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Sitting Alone with Unamuno
Stump’s Travel Log — Last Day Alone
I’m sitting in a rustic room of a “casa rural” about five miles from the city of Bilbao. It’s another day of rest for me — and thankfully too, as it has been raining hard all day. I skirted the rain yesterday, but there were very muddy and slippery trails left in the wake of earlier rains. Today gives the chance for my body to rest and shoes to dry.
I’m conscious of the fact that the people of Florida are wetter than I am, and needing to deal with more than mud. I hope we might come to their aid, and in doing so help them see the inhumanity of looking the other way, of crossing to the other side of the road, of sending the problem to another state, when people are desperate and in need of help. But I digress.
Today is the last day of Phase II of my trip — the solo part. It’s been… what is the date? Sept 29, my phone says (I’m not sure I could have guessed within three days!). It’s been 19 days since I entered this Phase when I bid my BioLogos colleagues adieu as they exited a bus a few stops before I did. Since then I’ve talked to a few people briefly (and often in a language I don’t really know). But mostly I’ve been on my own, wandering and wondering. Melancholy runs pretty deep in me, and that’s a natural fit for solitude. And I’ve seen some remarkable things during this time. But despite those positives, I wouldn’t wish for another day of it. As I write, my good wife is boarding a plane to head this direction. If all goes well (her plane does have to get around a hurricane somehow), I’ll meet her at the airport in Bilbao tomorrow, hoping that the way I look and smell after 19 days of solo travel in less than pristine conditions doesn’t scare her off! Thus will begin Phase III of this trip, during which we walk and experience more of the Camino together.
According to my watch that tracks such things, I’ve logged about 94 miles of walking so far. It should be right at 100 by the time I make it to the airport tomorrow. My trek will pass through the Plaza de Unamuno tomorrow morning, which I’m really looking forward to. If you’re not up on your early 20th century Spanish philosophy, Miguel de Unamuno is one of the high points on that landscape. His book, The Tragic Sense of Life is one of my all time favorites (I suppose that goes with the streak of melancholia). Sitting in my rustic room out of the rain this afternoon, I found a way to send the Project Gutenberg file of that book to my Kindle and started reading it again. The book as a whole is about trying to reconcile the longing of the heart for immortality with what reason tells us is probably true about the world and our existence. Unamuno is one of these passionate Spaniards (and doubly so because he was born to Basque parents), and won’t give much credence to those who think reason gets the final say on everything. In anticipation by 100 years of the work of Jonathan Haidt, Unamuno says it is our feelings that determine our ideas, rather than the other way round.
In the first chapter of the book, which I just read (for at least the fifth time), Unamuno quotes Bishop Butler, who really insightfully (I think) says that the existence of an afterlife and immortality is no more in rational conflict with atheism than is the existence of this current life. That is a really under-appreciated insight (or feeling), that points to the insufficiency of science and reason alone to answer the question, “why is there anything, rather than nothing?” (And don’t let the Lawrence Krausses of the world persuade you that they have shown how to get something from nothing… it turns out you have to have a very pregnant kind of nothing to get something from it!).
OK, most of you who signed up to read this newsletter didn’t do so for such musings… but there’s not much else going on today. Just this:
I’m not sure how regular I’ll be writing this during Phase III… That seems to be more the kind of thing you do when you’re by yourself instead of in the company of your beloved. But I’ll try to let you know occasionally that we’ve not fallen off the edge of the earth.