Love revealed itself when I wasn’t looking
By Mony Dojeiji
It’s such a cliché to hear that you find love when you’re not looking for it. Yet here I am, one of those clichés.
My divorce in the late ‘90s came quickly and unexpectedly. From having just moved into the house of my dreams, to now being alone for the first time in my adult life, I felt confused, withdrawn and hesitant to commit to any relationship.
But within this great upheaval was the seed for the greatest transformation, as I began taking those first tentative steps towards knowing and accepting myself, and towards love of self above all else.
It was with this inner focus that I showed up on the Camino in May of 2001. I didn’t prepare. I didn’t plan. I had quit my corporate career nine months earlier, and begun to travel alone. My intention was to find the meaning in my life that had until then eluded me. I was also experimenting with a new spirituality, trying to shift my focus from living in my mind and its need to control every aspect of life, to living from the heart, learning to trust in myself, in others and this magnificent Universe in which we live. Rather than avoid my fears, I wanted to face and heal them. Rather than close off from the world, I wanted to embrace it.
From the deserts of Egypt to the beaches of the Mediterranean, I wandered as a tourist until I found myself at the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains, in St. Jean Pied du Port. I had read Shirley MacLaine’s account of her pilgrimage on the Camino; that was my only preparation. In 2001, there were few guidebooks or resources as compared to today. So, I showed up, bought the only English guide I could find, and began walking.
At first, I followed the guidebook religiously, walking the miles it suggested and sleeping in the places it recommended. But how could I learn to trust in myself, in my intuition, if I was continually following the book’s advice?
So, I gave away the guidebook, but kept the maps…just in case. I learned to follow the outer yellow arrows, but more importantly, the inner yellow arrows, those gut feelings and synchronicities that sometimes led me off the path but always to an experience where I found healing or inspiration.
The Camino was the place where I practiced being the kind of person I envisioned: open, trusting, confident, and loving. Romance was definitely not in my plans.
I arrived in Finisterre, with the idea that I would embark on another pilgrimage, this time walking from Rome to Jerusalem, on a path more mystical than physical called The Way of the Soul. I felt confident in my abilities to do it alone. I had seen how the Camino provided all that I needed when I was able to flow, in communion, with it rather than trying to dominate it. I experienced the many small miracles that were my proof positive that I was not alone in my journey. The 3500-mile pilgrimage just seemed a natural extension of what I had learned on the Camino, and an opportunity to deepen my practice of being open to the Universe and allowing the path to lead me.
I had walked on and off with a German pilgrim named Hannah. We arrived in Santiago together and while she felt she needed to walk to Finisterre, I felt my Camino had ended in Santiago and so took a bus there, promising to meet her.
When she arrived, three days later, she was in the company of a handsome young man. She introduced him as Alberto, a pilgrim from southern Spain. With his fair complexion, light brown hair and green eyes, he didn’t look at all Spanish. I looked more typically Spanish than he did!
He spoke only Spanish, leaving to Hannah the task of translating between us. It was easy to see the spark between them.
We spent that day together, sitting on the boulders overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, speaking about our journeys. Through Hannah, Alberto understood my plans to walk to Jerusalem, and heartily congratulated me. I could sense his kindness and genuine appreciation for what I was doing. With his easy smile and relaxed manner, it was easy to like him. He asked me the questions I couldn’t answer (what route are you walking, where will you sleep, how much money will you need…), and laughed along as I explained I would figure those issues out as I walked.
The clouds rolled in, and with them the rains. As we rushed back to town, we tucked in at a natural hollow carved out of the mountains. Alberto took off his jacket and held it above his head, while we all huddled under it, giggling at the lightheartedness of our situation.
“I think what you are doing is admirable,” Hannah translated for him. “Do you know what the greatest force in the Universe is?”
“Peace,” Hannah and I answered.
“Peace is a consequence of something infinitely more powerful,” he smiled. “Love. Love is the greatest force in the Universe, and I know it is walking with you.”
I couldn’t help but smile at the almost innocent way he spoke those words. The rains slowed, and the three friends hurried into town. Alberto was going home that same afternoon, and his bus was waiting. We hugged and parted ways, as all pilgrims friends do, promising to keep in touch.
I would not see him again, until three months later, as I was making my way to Rome to begin walking.
I had kept in touch with Hannah, and when she learned of my imminent departure plans, she invited me to her home in Germany, as it was on my way to Rome. To my great surprise, Alberto was also there. Unbeknownst to me, he had moved in with her a few weeks earlier and they were beginning their relationship. His English had improved, and so had my Spanish, and we could now have a simple conversation.
Over the pilgrim meal we prepared, I shared with them my plans for walking and my enthusiasm for the journey ahead. I spoke of the omens and synchronicities that were lighting my way, and the fears that were darkening it.
Little could I have known that this path would also call Alberto; that he too would begin to receive omens about walking this Way of the Soul. The devastated Hannah could not convince him to stay, while I struggled with whether I wanted a walking companion. I saw this as being my walk, and I wanted to do it my way, unencumbered by the needs and demands of anyone else.
While they resolved their situation, I headed to Rome and began walking. Ten days later, Alberto joined me and we would begin the process of learning how to walk together; how to share this path while still walking alone, each loyal to their beliefs and purpose.
In many ways, that journey continues today.
The pilgrims who serendipitously met in Finisterre, at the end of the world, became companions guided by a common purpose, and friends. The first few weeks were difficult, as each tried to adapt to the other. Although we shared the same beliefs and outlook on life, we disagreed on many details and argued often. We even spoke of separating, but how could we do so when we were claiming to be walking for peace? Each time, we resolved to try a little harder to understand the other and find the means to walk together.
No one believed we were only friends. Even when we explained, they would simply dismiss our claims and declare that a romantic relationship was fated.
It took six months, but it happened. It was springtime in Greece, when we least expected it. It was after yet another argument, but this time, the masks fell off and what remained were two raw and very human individuals who finally saw each other.
This new shift in our relationship, while beautiful, wasn’t rosy all the time.
Like all new romances, it was fraught with its issues, and we both resisted it, neither wanting it to interfere with their journey, both inner and outer. We walked through those fears too, and when he proposed to me in Turkey, I accepted. The rings we bought from the silversmith in the Izmir bazaar remain on our fingers to this day.
We were married after our pilgrimage, in Canada. Our daughter was born on Dec. 5, 2003, exactly two years to the day from when Alberto and I began walking together.
One more pilgrim sharing this pilgrimage called life.
Love revealed itself when I wasn’t looking; or perhaps more accurately, when I was looking for it in the most sacred of destinations: my own heart.
Mony Dojeiji and Alberto Agraso are the authors of the international award-winning memoir Walking for Peace, an Inner Journey detailing their 3500-mile, 13-country, 13-month pilgrimage from Rome to Jerusalem. For more information about their journey, please visit their website www.walkingforpeace.com.
For the month of February, I’ll feature Camino love stories on this blog. Why? Because love is in the air! I certainly respect the premise of what happens on the Camino stays on the Camino. However, love is a splendid thing that should be celebrated. Has the Camino provided you with more than just a long walk? If you have a Camino love story to share, email me or use the form below. Photos and video links welcome.
Share the Camino love! ♥