Busted Halo

Rebecca Gallo is trying to put into practice the lessons she learned while walking The Camino. Follow along as she continues her spiritual journey — whatever that might mean.

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March 10th, 2014

A scene along the Camino.

A scene along the Camino.

It is hard to walk a 500-mile pilgrimage trail without thinking about religion. In 2012 (the year I walked the Camino) 93% of pilgrims who arrived in Santiago reported that their reason for walking was, at least in part, religious.

I was part of that 93%. Having been born Catholic, I knew it would always be part of my past, but I had long been wondering: would it be part of my future?

I realized when I got to the start of the Camino why I was there: to see if exploring faiths other than Catholicism was okay by God. Along The Way, while some non-Catholic pilgrims I met came to appreciate and understand the faith a bit more, I was still unsure of its role in my life. I had many conversations with God. (Some call it prayer. Some call it crazy. Whatever you want to call it doesn’t matter to me.) I was reminded me that he loves all of us, no matter what building we choose to go to (or not) on Sundays. No matter which words we utter repeatedly whether in prayer or song. No matter what we do …

December 18th, 2013
Recebba (second from right) and her siblings with her grandmother.

Rebecca (second from right) and her siblings with her grandmother.

“But you’ll always be home for Christmas, right?” my father would ask whenever discussion turned to not being home for one holiday or another. Among his five children, it was rare for any of us to be any place other than his dining room on major holidays.

But eventually school or boyfriends sometimes changed our plans. I recall an Easter spent with family friends in the warmth of southern Virginia when I was doing an internship in North Carolina. (I’m from New York. To me, Virginia is warm.) I recall, too, my first Thanksgiving someplace other than my parents’ dining room. I was on a cross-country trip with my boyfriend and Thanksgiving found the two of us in Iowa at his parents’ dining room table with his aunt and his grandmother. His parents opted to sit at the kitchen table by themselves. As a girl who was used to squeezing upwards of 20 people around a Thanksgiving table, the whole experience mystified me.

But Christmas? Christmas was sacred. My mother, during discussions of future holiday plans, would invariably remind my father that one day his children would be married, and …

December 11th, 2013

Young women carry a crib containing the Christ child to the creche at Daley Plaza in Chicago. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

Young women carry a crib containing the Christ child to thecreche at Daley Plaza in Chicago. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

Just before Advent, Mom sent me and my siblings out to the field next to our house to pick bunches of the straw that grew there. In the summertime, we would imitate Laura Ingles Wilder in the opening credits of “Little House on the Prairie,” running through the field, falling down and laughing, clutching our bunches of straw. In the cold of December, we were a bit quicker in our task.

Back inside, those of us that were old enough to handle scissors cut the straw to a length that could fit nicely into a shoe box, which was left uncovered in a place we could all reach. Whenever we did something good, our reward was to take one piece of the straw and place it inside the barn that sat empty on the sill of the bay window.

Mary and Joseph were miles away on a coffee table in the living room making their way to Bethlehem. Mary knelt on bended knee, Joseph stood stick-straight holding his staff, both of them staring at the empty space between …

December 5th, 2013

Rebecca's Camino shoes.

Rebecca’s Camino shoes.

I watched a video today in which Thoreau was quoted as saying, “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.” The video was by Patagonia — a manufacturer of new clothes. However, it was all about people who have kept the same (Patagonia) garments for 10-plus years, and the travels and tales they’ve had with those garments. In the short film “Worn Wear,” Patagonia asks us to “celebrate the stuff you already own” in this season of buying anew.

I watched “Worn Wear” and was further intrigued that many of the people in the video didn’t even buy their Patagonia gear new. They found it at a garage sale, or received it as a hand-me-down. It turns out the company is now accepting their used clothing back for reselling in some of their stores.

It reminded me of my preparations for the Camino — an “enterprise” for which many buy new clothes. And a new pack. And new hiking sticks. And on and on. But I’m one of those people who tries things once and often never does them again (woodturning, skydiving, biking across Iowa). So the prospect of buying new for such …

November 27th, 2013

note-of-thanksThis post was originally published November 6, 2013

I came across a greeting card this morning that made me laugh. The front shows a Mom driving a car with a couple wild kids in the back and says, “Mom, you took us everywhere…” The inside says, “And even brought us back home! Astonishing!” It made me think back to the road trip my family took to Illinois. Five kids, two adults, one car. And this was 1992 — long before there were televisions to watch from the backseat. From Illinois, we headed north into Canada and, after a stop in Niagara Falls, headed back to New York. At the border my parents were asked for our birth certificates. “We didn’t really plan to come back this way,” they explained, “So we don’t have them.”

The officer said, “We work very closely with ChildFind. How do we know you didn’t kidnap these children?”

