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My Camino in a Nutshell

MichaelM1986

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances, 2019
Everybody writes a note when they return from the Camino, it seems. After my wife and I arrived in Santiago, we went to confession. My penance was to share a story of the Camino. I started writing about every day and every detail, but I don’t think anyone wants to read that. Let me share with you the lessons I learned and the more important points…

I read an article in The Herald Sun about lessons that the author learned while walking the Camino Frances. I will be borrowing – and expanding upon – some of the author’s ideas. Quite honestly, they worded everything so well that I found myself unable to think of many things better – it seems that many pilgrims learn the same lessons.

The first lesson I learned is to find meaning in suffering. In my past, there was a time when I was angry at God, and I didn’t know if I believed in Him anymore. Why? Well, it was the age-old question of “why do bad things happen to good people?” We all have our crosses, and I didn’t understand why myself or any others should have to bear them. I needed proof that there was a God. I bought “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel and thumbed through it. I bought a book describing other religions, and entered myself into this realm of discovery. I took what the Dalai Lama said to heart - that Westerners have “blind faith” - that we never discover for ourselves why we believe what we believe. Essentially, that we inherit our beliefs from childhood and never question them.

Time went by, and what really struck me was something that I read or heard, I can’t remember which… It stated that Jesus knew we would suffer before we were even born and that He, too, suffered on the cross. He, too, thought God had abandoned Him in His time of need. Moreover, He gave His mother, Mary, to us to aid in our troubles and to comfort us. After all, who doesn’t want their mother when they are hurting?

Something about this clicked, and my faith came back around.

Before my wife and I left for the Camino, we took prayer intentions of friends and family. That is, we had them write down what they want us to walk for (since they wouldn’t be there themselves), and we would carry these intentions with us on The Way. During times when we were literally horizontal on a bed, ridden with difficulties and crying, stating “this is just too hard”, the journey was made a little more doable by the fact that we were walking not just for ourselves, but for others. We were privileged in that we were able to do this trip. We had our health, our own two feet, time, and other blessings that allowed us to do this. When we arrived at the Cruz de Ferro, or the Iron Cross, we wrapped the intentions around two stones and left them at the base. We continued carrying the intentions in our hearts until the end, but we left them – symbolically and physically – at the foot of the cross.

“The journey is the destination” is a much-overused phrase. Until this trip, I wasn’t able to slow down much mentally and enjoy the moment-to-moment experience that is the present. It still doesn’t come easy for me, and when I try to do mindfulness meditation, my mind wanders almost constantly. It’s fine, but I noticed that my mind would wander when I would be walking. I’d be walking through a beautiful scene and notice that I hadn’t been present for the last ten minutes! I was able to “catch” myself after a while, and nudge myself into the present moment and the surroundings. This had many benefits – I was able to enjoy the rolling green hills, the mountains, the mist in the valleys, the sound of bells around cow’s necks, the sound of sheep, and many other experiences.

What the Camino was truly about is multifaceted. It was about, yes, simply a journey - a trip that I’ve wanted to take for nine years, and the fact that I was able to cross it off my bucket list was one aspect. Another was that of enjoying the company of my wife. We have been married for a tender year and a half, and it was said that if we could make it through this, we’d make it through the next 50 years of marriage no problem. It was a journey for us as a couple.

And it was about friendship and fellowship. You meet so many people along the way – some fleeting, some lasting. More on that in a minute… It was, finally, about the experiences including drinking café con leche after café con leche, stopping in every church we found along the way, the bland food consisting of tortilla (an egg and potato dish), croissants, and orange soda. It was about the fact that nothing is ever open when you need it to be. It was about the fact that your feet hurt, and your most important worries were your physical condition, knowing where you can eat, and knowing where you’re going to sleep. It was about having no privacy whatsoever – with the exception of a shower or bathroom stall – in one of the many albergues, and the horrendous snoring that went with it. It was about the fact that every time we were forced to stop because of illness or injury, we would find ourselves in a Pilgrim’s Mass, and our spirits would be rejuvenated. It was about exploring the MANY towns we stopped in and passed through, and it was made sweeter by the company we shared.

