“No!” I cried, and again, “Non!” In case any French listeners hadn’t understood.
I stood in the middle of the road leading from Eauze to Nogaro and waived the lime green rain cover, all that was left of the full backpack I’d left near the fountain just 5 minutes before. I was wearing a pink tank, a short purple wrap skirt, my boots, jacket, a wide-brimmed hat and my money belt, my sole remaining possessions on this pilgrimage across France.
My hysteria attracted a small crowd, which was what I wanted since I didn’t know how to resolve my own crisis. Within a day, the entire town of Manciet knew of my distress, and an effective few rallied to my aid. I even saw an elderly gentleman in matching pale blue slacks, sweater and cap combing back streets and ditches with his cane. I was at the time driving around checking dumpsters with three joke-cracking gendarmes.
I left Manciet two days later with a full heart and pack – a t-shirt and toothbrush, not to mention almost-free food and lodging from Monique, trousers and a mini rucksack from Colette, a guide from Jacques and a notebook and pen from George. I don’t initiate the story of the theft, but it precedes and follows me along the way. Many kind pilgrims have reached into their packs and pulled out clothes or gear they saw I needed, and gîte owners have insisted on giving me food or discounts. What’s more, those girls playing at the fountain found my iPod in the grass. The thief, who was seen grabbing the pack and getting into his buddy’s car, must have dropped it out of the pack in his rush.
Because of all this extraordinary goodwill and grace, it took about three days for outrage to set in. What’s gained by the theft of a pilgrim’s pack? Not much I’d guess.
This is what is lost:
- Changes of shirt, panties, bra and socks. Any pants at all. Shower sandals.
- Two beautiful dresses (one, due to the shopping spree, new with embroidered lace, the other a hand-fitted favorite).
- The medical aids to care for blisters, etc., sunscreen.
- Obscure herbal meds for keeping stable with celiac disease.
- All toiletries and my natural-products, no-animal-testing makeup.
- Tampons and pads at the relevant moment on the weekend when all shops were closed. (Review item one.)
- Mementos, patches of countries across oceans, the knife found on Mt Baker, the pill tin from Uzbekistan, a favorite necklace of no real value, the scallop shell from the Amis de Saint Jacques in Le Puy.
- Cool, well-used gadgets, solar light, silk bedsheets, etc.
- A $300-three-years-ago computer, not worth much except to me!!!!! Yes, I have backups, but I could choke at the loss of recent writing, research and beautiful photos
- Time sitting in hostels and sports bars, coaxing weak wifi to cooperate for calls to banks and changes of dozens of passwords.
- Money, I needn’t bother tallying the cost of replacing necessities because I can’t even withdraw money anymore without a hoopla of security measures, so I have in hand just enough for a few days food and lodging at a time.
- My journal and about two dozen written and mostly stamped postcards and letters.
- Chèvre, may it spoil in their bellies, causing gaseous discomfort.
“How can you continue now?” a few hikers asked.
How could I not? Though I carried only a little, I felt the weight of each gift, of each kind word and prayer or request for prayer. I wasn’t just finishing the way for myself now. I was doing it for all those who helped me along the way. And, weirdly, I was also doing it for the thieves, whoever they are.
Today I have one day, 28 km, to go. I, personally, do not feel much kindness or mercy toward those thieves even now, but I know someone who does, someone who lost more than I did. So, God, if my journey or losses buy such favors, I ask for those thieves the strength to resist future evil impulses, the hunger for good and lives of renewed joy, generosity, freedom and lightness of being.