The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling June 12, 2015
These were the words of assurance that our Andaspain guides spoke to us. We were five new pilgrims, who had come together to walk the last 100 kilometers (or 70 miles) of the Camino de Compostela de Santiago in Galicia Spain. We were joining six other pilgrims who had signed on to "walk every inch" of the Camino (or 500 miles). All you need to do is just "take one step at a time" they said. Even more importantly (in my opinion), they advised us to walk at our own pace, neither slowing down nor speeding up to accommodate the pace of others. One step at a time, at my own pace, one foot in front of the other. I can do this!
And I did. We all did. Not perfectly, not easily, and not without pain. Interestingly, Anda comes from the Spanish word andar which means "to walk." You walk Spain with Andaspain; funny how they forgot to mention the last four letters of Andaspain! Walking for long hours can be painful, and we each walked with our own pain. We all carried baggage, literally and figuratively. Our aches and pains came in various sizes and shapes, and affected different parts of our bodies. Every day we applied remedies: compeed for the feet, braces for the knees, salonpas for the muscles, and walking sticks for the bodies. Cold rivers, warm baths, and hot showers gave relief. Companionship and laughter ease pain. There were many graces on the Camino.
We shared meals together. Often we had picnic lunches on the Camino; and in one place, I tasted pulpo (octopus) for the first time. A cold cerveza or tinto verano at the end of the day's walk was a time to celebrate the day's journey. At dinner, we ate great Spanish food and drank great Spanish wine; we prepared for the next day's journey. Some of us slept well. And finally, in Santiago de Compostela, we toasted with champagne, celebrated mass in the Cathedral, and feasted on tapas of cockles, little necks, squid, steak, and patatas bravas. I can still see and taste the food.
It was glorious. The Camino experience was glorious for so many reasons, which is something I hate to admit. I'm always suspicious of those "things" that people talk about as "life changing" - as if it were something you had to do, or had to proclaim once you’d done it. Truth be told, the Camino definitely was not life-changing for me. Not even close. But it was glorious!
Why? Many, many reasons. First, and perhaps most importantly, I got to spend some time with my sister-in-law, Susan. We often didn't walk the Camino together or even sit together for meals, and yet, we had those important conversations somewhere and somehow along the Way to Santiago. We talked to people and shared our stories; every pilgrim is a potential new friend. We shared silence and solitude. From a distance, we saw life and family and vocations and vacations in new and old ways. We were walking, limping, and bouncing along the Way, alone and together, one step at a time, at our own pace. It was painful, and it was glorious, and as Susan said, it was healing. The Camino opens your mind and your heart.
To speak about beauty, in the natural and spiritual worlds, is to speak about what it means to be human. Everybody has pain; some suffer more than others. To be a pilgrim means letting go of baggage, packing lightly, walking humbly, praying peacefully, and being grateful for everything you receive on the Way. Life is good, even when it's hard.
For me, taking one step at a time on the Camino, at my own pace, meant that I was making precious memories. I became even more aware of my privileges, attitudes, judgements, and choices. I was reminded of how much I enjoy my freedom, appreciate my solitude, and am deeply grateful for family, friends, and strangers. I like having companions, and times to share conversation, food and drink. I like how pilgrimages open me up to our common humanity and our beautiful diversity. We have so much to learn from one another and from God no matter how, or how much, or even where we walk the Way.
Yes, I want to remember my learning from the Camino: to walk one step at a time, and go at my own pace. There is no wrong way to walk the Camino. Eventually, we all get there! And, along the Way and at the End, there will be many more celebrations of life and love, and many more memories created. Of that I am certain. Buen Camino.