Yesterday I went for a walk with Phil. The same Phil I had gone to Santiago to meet and walk with at the end of his Camino. We are now both in the UK and this was a more sedate walk than we had done in Spain. 1 hour into town, a coffee in a well known outlet, then an hour walking back. One of Phil’s Camino buddies might have been there too, but they had to fly back to Oz at short notice.
This prompted me to write the second part of my Camino blog.
The thing that most struck me about yesterday was how it felt orchestrated by a higher power. Ever since I submitted my life to Jesus he has done this in the things that happen in my life, but yesterday also had clear signs of it being for Phil (and me) a continuation of all that he has been experiencing the last two months. Coincidental happenings that prompted him to be able to tie up loose ends of things God had been saying to him and opportunities to express things he needed to express, understand things he needed to understand.
The four days we walked from Santiago to Finisterre were in the company of two people who had become good friends of Phil’s – and now mine as well. Tanya (who had arrived on the Camino on the same day as Phil back in St Jean in France) and Philippe (who had walked all the way from his parents’ home in Geneva and connected with Phil and Tanya and a wider group of fellow pilgrims as they walked on). They, like almost everyone we met, both have interesting stories and reasons they stepped out of their usual lives and went somewhere completely different for a few weeks. But, as I am sure you will understand, their stories are for them to tell in ways they want and at times that work for them. It is not my place to blog their journeys into the share-o-sphere. That would be to devalue the friendship and the miles walked together. What is shared on the Camino stays on the Camino…
But my story I can tell.
It is said that the first few days on the Camino that you meet the thing that you most need to confront and deal with. Some use the phrase, “meet your demon”. Something about the physical challenge, the fact you have to walk with others and choose to either engage in friendship or deliberately avoid it, the discomfort of the dormitories at the albergues (including the perennial stories of trying to avoid the bedbugs by reading up on the reviews on the Camino apps about which hostels are hosting them and which do not), trying to get your diet right (green peppers for breakfast!? Dont ask!), carrying a backpack (which always feels lighter than usual at the beginning of the day), the beauty of the surroundings (although that is tempered somewhat if it starts to rain heavily) and, most of all, the spiritual heritage that has been walked deep into this path by countless believers (and unbelievers and loads of believers in all sorts of “interesting” stuff!) over the past 1000 years! Spiritual beings stalk this path. The living God is there, but so are many other things.
One of my moments came during the last part of my second day of walking. The weather was very misty and drizzling on and off all day. The albergues were not evenly spaced along our route and so this was a day where it made sense to walk 35kms. This was a distance I have walked many times in the past, but I am in my fifties now and had two lots of stents put into my heart in 2014. Will I be fine? Yes of course. When at home I walk almost every day for an hour. The first day out of Santiago we walked 20km and I had felt wonderful all day. Maybe the backpack was a bit heavier than I had intended but it was warm and I had to take off my layers and carry them rather than wear them. But, end of day one I was very confident my health was good. Day two started the same. Up hill. Down hill. Coffee stops. Off we go again. 2kms more to the next break. Then the rain set in. Actually it seems it is another 2kms. Where is the next coffee stop? We’ve already walked 25km today and I am a bit weary and could do with a break and some late lunch. But I am feeling ok. So we are going to stop here. Great. Let’s have a sandwich. Get this backpack off and put the sticks down. Oh, I feel a bit damp. Some of it is rain and some sweat. Hope I don’t cool down too much over lunch.
After the break we got going again but I instantly felt tired. My body had cooled down and so I set off walking expecting to slowly warm up. But, just at the point when I thought my body was warm and I could go a bit faster, I felt it. My heart. It was simply saying, “I don’t really want to do any more today please. Worked hard already. Done a full day’s work. Now I’m tired. Can’t we just stop.”
Now that was all very well but we had 10km more to do. My heart was aching and racing and I knew I had to stop. But if I did the others would disappear over the horizon. Hmm. Choices. Stop for a bit and try to recover. Then I tried to get going but instantly felt the limiter cut in again. And then a quiet voice, “Really stupid to die like this!” Hmm. Yes it would be. Wonder if I have another solution. Ring a taxi? Hmm. Just go dead slow. Next time the others pause they will notice. They will either wait or they won’t. Just go at the pace you can. Oh how I hate the fact that I cannot do what I used to be able to do without thinking!
Eventually Phil noticed. Paused. Carried the red rope for me. Went slowly with me until we were past the uphill stretch. It was alright. No big crisis. But that is not how it plays out in my mind. While I was in that place it was an eternity…. considering my mortality!
I would love to do a full Camino one day. Maybe in 20km segments! In the meantime I live my life with the humbling thoughts of those few minutes resonating. I may be home but I realise that I have done a Camino, even if quite a short one. I have met, as others do, the main challenge of this part of my life and had to start understanding and overcoming it. In this (physical strength and ability) as in so much else I have had to learn to allow God to show me how to walk at the right pace for this season off my life. Not to do nothing and stay home. Not to try anymore to keep up with the mad pace of everyone else and kill myself prematurely. But, instead, to take on His light yoke and tick along at His pace for me. To get there in the end is a reasonable goal; even if it’s a while after others and feeling a good deal more exhausted! Then get up next morning (after a good meal, good company, a few laughs and a good nights sleep) and be wonderfully surprised that you feel good as new and ready to walk again. New every morning…. as they say.
The experience is a “lesson” I need for life and not just for the Camino. As Shakespeare would have said if he had been on the Camino, “All the world is a Camino!”