Reflections along the Camino de Santiago
Nothing gets you closer to a stranger than walking with them for miles and sharing your lives. I learned this first hand along the way, I didn’t know Daniel, Dusty, Hugh, Justin, Sunnoh, or Zeb, but within a few days I did. How? We walked and talked for hours. I imagine this is how Jesus got to know his disciples so well—they spent hours on the road, talking and sharing their lives with each other.
There were no distractions on the Camino. No phones, no text messages, no internet, just the crunching noise of the road underfoot and the ambient sound of the birds and wind. Basic and simple. And quite conducive to sharing.
Christopher McDougall wrote a modern classic a few years ago called “Born to Run” in which he argued that running is natural and that we risk bad health if we don’t run. As someone who has run for over 35 years, I’d agree with that, but I would submit even more basic than running is walking. It’s about the first thing you learn as a baby. It’s foundational to being a human. And in America, sadly, we are cut off from walking. Our cars take us everywhere, and in buildings elevators, escalators and moving sidewalks do all the work for us. It should not be any surprise that our sedentary culture spawns a myriad of health issues.
On the Camino, it’s different, you have to walk.
The longest I’d ever walked in one day was about 16 miles when I hiked down a rainforest trail from the Continental Divide in Panama to the Caribbean. I was exhausted. Typically, my walking consisted of walking to and from my car or walking from the parking lot to work or a restaurant.
We left the mist and headed to El Burgo de Raneros some miles away. This pilgrimage would involve more walking than I’d ever done in my life. I spent hours talking and listening to the guys. I found out where they were from and what issues they were facing. I tried to listen a lot more than I spoke, something my parents taught me years ago.
People are open on the Camino.
Complete strangers who happen to walk by will start talking to you. If you ask them a simple question, “Why are you on the Camino?”, they will tell you—they hate their job, their girlfriend just dumped them, they lost a spouse, they are in transition, you name it and they will tell you. It’s amazing.
They may walk on, but you’ll see them time and time again. You’ll see them in cafes, in alburgues and about town. They will hale you and vice versa. You share a common bond, the Camino, and in some cases, a common faith. It is a wonder to behold.
They become your travelling partners and part of a living organism called the Camino. It is a bit like the “Cheers” title song—we all long for a place “where everyone knows your name”. Along the Camino, lots of people know your name and your story.
It is a mobile community and unlike any community I have ever been a part of.