My mother leaned over from the passenger seat and said, “We’ve been traveling with them in this car for over a week. If you want to take any of them — or all of them — you go right ahead.”

“Ah. They  must be yours,” he said, …

November 20th, 2013

belonging“I don’t think you’ve ever felt like you belonged anywhere,” a friend told me the other day while we were out on a walk. I paused and looked at him, “Tell me why you think that,” I said. As he outlined his reasons, I was stunned. He was onto something.

For much of my first dozen years of life I was convinced I was adopted. I, the shy, quiet, bookworm could not possibly be related to my four siblings who were one louder and wilder than the next. Those pictures of my mother in a hospital bed holding a baby that’s supposedly me? Staged. Obviously.
In eighth grade I chose to switch from Catholic school to public school. I didn’t belong to anyone’s group of friends-since-elementary-school. So I sat alone… eating lunch in the cafeteria each day, too scared to talk to anyone else. I was the new girl. I relished the time when all the other kids left to play outside, so I could sit in the quiet cafeteria and read. Then I learned I could get a pass to the library after I ate, so I could get to my time of silence even quicker. The following semester

November 13th, 2013

giving-reimaginedAfter he spent two weeks volunteering at a hostel for pilgrims along the Camino, a friend returned with a gift for me. I was surprised he bought me anything as he knows I’m a minimalist who is on a seemingly neverending quest to live with less “stuff”. He smiled as I opened the bag. It contained a bar of soap. He proudly declared, “I know you don’t want any more ‘stuff’ but this is something that you will use up and it will disappear.” Indeed he was right. A perfect gift for a minimalist. Even better? It wasn’t purchased. It was among the items left behind by pilgrims wanting to lighten their load. Recycling at its finest.

Accepting gifts has not been easy for me in recent years. Yes, I like the thought with which they are given. And I love surprises. But I’m at the stage in my life where I prefer “experiences” to “stuff.” Friends have adjusted to this:…

Eating experiences were a popular gift for my birthday last week. Various friends took me out for dinner, ice cream, or coffee. Time catching up with friends — especially over good food — is certainly a gift.

October 16th, 2013

up-in-flames“Would you like to stay for dinner?” my friends asked.

“I would love to, but I already have plans,” I told them. “I’m going to a ceremonial burning.”

Their eyes grew wide with alarm and humor. “Who are you burning?” they asked.

“Not a person! We’re burning things from our past that we want to let go of.” They smiled knowingly. I live in Asheville after all, where spending a couple hours around a fire burning mementos is not an unusual way to spend a Friday night.

The plan was hatched the previous week when my friend Alice and I sat talking about letting go of things from our past that were holding us back. When she asked what I might do to let go, I offered that I could go through the old papers that tied me to an old life and get rid of them. I was thinking the recycle bin. She was thinking fire.

“You have to burn them,” she said.

“Really?” I asked, wondering where my landlord kept the fire pit I’d seen him cook burgers on a few times.

Alice explained there was something more freeing about burning as opposed to just dumping them into …

October 9th, 2013

living-with-lessThe pilgrims of the Middle Ages didn’t carry much of anything. Images depict them in a long cloaks and simple sandals, a walking stick in one hand to which a drinking gourd was attached. No backpacks. No headlamps. No hiking shoes.

I realize they probably didn’t have nearly as much to take with them anyway. I’m guessing they didn’t own 10 cloaks and five pairs of sandals. Plus five more summer cloaks, and two more for the “off-season.”

Thinking of this over the weekend, I decided to return to Project 333. The mission? Basically make my closet look like that of a pilgrim. Choose 33 items to wear for the next three months. Put everything else away. Oh — and those 33 things? That includes clothing, coats, shoes, and jewelry.

Why would someone do this? I can only answer the question for myself. Initially, I wanted the challenge of it. Could I do it? Well, plenty of people on the Project 333 website were successful, so why not try?

Last year, I found that it was indeed possible. And I learned a few surprising advantages to living with less: I actually was able to look into my …

September 26th, 2013

home-sweet-homeA couple Sundays ago, 500 people walked through my house. I — or more accurately my home — was part of the 2013 Tour of Homes. These sorts of things usually showcase large, meticulously decorated places. I, however, live in a 780-square-foot log cabin. There’s a taxidermied rooster on my mantle.

So how is it that this proponent of simple living and small houses finds herself and her abode on a home tour? Well, Asheville, North Carolina, being quite far from Stepford, has plenty of variety in its neighborhoods. And the people who live here really appreciate that. Before coming to my house, ticket holders had seen the sleek lines of a modern home overlooking the city. They had visited an Italian Renaissance Revival home whose living room was once graced by Martin Luther King, Jr.. They walked through a Frank Lloyd Wright-style place whose owner housed not one, but two Porsches in the garage. And then there was my place. A log cabin. With a screened-in porch. Beside a babbling brook.

