Look Up

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Look Up

by Joy Reichart | Berkeley, CA

Look Up Joy Reichart.

“Time’s going by too fast and it hasn’t happened yet,” I said to my friend as we took our first steps up into the Pyrénées. We’d already walked for four days in France, and the landscapes we’d crossed were surreal.

Even so, the thunderclap I’d been anticipating—the insight I was convinced awaited me on this epic trip—hadn’t occurred. I’d been walking. Sweating. Aching. Sleeping hard. Navigating obstacles and personalities. And not one life-changing realization. Not yet. I was starting to panic.

At some point it occurred to me to stop trying. Stop reaching for the karmic loop I was sure the Camino would help me complete. Stop digging for just the right questions and intentions for Life to answer in this ancient place. Let it all go and just walk.

Minutes later I had the impulse to leave my friend and walk on my own for a stretch. Every now and again I stopped to breathe, sip water, look up. I passed within arm’s reach of herds of sheep and horses determinedly gnawing grass on the vast, fenceless slopes. I giggled as the warm, insistent wind threatened to send me rolling down one of those slopes.

Still, in all this blissful empty space, I can’t recall having one insight—or even a simple thought apart from “What the hell?” in response to what I was seeing. When my gaze lingered too long on the ground in front of me, a voice (mine?) said “Look up.” And I did, taking in the view.

It was a long day. I got tired. Between moments of wonder, I wondered how much farther until the end, where the others were, what would be for dinner. Maybe because the day’s finish line remained impossibly far away, I was forced, again and again, to return to where I was. To look up. Again and again, discomfort was replaced by immediate, choking awe.

It continued this way for the remainder of those 26 kilometers over the mountain. It continued for the next eight days of walking. Take a few steps. Look up. Repeat.

Just before setting off on Camino, I left the job I’d held for a dozen years. I expected to arrive home fueled by whatever life-changing revelation and physical robustness I’d found on the Camino.

As it was, I came home with COVID and bone-crushing exhaustion. Thanks to brain fog, those life-solving insights still eluded me. And oh, the anxiety, because I was supposed to be up to something very different now! (Was I?)

That day on the mountain came back, interrupting despair. Reminding me that right now reality is as simple as it was then. “Look up,” that same voice said. And there stood the magnificent Eugenia tree outside my window, filtering the sunlight in spectacular ways. Look up, and there lay my two little dogs, curled and stretched in those rays of light. Look up, a closet full of too many clothes, a shelf full of too many books. A voice mailbox full of well wishes. A fridge full of food. A life full of love. A miraculous island in this broken world.

I was in my bedroom now, not crossing the Pyrénées, and yet the awe was the same. That might be the thunderclap, my friends. The universe snapping its fingers in my face. Look up. Look.

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