Preface: if you don’t know what the Camino de Santiago de Compostela is, stop reading this and go watch the movie “The Way”. If that’s too intense prep in order to just read a blog post, then check out wikipedia
I don’t know where to start, but I know I need to write about my Camino.
Let’s start here.
On May 8th, 2017, I started walking; on June 2, 2017 I stopped. The space in between is where life happened. The Camino taught me that. Life happens. Life is always happening. There is no pause button on living. No matter what you do. Life. just. keeps. going.
I walked the Camino with my good friend Meredith. She and I….she and I are as alike as granite and daisies. Somehow though, we became friends. Sometimes our differences make it more difficult for us to understand each other. Other times our differences allow us to accomplish twice as much. Our strengths balance us out. The Camino was a forge for my friendship with Meredith. We went through fire, but we went through it together and we came out the other side with a friendship that has welded us together. I will always be friends with Meredith. I thank the Camino for that. And I thank Meredith, for asking me to go on the Camino with her.
I am still in the process of discovering all that the Camino taught me. Writing this is a part of that. It will take some time to process. I take time to process things. The Camino taught me that. Also, it taught me that it is okay to be me. No, that’s not quite right. The Camino taught me that it is wonderful to be me! That there is nothing better or more perfect for me to do than for me to be me! The Camino taught me how to be myself, to be unashamedly myself, to be more myself than anything ever has. Me all the time, with anyone, anywhere. God made me to be me and God only makes good things, so, the more “me” I am, the better of a person I will be. The more “me” I am the more content I will be. The more “me” I am the more I reflect the God in whose image I was made.
So…What does “being me” look like in real life? Well that means I tell dad jokes with no shame, I laugh like a donkey, and I take pictures of beautiful things. It also means I swear more, cry more, and am more open with my emotions. That is how I was made. I am a woman full of deep feelings. When I hold them in, they char my insides; when I let them out, I am a more healthy person. I am the person I was made to be!
Some of the things I discovered about myself along the way happened during my interactions with others. Spontaneous heart to hearts with strangers were common on my Camino. Other times I discovered things about myself in the silent times when I was walking alone. Silence is scary, but I need to have it in my life. Especially the scary silence. When the silence is scary, I need to confront that scary silence head on. If I don’t, the scary part just gets worse. I have often kept noise (music, podcasts, Netflix) in my life to avoid being alone with the scary thoughts in my head. The thing about scary silence is that…it’s a part of me. If the silence is scary, it’s because there is something in that silence about me that I can’t handle. My Camino taught me to confront that and learn from it. I am stronger and wiser for it.
Along the Camino, being alone was a choice. Most of the time there were other pilgrims around and I was pleasantly surprised by how many of those pilgrims became my friends. Some even became close enough that we call ourselves “Camino Family” I discovered that friends come from the people you happen to walk beside and the people you happen to stop by. Sometimes it seemed as though we had nothing else in common other than that we were walking at the same pace. I struck up a conversation with, Delphin, a man from Leon, Spain who had done 33 Caminos and only spoke Spanish. We had a conversation in my broken Spanish and took this picture:
On the Camino, I met people from Mexico, Australia, China, Korea, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Brazil, Spain, USA, Argentina, France, England, Ireland, Canada, Denmark, and more I’m sure. I met married couples, children, retirees, and college students. All sorts of people all on their own walk. A certain group of these people became close enough to call them “Camino family.” My family was made up of Melina from Argentina, Denise from the USA, Laura from Germany, Rainer from Germany, Ramon from Spain, Jose from Spain, Javi from Spain, and Tania from Canada. My Camino would have not been the same without each and every one of them. Here are photos of my three “Camino Families”:
My Camino Families taught me a lot about community, about what it means to care for other people, about sticking together, and about accepting help. I have always been a very independent person. Accepting help is hard for me; asking for help is downright terrifying. I could have done the Camino alone. I could have completed the mileage alone; I am capable. However, that’s not what my Camino was supposed to be about. My Camino was about learning the value of accepting help. Accepting help is still scary for me. Now I know, though, accepting help is giving love. Accepting help is allowing another person inside my shell. Good people recognize this and are honored when I let them in.
Speaking of shells…mine has been rather thick for most of my life. Much of the healing I have done over my life has been to chip away at my shell. Sometimes it grows back. Sometimes it shrinks. The Camino helped get rid of more of mine. My shell is about safety. When you get hurt a lot, you get scared. I have been hurt a lot so that makes me scared. Being in a shell is safe. Being in a shell is lonely. The Camino taught me that the pain of being outside my shell is worth the risk. Yes, I will be hurt. I know that. Hurt is inevitable in this life. On the other hand, I will have much greater joys than I ever could hiding inside where it is safe.
Not all the lessons I learned on the Camino were introspective. Some had more to do with the culture in which I was existing. The Camino is definitely its own culture and then, of course, are the various Spanish cultures. I learned a lot from both. Here are a few lessons:
- I ate well in Spain. Good cheese, meat, fruit, bread, wine, chocolate…the food was not complicated, but it was delicious. This taught me to work hard and eat well. Don’t deprive yourself of good food. Good food, good real food, brings great pleasure to life.
- Many people on the Camino had tan lines and scars. I have always been proud of my scars. On the Camino, I realized why. Tan lines and scars are stories of adventures.
- I had very few belongings on my Camino, just what fit in my backpack. So I was very deliberate about what I brought and how I took care of it and of how I took care of myself. It wasn’t complicated, but it was important to realize. I needed to appreciate the simple things, if things are quality, they need not be fancy to be wonderful.
- I didn’t learn a ton of Spanish in Spain, but I learned enough to learn this. In Spanish, “esperar” means “to wait” and it also means “to hope”. The Camino taught me that the passage of time never needs to be passive. Waiting is never just waiting; waiting is an act of hope. Waiting is active. Hope makes it so.
- There were plenty of days where walking felt like a full time job. In a way, it was our job. Meredith and I both loved it, but some days it felt like the kilometers were endless. We never gave up and that is why we made it to Santiago. I realized that you will get there if you keep moving forward. Even if you feel like you are moving slow. Forward is forward. We were always walking forward. Slow or fast each step led us closer to our goal.
I know there is a lot more to my Camino, both internally and externally. While we were walking, we were already making plans about when to come back. While I am writing this, I am already thinking about other ways in which the Camino has affected me and is changing me for the better, even now, and now, and now. My Camino is in my heart; my head is still catching up, and my soul is already there, back in Spain, sandals on, backpack cinched tight, heart facing towards Santiago, face drinking in the sky.
My Camino, this Camino, will never be over, espero.