“I think my house is the smallest on the tour,” one homeowner whispered to me. I assured her that probably wasn’t the case. I was right — mine …

September 18th, 2013

god-laughsMy mother and I walked into the stone church, dimly lit for the Taizé service. Fifteen people sat scattered in the pews around us, softly singing simple chants. After the opening songs, the priest welcomed everyone. He encouraged us to sit wherever we would like (the song booklet said we could sit on the floor if we so desired). He told us that the woman who stood in the front right corner of the church was available for anyone who would like healing. A few minutes later, someone went over to her, and after that she was never without someone to help.

The songs were interspersed with readings. The second was from Isaiah. “God doesn’t come and go. God laughs,” said the priest.

Did he just say God laughs? Is that really in the Bible? 

I continued listening, and soon realized he said “God lasts” not “God laughs.” But it got me thinking back to the first time I learned God had a sense of humor.

In my early 20s I came across Neale Donald Walsch’s Conversations with God. Neale was a bit frustrated with life, to say the least. So he wrote a letter of complaint to God. He …

September 11th, 2013

expectationsBefore I left for the Camino, I’d read about the Cruz de Ferro: an iron cross that stood atop a pole that reached high into the air. Around its base pilgrims left stones they had either brought from home or picked up along the way. I read that the stone I carried was to be symbolic of my fears, worries, and expectations and that by leaving the stone at the base of the cross I was leaving those things behind.

Prior to leaving on my Camino, I had a send-off of sorts. I passed around the stone I would leave at the Cruz de Ferro, and asked all present to put their fears and worries and expectations into it. One friend commented on the expectations piece. What an interesting thought — to leave expectations behind.

Her words came back to me as I sat in a bookstore with 15 others listening to a teacher of Buddhism. The teacher explained how all suffering leads back to our expectations — that disappointment is simply due to life not being what we thought it would be.

I took mental inventory of disappointments in my life. I went back to my college days: disappointed …

September 4th, 2013

walking-fasterI heard about a study the other day that showed the speed people walk is related to the number of years they will live. Faster walkers live longer. If this is true, my father may live forever. He is the man who doesn’t take cabs when we visit New York City. Nor do we ride the subway. We walk. This is no take-your-time-see-the-sights walking; this is man-on-a-mission walking. I thought of him Saturday as I sped by the throngs of tourists on the streets of downtown Asheville, attempting to get to the Fine Arts Theater in time for a movie.

The study came into my thoughts again when I was on my run this morning. The research only examined those over 65, but I wondered if they would find the same statistics across all ages. I took note of the speed of others out on the streets with me. The dog walkers going only as fast as their dogs allowed. The group of women walking more for social activity than exercise. The lone walker with headphones, going at a good clip. And then us runners. Me, who has no desire to decrease the time it takes to run my loop. …

August 23rd, 2013

motherhood-no-thanksWhile wandering around a bookstore in LaGuardia airport, the cover of TIME magazine caught my eye. “CHILDFREE” stood out in bold, block letters. A couple in swimsuits laid on a white sand beach below the words, “The Childfree Life: When having it all means not having children.”

I picked it up and flipped to the article, “When None is Enough.” I couldn’t stop reading. Among other analysis, the article revealed the declining birth rate in the United States: “A Pew Research report showed that childlessness has risen across all racial and ethnic groups, adding up to about 1 in 5 American women who end their childbearing years maternity-free, compared with 1 in 10 in the 1970s.”

I can’t remember a time growing up when I wanted children. But according to a paper I wrote in eighth grade (which I discovered while going through a box of old journals last Christmas), I did, at one point, want a family.

Attending a Jesuit University, I was in the minority: most every woman I knew wanted children at some point after college. One male friend even told me no man would want to marry me if I didn’t want children.

After college, I …

August 14th, 2013

having-enough-3“This flight is overbooked. We’re seeking one volunteer to take a later flight. If you are interested…” I put away the book I was reading and hurriedly made my way to the ticket counter. Five minutes later, I sat with my free flight voucher, delighted at my good fortune.

However, this was the most unusual flight change I’d ever had. My new departure would be from a different airport — a one and one-half hour drive from the one in which I sat. The airline, of course, provided a cab for me.

The driver arrived, took my bags, and off we went. I have yet to meet a cab driver without a fascinating story. So, though I had a book to read, I decided to see if my driver was interested in conversation. I was in luck. And what a story he had.

“Where are you from?” I asked.

“Sierra Leone,” he said.

“How long have you been in this country?”

“Probably longer than you’ve been alive.” We compared numbers. He was right.

I learned he was one of seven children. But that wasn’t the whole story. His father, as is common in Sierra Leone, was a polygamist.

