Not long ago, I walked a rainy, misty stretch of the Camino, between the farming villages of Hontanas and Castrojeriz, with a German man my age. He told me that he came to Spain because he was feeling alienated from the growing corporatization of his own culture and was out of sorts with himself.
“Me, too,” I said.
Throughout the trip I was secretly pleased when people mistook me for Spanish, French or Italian. With our society’s escalating gun violence and increasingly ugly campaign rhetoric and tactics, I was not enthusiastic about discussing current events in the United States, let alone serving as a representative in the peripatetic United Nations that is the Camino. I told my German companion how the movie theater massacre in Aurora, not far from where I had been living, had shaken me up.
“But these things happen every few years,” he said with a shrug. At first I was taken aback by his seeming lack of empathy, that he viewed these incidents as cyclical if not endemic, like tornadoes and hurricanes. But, since we allow violence to continue, if not intensify, year after year, what other conclusion can be drawn? And that made me feel almost as sick as the senseless shootings themselves, whether it’s one person who is killed or a large number.
During the six weeks I walked the Camino, I heard more guns than up until that point in my life (including a rifle I once fired at aluminum cans). On the western edge of the region Castilla y Leon, as I traversed rolling vineyards, the hills blanketed by their yellow, orange and red leaves, shots rang out on either side. High pitched yipping and yelping followed the burst of gunfire.
Hunters and dogs, I realized as my pulse accelerated. I stopped and looked around. Bunches of deep purple grapes, some rotting to black, littered the ground. I couldn’t see the hunters, and it was likely that they couldn’t see me, either, despite the orange bandana I had tied to my pack in order to be visible.
I wondered if that’s what it sounded like to be caught in a crossfire, either in a war, a drug zone, or simply the wrong place at the wrong time. Briefly I considered waiting it out, but realized that might mean staying in Spain for months, until the end of the hunting season. Even stopping for a few hours until the men or dogs tired and returned home felt like caving in to fear. I kept walking. I sang aloud to drown out the sound of ammunition and displace uneasy thoughts.
In Denver, I’m too far away to have heard the bullets fired at the school in Connecticut, the hospital in Alabama, and the hotel in Las Vegas, and likely other places in just the last few days. Still, my anxious thoughts have returned. But under the barrage of bad news, I just can’t bring myself to sing.