One of the most astounding things about our trip is the following… Grace and I met many people, some we’d never see again, others we’d see occasionally, and others we would see frequently. Towards the beginning of our trip, we met Emma from Canada, Micki from Chicago, Cosmin from Italy, and this crew grew larger by the week, it seemed. We would run into them occasionally here and there, always greeted by a friendly, drawn-out “HEYYYYY!” We would then bid eachother “Buen Camino” and be on our way. As Grace and I were walking into Santiago, the strangest thing happened. I felt as if a dark cloud was over me, and I wasn’t enjoying the last part of the walk at all. All I wanted was to get to Santiago so it could be over. I didn’t want to stop and smell the roses, and I opted to walk past the Monument to the Pilgrims, not something I normally would have done. This feeling eventually lifted as we grew closer and closer to the cathedral, and when we were close, the scene became a beautiful experience…

Grace and I were walking hand-in-hand down the stairs on the side of the church, about to spill out into the plaza in front. There is a bagpiper to our left, welcoming us here, and a couple gives us a head nod and a friendly clapping of hands to salute us on our job well done. We turn into the square and see it – the front of the Cathedral of St. James. Grace bursts into tears and we embrace. The lady that was cheering us on walked by us and said, “I know, me too!” She, too, was crying. We sat down and took a second to marvel at the sight, and at what we had just accomplished. In that moment, I was filled with such love and respect for my wife. She had endured so much on that trip, and she made it. WE made it. As we’re sitting there, our friend Mary walks up to us, who we hadn’t seen in some time. “MARY!” I said. She told us that some friends of hers were going to be walking in any moment, and a few minutes later, they came – it was all of our friends, arms linked – Emma from Canada, Micki from Chicago, Cosmin from Italy, and a host of others. I waved at Micki, she waved back, and the square turned into one giant party. We all hugged, emotions ran high, and we marveled at the sight in front of us. After taking some pictures and talking, they were still going strong. Grace and I chose to pull an Irish exit without saying goodbye, so we wouldn’t disturb them and because we were ready to go. I didn’t know if we’d ever see them again, but lo and behold…

Grace and I went to visit the tomb of St. James later that day, and we saw another lady whose acquaintance we had made previously. We didn’t get enough time at the tomb, so we figured we’d come back in a couple days and take a longer moment to enjoy the sight, and give meaning to the experience.

We went back a couple days later. We snuck in the exit to the tomb because we didn’t want to “hug the apostle”, as they call it that precedes the tomb, because it took a while and we had done it once. We are standing there, in the back, enjoying the sight when Micki and Cosmin walk down the stairs. Cosmin walks over to me to give me a “bro-handshake/hug” and I gave him a big hug instead. I hugged Micki, as well, and that moment meant everything to me. As I hugged my friends, I see the tomb of St. James over their shoulder. Here we were… previously strangers, now friends that had walked hundreds of miles to be in this exact place, in front of our friend St. James the Apostle.

We caught up outside and we were able to swap Facebook information, and I’m sure we will be in touch throughout our lives.

The Camino was beautiful for so many reasons. My routine consisted of an audio rosary in the morning, followed by a religious musical score or two, and some rock music to give me energy later in the afternoon. Grace and I would talk, and then fall back. Talk, and then fall back. Rinse and repeat. You fall into a rhythm out there that is unlike anything experienced here, in our “normal lives”, so to speak. As much as we loved it, and as much as we cursed it – especially the long, desolate, and hot section in the middle known as the meseta – we are already (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) talking about going back.

As the cab driver said on the way to the airport, “I want y’all to remember this conversation. Mark my words, you’ll be back.”
 

NorthernLight

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Le Puy to Santiago via the Frances 2012-2013. EPW2015
Aragonese & Frances 2016
Burgos to Muxia 2017
Welcome and congratulations!

Nice report. 🍷
 

Derrybiketours

A journey of 500 miles begins with one step!
Camino(s) past & future
SJPdeP-FIN(09/2018)
PORTO-SANT(11/2018)
Caminho Da Fe(01/2019)
SJPdeP- SANT(09/2019)
Madrid(7/2020)
Interesting and thank you for sharing, I'm a little confused about what you mean by the following...

Grace and I chose to pull an Irish exit
Being a proud Irishman would you care to elaborate 🤠
 

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