving.
The bribe is a success, and we’re off to Dresden for the second week of our trip. Denis creates a buzz at the conference. He proposes a bold but simple approach to saving cyclists' lives on the road.
Leave me a comment so I know you're out there and enjoying life!
This essay was published in the Women's eNews and a shorter version appeared in the Newburyport Daily News this week.
Calling all women and men!
Our Power is in Our Voice and Our Vote
The Court has become a political institution like Congress. It has warped the balance of power and is no longer the checks and balance for America.
When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022, I was devastated. Yes, I read the oral arguments and the leaked draft. I knew what was coming, but with the final decision, I felt heartsick and abandoned. It took time for the rage and sense of betrayal to rise above my disappointment.
Click here to read rest of this essay in Women's eNews!
Leave me a comment so I know you're out there and ready to fight for Reproductive Freedom!
Those who did this have never met, nor care about, the people who will suffer w/o Roe.
This is just the beginning.
Elect Pro-Choice Women and Men.
Leave a comment so I know you're out there.
Some Good News!
For a national team that used to travel coach while the men sat in first class, the U.S. Women's Soccer Team scored a major victory. After years of litigation focused on equal pay and benefits, the women’s team received a settlement agreement for past discrimination and future equal pay and bonuses. The settlement was contingent upon achieving new collective bargaining agreements for women and men.
The U. S. Soccer Federation employs both teams. President Cindy Parlow Cone, a former national team player and president since 2020, said, “There were moments when I thought it was all going to fall apart, and then it came back together, and it’s a real credit to all the different groups coming together, negotiating at one table.” According to the Boston Globe, the federation will be the first American national governing body to pay equally for its men’s and women’s teams.
This becomes complicated, because there is an international and a US governing body. The US governing body will now pool the funds it receives from the international body and distribute them equally to all players.
There are many facets of the agreements. Women gave up a guaranteed annual salary in order to benefit from equal wages and bonuses. The distribution of the World Cup funds will be equal for all U.S. team players. Both teams receive a share of ticket, broadcast and sponsor revenue, and the men players receive child care.
The impressive result is that the men’s and women’s teams and others worked together to achieve this victory.
The women’s team endured discrimination for years. They used their fourth World Cup victory and many laws to resolve the inequities. With a functioning Equal Rights Amendment, this would have been a much quicker and less painful process.
The right to equality based on sex would have been self-evident.
Thanks for reading. Leave a comment so I know you're out there, Elizabeth
Dear Readers, I sent a shorter version of this letter to The Boston Globe.
The message from the highest court and Congress is alarmingly clear: YOU DON’T MATTER, and you no longer have reproductive freedom in the United States unless your state gives it to you. Women can no longer determine whether or when child bearing is right for them, and although the court has not made a final decision, it has become a political institution like Congress. It has warped the balance of power, and is no longer the check and balance for America. In a CBS/YouGov poll conducted after the Supreme Court leak, 64% of respondents said they wanted Roe v. Wade kept as is, while 36% said they wanted the Supreme Court to overturn it.
What now? If THEY will not represent most Americans, we’ll have to do it ourselves!
We need a majority of pro-choice women and men in leadership in city councils, statehouses, Congress and the courts. Let’s focus attention on critical elections in the US Senate: Val Demings of Florida; Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire; Mark Kelly of Arizona; and Raphael Warnock of Georgia and other worthy candidates. We can help with financial contributions, post carding, phone calling, and door knocking (depending on health restrictions). Others are ensuring Massachusetts remains a reproductive freedom state that welcomes women from unfriendly states.
The important thing is that we act to protect our freedom. Damn the inevitable! Action equals empowerment and potentially creates a different outcome. We can do this!
It is our time AGAIN! We are being asked to protect the next generation's reproductive rights. I’m tired of hearing people say that the Supreme Court will probably overturn or severely limit Roe v. Wade. Are we just going to sit by and let this happen? We need to follow the lead of Columbia and Argentina and Mexico. We need to fight this injustice in the streets of America!!!!!!!
This Saturday, April 9th at 2pm, Boston Common in the Free Speech Area across from Massachusetts State House
I am going. Please join me! RSVP + Share
NOW is the time to stand up, together, as if our lives depend upon it!
NOW is the time to hold nothing back. NOW is the time to rouse thousands and soon millions in struggle so that we can look every woman and girl in the eye with the promise in word and deed that they will have a future as full human beings.
I know. I'm tired too! But the power-mongers continue to try to keep us down.
See you there, Elizabeth
Reproductive Rights are officially under attack again! We need to get involved!
International Women’s Day
Riseup4AbortionRights.Org sponsored the International Women’s Day rally and march at Harvard Square on March 8th. A group of fifty college students and seasoned protestors gathered to oppose the Supreme Court’s recent rulings on abortion rights and the entire flock of congressional Republicans who voted against the Women’s Health Protection Act in 2021/2022.
The seasoned protesters called out the women and men who fought this fight 50 years ago, as they are now tired and reduced to writing letters and sending money. I wanted to shout back: “We won 50 years ago with Roe and 30 years ago with Casey and we marched again in Washington DC with our daughters in 2004. We cannot believe this is happening again!” But I was there to see the next generation in action.
The young protesters described the threat to abortion rights as sexist, racist and fascist. They didn’t hold back: “Every 68 seconds a woman is raped in the US. Pornography is a $15 billion dollar business that denigrates and demoralizes women. Every year hundreds of thousands of women and victims are forced into sex trafficking. That is the life that powerful men tolerate for women and girls. In the name of humanity we refuse to accept this environment of gender-based violence.”
Most people reading this essay do not have to deal with threatening acts like these in our daily lives, and many of us live in a state where access to abortion is protected, regardless of the actions of the Supreme Court or Congress. These demonstrators are mobilizing against attacks aimed mainly at young and low-income victims and reproductive rights.
Three weeks ago, Columbia became the latest country in Latin America to legalize or decriminalize abortion medical procedures, following Argentina, Uruguay, Cuba, Guyana, and Mexico. The lawsuit filed in Columbia focused on low-income women who could not afford illegal abortions in that country or in a neighboring country.
The United States is moving in the opposite direction. The Supreme Court is considering a case this term that would either reverse Roe v. Wade or reduce safe legal abortions to 15 weeks. Most women know that they are pregnant by 15 weeks, but low-income women usually need time to find a clinic, a date when they are free from work, possibly need childcare, etc.
On International Women’s Day, we wore green scarves, which have become a common symbol of women’s rights, as we marched along Mass Ave and shouted chants. These were new to me:
Not the Church, Not the State
Women must Decide Their fate!
Abortion on Demand, This is Why:
Women Hold Up Half the Sky!
Abortion on Demand!
And Without Apology!
Into the Street!
Abortion Stays Legal!
MARK YOUR CALENDARS
SATURDAY APRIL 9TH AT 2:00PM IN COPLEY SQ, BOSTON, WILL BE THE NEXT MARCH AND RALLY.
Thanks for reading. Let me know in comments if you’re interested in marching in the streets for the next generation!