A St. Sebastian (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) parishioner completed the “Camino de Santiago hike,” some 482 miles, in Spain. It’s considered a spiritual pilgrimage. Thirty-two days of walking, walking and more walking. He shared some of his experiences on Facebook and I share some of them with you today.
What better image for our life’s journey and our faith journey than by walking, walking and more walking.
“The Basque have a saying, ‘Today it is you, tomorrow it is me’ meaning that you may need my help today but tomorrow I may need your help – so always prepare yourself to help somebody who may need help. I started my walk yesterday, it is part of my quest to find answers to life’s persistent questions. I arrived at the hostel to a wonderful meal which included nine other pilgrims from Italy, Ireland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, Canada and Florida. A very delightful and interesting group. I’m meeting kind, interesting people. The countryside is beautiful and I’m walking through charming medieval towns and villages. It’s a wonderful experience but my feet hurt a lot.
Sleeping in dormitories every night is an interesting experience. We soon become aware of our shared humanity, i.e. everybody starts smelling the same. I woke up this morning and a Spanish guy, about my age, was in the bed across the aisle from me. He comes over to me and says in very broken English, ‘you snore. You snore very loud. I didn’t sleep a bit. You should see a doctor.’ I was so embarrassed but I guess this is also a part of my journey of self-discovery.
“146 miles down and 336 miles to go. We walked 14 miles today and it was a very pleasant day for walking. I somewhere read that the Camino is like life – the first third is physical, the second third is mental and the last third is spiritual.”
I should stop right here and sit down. The first part of our lives is physical – we’re exhausted watching our children and their unbridled energy. The second part of our lives is mental – getting educated, finding a job, spouse, producing something of value for our society. The third part of our lives is spiritual – what it is (or what it was). The meaning and purpose of my life, did I make a difference here, what does the Creator think of His creation: me?
“The physical aches and pains are diminishing, the blisters are healing and the novelty of this experience is starting to wear off.” (Ain’t that the truth sometimes about life, the “novelty of this experience is starting to wear off!”) “I am now walking through a countryside that is beautiful but also somewhat monotonous. I’m walking mostly by myself today and it gave me a lot of time to think and reflect. I generally go a local cafe which offers a ‘pilgrim’s menu,’ three course meal for 10 Euros” (or about $10.77.)
Many people on the Camino are ‘in between’ different phases of their lives (like me.) I’ve gotten to know a young man only 17 years old – who lost both his parent during the past year. He said that his mother drank a lot and he doesn’t really know what his died from. He’s been in a lot of trouble and has spent time in juvenile detention facilities but now he is committed to turning his life around ‘for his mother’ and he thought walking the Camino was a good way to start. The stories and the people I meet are remarkable. I’m really enjoying this experience but my feet really hurt a lot today.
17 miles today, the longest walk we’ve done since we started. At times my feet were just throbbing, screaming for relief. But there is no relief, you just have to keep walking. A walker changed my nickname from ‘the guy from Wisconsin’ to ‘the guy with the silver feet’ because I’ve used duct tape to mend my wounded heels. Walking alone is a metaphor for life. We all really walk alone thorough life. But at the same time we’re also carried forward by the momentum of the other walkers. There were times today when I would have quit but I felt being pulled forward by the other walkers and so I kept walking. I walked for a short time with a young Christian. That guy’s suffered a lot of losses in his young life. He’s probably going to spend a lot of his early adult years trying to mend the various holes in his heart. But he seems like a pretty intelligent and sensible kid and he’s willing to talk about his experiences.
Oh no! I just saw the Spanish guy who complained about my snoring. He’s staying at the same hostel as me. What am I going to do? My feet hurt.
Day 10, it’s hard to believe that my adventure is already almost 1/3 over. It was a perfect day for walking, not a cloud in the sky and it was pleasantly cool after the sun came up. I walked for a while with an older guy named Tommy from Ireland. I didn’t have too much to say but he sure did. You know how those Irish can be. He quit his job and is now walking the Camino to figure out what he wants to do next. He thought the Camino wold be a physical challenge, and it is, but he soon discovered that he was getting so much more out of it.
