Having lived in the same town for 30 years, I am often running into people I know. The encounters go something like this: "Hi, Bernadette! How are you?"

In response to this greeting, I feel compelled to sustain a cheerful smile and reply, "Great! How are you?"

My problem is that, most of the time, I am not "great" -- and I'm not sure I want to be great. I prefer to be "fine."

Fine is my "sweet spot." If I am great, there is only one direction things can go, and I don't like going there.

For many, the holidays are tough to endure, and TV commercials add insult to injury. Everybody and everything looks "great!" But, really, whose house and table look like that? Whose family gets along seamlessly? I often wonder how many "takes" it takes to get commercials ready for viewing.

Last month, my husband Mike and I walked the Portuguese Camino de Santiago from Porto, Portugal, to Santiago, Spain. Annually, the Camino is hiked by more than 200,000 people from all over the world.

Along the trail, yellow arrows are painted on streets, sidewalks, walls, trees and light posts to show the way and keep pilgrims from getting off-course.

The week before we left, I was looking for something to focus on while we hiked. I came across this quote by Daniel J. Boorstin: "The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge." I decided that, while I followed the yellow arrows on the Camino, I'd keep my eyes open, mouth shut, and focus on discovering.

On day one, we were taking a break on a roadside. Two women from northern Europe came by and sat down to escape the heat. They disapprovingly questioned why our backpacks were light. We told them we had paid to have our things transported from one town to the next.

Most people walk the Camino carrying about 20 pounds. I had already done this on a previous hike, and my shoulders were not interested in repeating the experience.

I wasn't sure why the women objected to us lightening our load, but I decided to keep my mouth shut, stay in my sweet spot and stick with the decision to discover. It wasn't easy, because my nature is to explain myself!

On day three, we saw the women at a café. They had grown weary and were complaining about blisters.

On day five, while rounding the corner of a large vineyard, we spotted the two women again. They greeted us as if we were good friends. Smiling, they appeared 10 years younger and joyfully informed us they had arranged for their belongings to be transported.

My Camino discovery: At times, we all miss the yellow arrows and have to double back, check our illusion of knowledge and seek ways to unload the unnecessary burdens we carry.

In regard to Christmas, the "hap-hap-happiest time of the year," I wish I could say that the unnecessary burdens from TV commercials won't mess with my head, but I know they will. They always do.

But, I will double back to follow the yellow arrows that point to peace, love and simplicity. I'll focus on doing stuff that keeps me in my sweet spot until the holiday hike is over.

(Mrs. Bonanno attends St. Mary's parish in Albany. Contact her at