“So how …

August 7th, 2013

Walking along the Camino in the morning fog.

Walking along the Camino in the morning fog.

Not only is it tourist season here in Asheville, North Carolina, but this past weekend was also Bele Chere, a large outdoor music festival that takes over the city for three days. Wanting a reprieve from the crowds, I stepped into the quiet oasis of the Ariel Gallery and headed toward the ceramic piece that brings me the most joy.

I first saw the piece a few months ago. A ceramic church rested on a grassy knoll, a dirt path led to its front door. The whole scene sat inside a journey boat. It captivated me; somehow it reminded me of my Camino: of the paths I walked, the old churches I entered or passed, the peacefulness of being “in the moment” for such an extended period of time. I stared at it, taking it all in. Then I saw the little white card beside the boat. The name of the piece? “The Pilgrimage.”

Beside it sat a similar scene: another boat, but inside this one was a house, a dirt path beside it. It’s title? “The Journey Home.”

I felt like I’d just found my recent life depicted before me. After …

July 24th, 2013

A Camino pilgrim rests in Burgos, Spain. (CNS photo/Felix Ordonez, Reuters)

A Camino pilgrim rests in Burgos, Spain. (CNS photo/Felix Ordonez, Reuters)

“Did you go with anyone?” she asked. I was at a Camino talk hosted by our local chapter of American Pilgrims on the Camino. Future pilgrims come not just to hear the presentation, but to ask their questions to those of us that have been there.

“No, I went alone,” I told her.

“Really? You went to Spain to walk 500 miles all by yourself?”

Yes, indeed I did. From the moment I decided I would walk the Camino I knew I’d do it alone. Some people considered joining me, and if it was meant to be it would have worked out that way, but it didn’t. I tell most people I highly recommend doing your first Camino all by yourself. Here’s why:

I could stop wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted.…

July 17th, 2013

Rebecca's writing, maps, and mementos from her walk along the Camino. Photo courtesy of Morack Studios.

Rebecca’s writing, maps, and mementos from her walk along the Camino. Photo courtesy of Morack Studios.

“Tomorrow afternoon we’re going to make journals,” my writing teacher, Elizabeth Hunter, declared. I was at the John C. Campbell Folk School taking a week-long memoir-writing class. Bookmaking had not been part of the class description but my classmates and I took great joy in having something handmade in which to write after our time together was finished.

Eight months later, I prepared to depart for the Camino. I was thinking of how best to document my journey. Store-bought, bound journals weighed quite a bit, specifically their covers. My solution? Only take the guts of a journal: the paper. And upon my return, I could sew the pages into a book, just as I’d learned in that writing class.

A year after my return from the Camino, the pages sat in a ziploc bag, covered in my thoughts and prayers but as yet unbound. Then my friend Lois sent me an e-mail. It contained just one line.

“Unfinished projects drain creative energy.”

I read it and my mouth dropped open. I jotted a quick reply: This is so true! I remembered the relief I …

July 10th, 2013

running-in-rainI lay in bed listening to the rain. The brook outside my bedroom door, normally babbling, was now a loud roar. I remember when weather like this darkened my spirits — when weather like this presented me with a good excuse to curl up in bed and read for a few hours. Or the entire day. There was a time I was sure I’d never like rainy days. But that was before I started training for the Camino.

In January 2012, I determined I would walk every morning — no matter the weather — to get my body ready for the 500-mile pilgrimage walk I would begin in May. I bundled up and headed out into whatever was outside the door — biting wind, snow, rain, hail. I was like the postal service: none of it stopped me.

And a funny thing happened. Every day, upon my return from my morning walk, I determined that it was a lovely day outside. Dark and stormy maybe, but lovely none-the-less.

Upon my return from the Camino, however, walking took a back burner. I tried, but it wasn’t nearly as fun without a cafe to stop at along the way, without tens or

June 26th, 2013

never-say-neverWhen I told friends I was going to walk the Camino to Santiago, they would ask, “Is it like the AT?”

“No — I could never walk the Appalachian Trail!” I said. “The Camino is easier because I don’t have to carry a tent or food. You walk through towns, stay in hostels, and eat in restaurants.”

For those that don’t know, the Appalachian Trail extends more than 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine. A couple thousand people set out each year with the goal of hiking the whole route in five to seven months. On the AT, these “thru-hikers” could go days without seeing civilization. By comparison, I walked 500 miles on the Camino over the course of 37 days and rested my head each night in some sweet Spanish town, on a bed, after taking a hot shower.

Growing up 30 miles from the AT, I feel like I’ve known of its existence nearly all my life. But my first true introduction came by way of a book: Bill Bryson’s A Walk in The Woods. As I read it, I thought, “I could never do this.”

Years later I found myself doing something else I thought …

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