If I’ve ever felt elated, it was the morning I stepped out into the crisp, dry air of the mountain village of O’Ceibreiro and walked along with the sunrise beside me, waves of valley fog below me, and the soft thud of my walking sticks on frozen ground.
They say enlightenment comes from mountain tops. I felt so darned happy. Present.
The night before had been musical serendipity. In the massive municipal albergue, with its wide kitchen and eating area, tables were filled with different groups speaking different languages. Louise and I ate our snacks and were joined by man and his ukulele. (Later I learned his name was David who is a Jewish Canadian.) Given the ruckus, no one batted an eye when he started strumming and singing to himself. He chose “Alleluia” by Leonard Cohen and I started singing with him. Louise did too.
Within a half hour, our table was filled with singers from Scotland, New Zealand, Ireland, and France. We would call out songs at random to see if he had the chords on his iPhone. The Scotsmen did a rousing rendition of a patriotic song (which represents their opposition to British rule) and they sang it with passion. We mumbled through a few verses of Blowin’ in the Wind and You are My Sunshine.
All the while, we were getting occasional looks from people at other tables. Our French friend requested one in her language since her English was poor. We came up with La Vie en Rose. Although David had the chords and lyrics, and we sang with all the gusto of Edith Piaf, we lost the melody at the end of the refrain – all of us together. So, laughing, we skipped it and went back to the beginning a few times.
Noticing the looks again from other tables, I motioned to the table of eight or so Spanish cyclists. “A vosotros, ahora!” I called cheerfully and waved them on. They demurred, so we sang another rambling 60s folk tune. When I again encouraged the cyclists to sing something, they rose to the occasion. You could almost see the machismo rise when they all agreed on Volare à la the Gispy Kings. They were fabulous! We all cheered and applauded.
After that success, we tried to get a small table of young Koreans to sing, and they laughed, covered their faces, and shook their heads. Apparently showing off is a cultural thing.
Although we sang well into what should have been quiet time, the best was yet to come. Our group broke apart, thanking David for being the catalyst for the evening’s fun. I went to bed to write in my journal when I heard opera.
Was someone singing in the shower? I grinned at the thought.
But it continued.
So I got up and wandered toward the source of the lovely tenor melody, being sung in Spanish or maybe Italian.
An older Spanish man stood in the kitchen with a rapt audience all around him. People crowded the door to see and listen, so I could only see the top of his head.
I like to think that our earlier amateurish, but enthusiastic singing encouraged this man to show us how it could be done. His solo voice was rich, passionate, and transcendent. He must have once been a professional; his voice never faltered and it was pure beauty. The cheers when he was done could not have been more gracious or enthusiastic.
Later, I awoke at 3am to complete stillness, despite 100 people sleeping in this one room. Returning from the restroom, a tall window revealed to me a radiant moon beaming light in and wisps of fog racing past backlit by the moon. Crystal clarity. Pure happiness. Utter peace. There I was, exactly where I was supposed to be.
Which is why, the following morning I was floating on air, feeling so present and happy. Shared song is Church for me; it awakens my senses, it travels the depths, and heals me to my core.
So thank you, David and my eclectic international singers. Thank you, Spanish cyclists and the operatic tenor. Your voices helped me find my own truth on the top of the mountain.