The Camino Pt. 3: The Way's End
The Way Provides
On the Camino, pilgrims often say ‘The Way will provide’. We set out on the path searching, facing challenges both known and unknown, and as we walk, we receive many gifts. When I embarked on my Camino, I went in without expectation, all that I hoped for was an adventure. I set a goal to be as open as possible, to people, and to experiences. As a result, the Way did indeed provide, much more than I could have imagined.
Every time that I felt anxious or lost, someone would help me. When I ran out of water because my water bag broke, another pilgrim not only patched my bag, but gave me iodine tablets so I could replenish my water from a mountain stream. When I was hungry and couldn’t find a cafe, a stranger shared their snacks with me. When I felt overwhelmed because the trail became crowded, a friend took me to a secret waterfall away from all the people. Over and over again, the Way provided exactly what I needed, when I needed it. There is a special kind of magic in that.
Twilight on the Way
My last night on the Camino, I treated myself to a night at a lovely tiny Inn. I wasn’t really in the mood to go to dinner by myself, and to my delight, the owner of the Inn offered to drive me to the grocery store in town. It turned out, another group of the guests decided to do the same, and back at the Inn, we merged our food together for a lovely picnic. We invited the other couple staying at the Inn to join us and they contributed pizzas they had ordered. The six of us had a wonderful, intimate, enriching conversation over our shared meal as the sun set on Os Lambrans. It was an utterly perfect last night of my journey, another unanticipated gift of the Way.
I carried that magical energy into the next day, as I walked the last 25km into Santiago de Compostela. I thought that on my last day I would be sad it was almost over, but instead, I held every step in a place of great joy, overwhelmed with gratitude. When I walked into the square of the Cathedral de Santiago my eyes filled with tears when I saw my best Camino friend, Anke, who had been unable to finish due to injury, waiting there for me with open arms. She had come to Santiago four days early, and instead of going home to Germany, she waited for me to finish, because she felt her experience wouldn’t be complete otherwise. Yet another amazing gift.
Lessons from the Way
After I completed my Camino, I journaled and reflected on the lessons that I would take back with me that I felt were true not just of the Camino, but of life. I found that this journey ended up being much more philosophical than I initially anticipated, and so I wanted to share a few of those reflections with you:
1. Their pace is not your pace. Find your pace, find your peace.
Okay, so this is actually a quote from Lin Manuel Miranda, but it is also one of the most important lessons that I took from the camino. Some people are going to be faster than you, some people will be slower than you. It isn’t a race, trust your pace and you will get where you need to go.
2. Advocating for your own needs is healthy, not selfish.
So often in the 'real world' we end up doing things out of a sense of obligation even when there is a personal cost. I loved that on the Camino, everyone respected that we were all on our own journeys, and as such, we were all comfortable advocating for our needs, and were accepting of others doing the same. When our needs didn't align, we parted ways, without offense. It was incredibly freeing.
3. You never know how heavy someone’s pack is. Everyone carries their own burdens.
At the end of day 2, after about 27km, when the cobblestones were cutting into my feet like knives, I saw another pilgrim who looked like she was out for a lovely stroll. I was wildly envious of how easy it was for her. Later, we became friends, and I learned that she had been hurting too. I realized that despite appearances, you never know what someone’s burdens may be.
4. When you’re lost in your struggles, don’t forget to look up and see the beauty.
On the camino, I walked through crazy weather, and dealt with a fair bit of physical pain. In the times that I was really struggling, I'd instinctively look at my feet and I’d have to actively remind myself to look up. When I did, I saw lush, deep green nature, quaint charming towns, fields of wildflowers and crashing coastlines. When the struggle feels all-consuming, remind yourself to look for the beauty.
5. Friends can help distract you from your burdens, but sometimes, you have to walk alone.
I learned quickly on the camino that friends helped distract me from my pain. When I was really hurting but had someone to walk beside, the time moved more quickly and my injuries were easier to bare. But, I also treasured the time I spent alone. Being alone gave me the opportunity to work through my thoughts, and to follow my instincts without negotiation. Both experiences were critical.
6. Everything you need, you carry with you.
The camino was an amazing exercise in simplicity, and in learning to do with less. For three weeks, I carried a backpack that was the size of a carry-on suitcase. I had to be incredibly sparing with what I packed. There is something amazing about realizing what you truly need, and what weighs you down.
Finally, I’d like to share an insight from my friend Marina. The first day I met Marina, I asked her why she was doing the Camino, and she said she didn’t know and that she hoped she’d find out while she walked. When I asked her again at the end, she said:
‘I’ve learned that the Camino is like life. Sometimes it hurts, sometimes you struggle, sometimes you get a little lost. As long as you keep moving forward, you’ll get where you need to go, and the journey is always easier with someone to walk beside you.’
So keep moving forward, friends. Follow your pace, share your truth, find some friends to walk beside, and don’t forget to look up, you never know what you might see.