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A disease of the heart


All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware. ~Martin Buber (8 February 1878 – 13 June 1965)

In 2015, following a successful but challenging Camino Francés, and soon after returning home, I was diagnosed with Aortic Valve Stenosis: a heart disease with but a single cure. There is no treatment. No healing. No solution. Only surgery!

I decided to repeat last year’s Camino Francés as my pilgrim swansong, and on 1 April 2016, I travelled from my home in Australia by ‘planes, trains & automobiles’ to reach Saint Jean Piet de Port, France.

I called at the Accueil Saint Jacques for up-to-date route and accommodation information. We were told that the Napoleon Pyrenees crossing was unsafe, and advised to follow the alternative route to reach Roncesvalles, Spain: a patchwork of quiet country roads and lanes. I had planned to follow this route to overcome the difficulties I had previously encountered.

I was well aware of the fragile condition of my heart and the likely  consequences based on my previous (successful) crossing of the Pyrenees. I began with fearless optimism convinced that the route was less demanding. However, my optimism was short-lived as my heart could not cope with the demands of the steep gradients, and I truncated my journey. I had walked less than 5km and not even reached Spain.

I said goodbye to my companions and wished them Buen Camino, and returned to Saint Jean Piet de Port accompanied by a Portuguese bicyclist. This young woman was dealing with being struck by a car, a few days earlier, and the trauma of personal injury and damage to her bicycle. We discussed our dilemmas, and by the time we reached Saint Jean Piet de Port I had a plan to walk only the flatter stages sans rucksack; and traverse the taxing stages by public transport.

Some people come into our lives and leave footprints on our hearts and we are never ever the same. Some people come into our lives and quickly go… Some stay for a while and embrace our silent dreams. They help us become aware of the delicate winds of hope…and we discover within every human spirit there are wings yearning to fly. ~Favia Weedn

My lovely companion was ready to restart her pilgrimage after a pleasant lunch. A 3-hour long ride lay ahead for her. Saying goodbye was a moment of sadness and loss. I wished her bon voyage:

May God direct her steps toward tranquillity and keep her from the hands of every foe. May she be safe from all misfortune on this earth. May God grant her mercy in his eyes and in the eyes of all who see her. ~Adapted with thanks from Julie Orringer (2010) The Invisible Bridge, London: Penguin Group, p. 15

That evening, reflecting on that morning’s events, I decided against any further attempts to walk the Camino—thus ended 16 years of pilgrimage with tearful anguish. I became a tourist—for which I’m not well suited.

Yet, I’m reminded of having walked to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela five times, in as many years, starting from:

  1. Le Puy Cathedral, Le Puy-en-Velay, France (2000)
  2. Porto Cathedral, Porto, Portugal (2007)
  3. The Metropolitan Cathedral–Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady of Valencia, Valencia, Spain (2010)
  4. The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See, Seville, Spain (2014)
  5. Notre-Dame-du-Bout-du-Pont, Saint Jean Piet de Port, France (2015)

I went on pilgrimage in England to various locations; to Le Mont-Saint-Michel, France from Winchester Cathedral, Hampshire, England; and to the ancient walled city of Jerusalem to arrive at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre starting from my home in North London (a journey that included Canterbury Cathedral, Kent, England, and the Basilica of Saint Peter, Vatican City).

Paulo Coelho wrote this about his own pilgrimage experience,

My turning point was my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. It was then that I, who had dedicated most of my life to penetrate the ‘secrets’ of the universe, realized that there are no secrets. Life is and will always be a mystery.

I will not adopt the persona of the heart disease victim. I’m largely asymptomatic, and continue to enjoy daily walks (I have a better understanding of my threshold), good books, joyful repartee with family and friends. I live, eat, breathe, work-out, travel, write, blog, garden, and meditate, and have outstanding plans to fulfil. I live the Noble Eightfold Path and continue to learn as I go through the fight of my life.

Fight like a warrior-monk. You have to pursue life like you are fighting a never-ending battle. The battle doesn’t have to be harsh, but every day is a fight and if you rest, you lose. You have to learn as you go through the fight, which makes you a monk. Observe everything and hoard that lesson. Every time you fight and win; every time you fight and lose, you gain a new warrior-monk to throw into battle for you. After long enough, you have an army to command. You have to take command and never let it go. Which means … You must own your life, or someone else will. You were there—personally—for every failure in your life. Nobody else was there for all of them. You were there for every victory. Nobody else was there for all of them. Very often, you will have to get help during losses, in fighting battles and enduring pain that comes with being a warrior-monk who owns her/his own life, which means … Love. Find a rare group of people to share the battle with. Find people who won’t ever mind helping defend your ownership of your life, without wanting to personally own your life for you. If you don’t love, then, really, all of this wisdom and knowledge goes pretty much to waste. ~With thanks to unknown

At this moment, I’m reluctant to expose my body to more investigations. I’m content with my decision, which I don’t view as extraordinary. Rather, as wise and realistic. After all, I own this life and aim for a life of quality, not just quantity, and a death with care but no heroics.

I’m not convinced that medical health tests are associated with high quality health care. I am convinced, however, that medical health tests are not benign and never were. Further, doctors are vulnerable to litigation if they don’t prescribe these health tests. Medical health tests, in particular advanced medical technology tests, lock many people in a state of chronic fear and they thus are readily controllable.

There is nothing that is exceptional about my story. In fact, everyone alive today faces the same fate: we will all age and die.

Next time you view a village perched on the side of a hill with some envy, and you ask what the people who live there do. Remember that they are waiting for death just like all of us. ~Maurice Maeterlinck (1947) The Hour-Glass; a collection of his insights.

We are all born to die whether we recognise that reality or not. I suspect that most people don’t as they are distracted from this truth by the mainstream media (the fabricators of the alternative reality). I’m awake and have encountered few others who are. The fight continues!

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