It got me thinking. We are all struggling and striving for something but often we don’t know what it is. Poor people have to strive and struggle to survive. Refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. But a lot of us don’t know what it is we are striving for. Look at me – I’m striving to get to Santiago and I feel a certain compulsion to ‘stay on schedule.’ I have to remind myself that the point of this adventure is not the destination but the journey. Perhaps there is something intrinsic in being a human being that compels us to search, explore and reach beyond ourselves. Perhaps this is how we collectively co-create the future. I hope that one outcome of this Camino is that I will be deliberate and intentional about the future that I want to create. It’s a wonderful experience but my feet hurt a lot.
Day 14 it rained all day but no problem, you just keep walking. We ended up walking 19 miles to a one closed hostel town so I had to trudge on for another three miles to get to this town. This will be a short post this evening. I’m really pooped. I was glad to see that the Packers beat the Raiders. Go Pack Go.
I’ve encountered so many interesting people on this walk and everyone is so nice. Maybe if you just get away from the demands of daily life, it is easier to be nice. Or maybe after a day of walking, a person is too tired to be anything other than nice.
The Camino is a metaphor for life. Sometimes life sends you blessings – tender mercies – in the form of friends but for the most part you walk alone.” That should become a Hallmark card!
“While walking today, a walker made the comment that ‘this is not real’ meaning life on the Camino – the simplicity of it all, people being nice to each other and being so close to nature. And I thought ’no’ it is not real but what would it take to make it more real in my life – to live a life that was less chaotic, closer to nature, more attentive to the people around me? It is remarkable to note that millions of people have walked this path before me. I guess the idea of pilgrimage started as way for people, living in the medieval times, to ‘earn points’ with God. ‘I do this for you, God, and then maybe you’ll do a few favors for me.’ I don’t think it works like that. I don’t think you can negotiate with God. but I understand the impulse. Today toward the end of my walk, I was thinking that I can just push myself to exhaustion, then may I can unload some of the baggage I’ve been carrying around – my regrets, my anxieties, my worries, my insecurities. Let’s see if we can make a miracle happen.
Day 20 and we covered 15.9 miles but most of the walk was downhill. Let me tell you – walking downhill is a lot harder than walking up hill. It was steep with lots of rocks. We climbed almost a mile and then descended for about two miles. Plus, I developed a new blister on my big toe, and then of course there were these annoying young people who pass you on the trail walking effortlessly. We’ve also had our first meet with bed bugs. Two friends were afflicted. While I feel sorry for them, I hope that is the closest those little buggers get to me. That’s all for today – I’m exhausted, my legs are killing me. I’m going to bed but only after having two more glasses of wine.
Here’s my big insight for the day – nothing is urgent. When I’m at home, I felt it was really important to stay on top of current events but you know it really doesn’t matter. Sometimes our tendency to keep up with the minutiae of daily life is really a means for us to avoid being alone with ourselves or being present to others. I’ve been totally oblivious of news in Milwaukee, the states and even internationally. Despite that, the world is rolling along just fine without my personal attention. Someone, please let me know if I’m mistaken on that observation.” Absolutely not, you are not mistaken.
“Today is my 18th wedding anniversary. To my wife, I hope that your life with me was everything that you hoped it would be. But wait! There’s more to come.
I met a guy from Poland today who told me I look just like Steven Spielberg and that he really likes my movies. I told him not to tell anyone that he saw me. I’m trying to keep a low profile.
You tend to notice things more when you spend a lot of time walking alone. The crunch, crunch, crunch of your feet walking on mostly gravel footpaths. The tap, tap, tap of my walking sticks in sync with my walking; in the evenings the babble of many languages or you could call it the ‘sounds of humanity’; in the mornings the coughing, yawning, burping, farting, zipping and unzipping. I guess these too are the ‘sounds of humanity.’ Then there’s the accordion player in the plaza, church bells ringing, cow bells from cattle, sheep or goats, babbling brooks, the morning rooster, birds singing and the sounds of raindrops bouncing off my raincoat.
Day 32 and I return home, somewhat reluctantly. I’m really glad that I did this trip. I hope that I can apply some of the lessons learned to my life back home. One change that I want to make is to do things more slowly and deliberately. The efficient way is not always the best way. Walking, biking is good for the soul and also good for other reasons. I have a few other ideas of things I want to change… but those will require some negotiation with my wife.”