The Camino:  A Metaphor for Life

Part 2: Lessons and gifts from a moving village

In my last post, I described the concept of a “Moving Village” on the Camino. There are so many people that I met over the course of those 5 weeks that had a lasting impact on my life. I’d like to share the experiences I had with 5 wonderful people on my journey.

“For a few hours every day I did nothing but laugh.”

Let me tell you about Harry. But you can’t just say Harry. You have to get it right. You have to roll your Rs and soften you’re A, and if you don’t you’ll be corrected. Harry is from Scotland and most of the time I had no idea what he’s saying. (He will laugh if he reads this.) The first time I saw him, he was passing me on a huge climb coming out of Pamplona up to the top of Mt. Forgiveness. I noticed him because he’s got reddish hair and his face was very red and my first thought was to yell at him to put on a hat and apply sunscreen. But because he passed me so quickly I didn’t say anything. I ran into him later that night at dinner and we happened to be staying in the same place. We never walked together those first days but for 2 or 3 days we’d end up at the same hotel or café. And then suddenly I didn’t see him again. Then just as quickly as he disappeared he reappeared. We walked together for 3 or 4 days, just about the time I entered Galicia (sometime during the last week of the hike). I came to know that he is funny and kind and when I talked about Connor he’d get tears in his eyes. We talked about the importance of family and forgiveness. Those were good days. I didn’t get to see him in Santiago — he’d met up with friends from home so we missed each other. But I’ve since told him that on those days that we walked together I was able to really laugh out loud for the first time in a long time. For a few hours every day I did nothing but laugh. It was as if I had permission to laugh and it was a wonderful respite from reality, if only for a few hours a day. Harry is a treasure and I’ll see him again when I trek across Scotland.

Late in my second week of hiking, I came across 2 men who had stopped at some landmark for photos, so I offered to take their picture together. I learned that these 2 had just connected on this journey: Otto (from Canada) and Jose (from Brazil). We all kept walking and over the course of the next few days I saw them several times. We bumped into each other in Carrion where we happened to all be checking into the same hotel. Otto preferred to stay in the albergues because he enjoyed the interactions of communal living. He loved being connected to the community of the moving village. Jose, on this day though, needed a break from communal living in albergues and so they agreed to take the break and get a hotel with private rooms and private bathrooms. But Otto explained to me that that when Jose got back to Brazil he would have his wife there to meet him.

“The word is Saudade…. The love that remains after someone is gone.”

You see, Otto just lost his wife very unexpectedly. As he explained this to me, the pain in his eyes broke my heart. The only way to describe it is that his eyes were filled with an empty sadness. He had tears just waiting to roll down his cheeks. While the others were checking in, I told him about Connor and I told him about a Portuguese term that I use frequently. I love this word and I use it a lot when thinking about Connor. The word is Saudade. It cannot be translated into any other language. It refers to a melancholic longing or yearning and invokes a sense of loneliness and incompleteness. It also describes the love that remains after someone is gone. It carries with it the knowledge that the person might never return. The sadness and emptiness in Otto’s eyes were like a physical manifestation of this word and of how I feel all of the time. I saw Otto about every 3 or 4 days after that, and in fact he was the last person I saw from my Moving Village at the airport in Santiago. He had the same sadness in his eyes that day as the day I met him. Saudade. The love that remains. Otto is a person that I know I will stay connected to.

“I think she left The Camino knowing that she is in charge of her own destiny and that she has a voice and that it counts.”

About the same time I met Otto and Jose, I met 2 other people who became a very close part of my Moving Village. Bev from South Carolina and I crossed paths about every other day. We seemed to stay in the same hotels/pensions and over time ended up walking together. Bev is a quiet, unassuming woman. She calls herself a farmer, and she is a farmer, but she describes herself in such an unassuming way that unless you’ve spent time and talked with her you’d never guess all of her surprises. We walked together most of the days between Burgos and Leon and we talked about our lives at home and about our backgrounds. As a military brat, she has also moved all over the world and lived in odd places. And that’s how she describes it — very casually — “my dad was in the air force.”  Well it turns out that her dad wasn’t just in the air force. Her dad was a Brigadier General in the Air Force. And if you know anything about WWII history or aviation history, you’d probably know his name. He wasn’t just in the Air Force, he’s a legend. He was involved in aviation his entire life, was a test pilot and chief test pilot and conducted prototype testing for many of the aircraft that were eventually used in WWII. He was shot down over enemy territory in 1944 and was POW until 1945. When we met others on The Way that were or had been in the Air Force, they, of course, knew who her dad was. Bev came to The Camino with no expectations. She had a family member who invited her. She had not heard of The Camino prior to that and had no idea what to expect. I think she left The Camino knowing that she is in charge of her own destiny and that she has a voice and that it counts. She’s one of the most caring people I have ever met. I hope that she also left the Camino knowing that she’s made lifelong friends who love her. I was inspired just by watching her. She’s now a part of my permanent Moving Village.

“Because of her, there are days now where my hopelessness doesn’t quite feel as hopeless.”

The other person I met during this same time is Colleen from Australia. I met Colleen because she can’t read a map and gets lost. I was sitting at a streetside bar having afternoon wine (surprise) and she asked for directions. (I tell her now that I’m glad she can’t read a map, otherwise, we’d never have met.) I ran into her a second time about a week later when she was with a group of folks she’d been walking with. And then the 3rd time I met her — she was lost again. That’s the day we started walking together and we were together almost every day between Burgos and Leon. Colleen is kind. She’s the type of person that we all should be; the kind of person I would like to be. She’s your friend before you’ve met her. She’s got a wonderful innocence about her and has a joyful laugh that starts in the center of her belly and she laughs with her mouth wide open and loudly — just like Connor did.  She is one of 10 children and I know that some day I will show up to her crazy house and have the time of my life. Colleen’s Camino was a religious/spiritual journey and it was with her that I talked to most about these topics. Any time we walked with someone, Colleen would ask them if they believed in heaven. I loved watching the reactions of people and hearing their answers. When she asked me, my answer was an overwhelming yes! followed by “if I didn’t believe in heaven I would not be able to get out of bed every day.” And we talked about how it will be when I see Connor there one day. But the best question that she asked me was how I describe heaven. Colleen’s vision of heaven is clouds and angels and everything in white. I’ve never been asked to describe heaven but I didn’t hesitate when asked. My vision of heaven is a peaceful, green place outside, with big, blue skies and fields of grass and flowers, and everyone I’ve ever loved being right there with me. I laugh every time I remember Colleen’s reaction to my description. A green heaven was something that she’d not ever considered. Anyway, the best part of walking with Colleen was watching her complete and “out loud” faith in God. Because of her, there are days now where my hopelessness doesn’t quite feel as hopeless. And writing that just brought tears to my eyes. I can’t wait to see her again.

“Two hundred fifty miles behind me and two hundred fifty to go.”

Bev, Colleen and I spent days and days walking together across Spain. We talked about everything from the daily mundane parts of our lives to very spiritual discussions about God and guardian angels. We laughed and cried together and cheered each other on. I miss them. And I miss that time.

On October 1, after about a 13-mile easy trek, I walked into Sahagun, marking the official halfway point on The Camino Frances. Two hundred fifty miles behind me and two hundred fifty to go. It was a significant marker in this journey for me. It marked 3 weeks since I left home and 3 weeks until I was going home. It was the halfway point and just like in a marathon, once you’re past that halfway point you can begin to feel the finish line. But that day was also significant for several other reasons. And, I’ll share those with you in my next post.

Buen Camino, Friends!