Last evening, I drove into Santiago for a remarkable evening. Inspiring on every level. I’m not sure why I’m surprised.
It was Ascension Day. The day Christ ascended into heaven 40 days after Easter. And Santiago takes a minute to celebrate the occasion each year in style.
As we sat for some very late afternoon tapas, bands of roaming performers and musicians processed by. As per usual. And groups stopped to conduct intricate traditional dances and sing songs in Gallego. It was a festive atmosphere around every corner. And while I was lucky to be in Santiago yesterday to see it, it was not what I came for.
These days, Santiago is like the Enlightenment. Yes, the world is a messed up place, but Santiago is a crossroads for the world because of the Camino. There are authors and artists, writers and painters. Creativity abounds in Santiago. Like a French salon, each time I go there I am introduced to someone amazing by my friends, who are themselves talented creatives. It’s a place of connectors and connections. Everyone is helping each other to take the next step. Reaching back to help lift others up. Always inspiring.
I was there to see the limited run of the one-woman show Crying on the Camino written and performed by Celeste Mancinelli, a Broadway actress and singer. A veteran peregrina, Celeste wrote this at times hilarious, frustrating, sometimes whining, and profoundly emotional take on her Pilgrim experience walking the Camino Portuguese with two older friends. I laughed out loud and shed a tear, or two.
It is never to late to be what you might have been~ George Elliot
The wonder of this show hit me on several levels. First, the audacity of it. Celeste performed the material in it’s entirety for two hours without intermission. Her performance was bold and brash. Truthful and unapologetic. Her singing voice is shockingly beautiful and also comedic. The costumes were her own pilgrim clothes, and nothing was conjured or dressed up in mimicry. It can’t be easy delivering a show to others who have walked The Way, many of whom are often critical when someone tries to depict their own Camino experience. ‘That wasn’t how mine was.’ It’s all over Camino FB groups these days. But, last night the room was filled with generosity, and we were all in on the joke as she expertly led us through her recount of her first Camino. But it wasn’t so much the comedy that ensnared me. It was the message behind her performance that I found so emotional.
If you are a regular reader of this blog you know I harken back to when I was a child. Quite frequently, in fact. There is a reason for this, and last night’s performance made me remember why.
In her show, Celeste connects her Camino to how she felt as a child, leading her childhood friends on adventures through the forests, and along streams near where she grew up in New Jersey. She vividly describes the joy of being a kid. How bold she was and audacious, much like herself last evening. Taking pleasure in simple things. And her painful Camino at 60 yrs old brought it all back. I can relate.
I stood here today in the kitchen with Jeff, recounting the show. How it made the hour-long drive in the dark back to the farm go by in a flash. So caught up was I in the messages of the performance. Remembering back to the day before the start of my freshman year of high school. That day I made a list and did all the things I had done as a child up until that point. Riding bikes, playing hop scotch. Everything. The last item was climbing to the top of the tallest climbing tree in our neighborhood. I stood up there balancing on the thinnest branches, holding on and looking out over the houses knowing my childhood was at an end. The next day I had to start high school. New, more sophisticated clothes and shoes had been purchased. My Mom suggested wearing make up and curling my hair was a good idea to fit in and snag a boyfriend. Up until this point I had done my best to beat the boys at everything. The fastest in gym class. Brutally unbeatable at tetherball or four square on the playground. But playgrounds were over. The high school didn’t have such a thing. I had learned if I wanted to be asked to a dance – and apparently there were going to be many and I should like them – that I needed to let the boys win. Step back from the front and allow them to take the lead. My signature braids long gone, a sweaty girl after gym class with messed up curls wasn’t a catch.
I climbed down the tree slowly that evening. It was getting dark and dinner would be on the table. Walking home alone in silence I mourned what I was losing. My freedom. What made me, well, me. Knowing that the mantle of society’s female expectation was firmly settled onto my shoulders. There was no escaping it. That night, I cried myself to sleep.
Within the show, Celeste talks about recapturing that childlike feeling on the Camino. As though we are all rediscovering an old friend long hidden within ourselves. But we know her instantly and embrace her. Where has she been? Waiting. Where have we been?
After the show ended on a tearfully poignant note, and a standing ovation, I looked around at the audience. It was predominantly women. All of them peregrinas. A few in their 20’s and 30’s. But many in their 60’s, 70’s, and even 80’s. Women who didn’t let their age define or stop them. Their hair may be grey. Their bodies imperfect. But a light still shines within them. It’s easy to look past the aging skin, a few extra pounds, and see their younger selves. It’s still in there. And they return to the Camino because that child is waiting for them there. Perhaps the Camino is a spiritual fountain of youth.
The Cave You Fear To Enter Holds The Treasure That You Seek ~ Joseph Campbell
Today, I have thought a great deal about Celeste’s bold show. Her recommitment to the joy she finds in performing. I have so much on my to-do list. My book will be published this summer. The graphic designer wants my thoughts. They need quotes from recognizable authorities for the back. The formatter wants my input on fonts and voice breaks. The leader who is assigned to me is an email fiend with questions, suggestions and more. I sit here with my to-do list knocking them off, one by one, with a little dread in the pit of my stomach. I’m not sure why. But then, I think back to Celeste and her fearless performance, and I close my eyes. The treasure I seek is on the other side of fear. After last night, I just need to find that unstoppable freckle-faced, pigtailed girl that was me all those years ago. Because I know she’ll help me to push through to the other side.
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