Hey there folks,
I’m currently in the midst of what I call a Dark Day – that is, where the depression seems stronger than normal. I’m literally sitting in an ivory tower, watching the pristine ocean fade away into nothingness, cold beer in hand: and I feel nothing.
Guess it’s time to write, eh?
As you recall, I am in the midst of giving my testimony to a group of college-aged kids in Chile. You can read the first part here and the second here. If that tickles your fancy, go ahead and give them a read, then return here for part three of the Limping Along series:
On Camino the First and Revelations Aplenty
Editor’s Note – I’m pretty certain I didn’t go into this much detail when I spoke the testimony, but, again, the story might change but the message is the same.
The Camino de Santiago was something I had heard about via books, movie(s), and people, I said to my still captive audience. 10 minutes to talk, sheesh; and everything was simply fired from the hip. “That’s the Holy Spirit talking,” one chap would later remark. Indeed. Perhaps it was. Or perhaps I’ve always been a mad rambler. But we’re getting off topic here.
After watching my dear friend (again pointing at her) accomplish the Way, I reasoned, given my circumstances at the time, it would be good for me – mentally, spiritually, and physically – to attempt to do it for myself. But, me being me, I had to do it differently. I had to be unique.
So back in 2014, with the assistance of friends and family, I managed to make it to my father’s village in Switzerland and there set off on a 1500+ mile walk that changed me entirely for the better. Was it lofty and ambitious? Oh yes. Was I ill-prepared? Most certainly. Was it the best thing I’ve ever done? Absolutely.
My reasons for walking were many. I was unfulfilled with Life and firmly believed there was more than just tech writing to be had. Who grows up just to pay bills until death? What sort of Life is that, eh? Thankfully I had just been laid off from that gig – armed with a decent severance package and oodles of free time, it was now or never.
It was tough, I laughed. Holy sh…crap was it tough. That first week was so damned trying I literally thought about ways to hurt myself so I had an excuse to give up. My fat body hurt. My feet were swollen, unused to the distance (indeed, physical activity!), and every joint I had ached day after day. Over 1000 miles to this magical city? Holy sh…crap. I was crazy. I was mad. Everyone knew it.
But I soon learned that Camino was a magical place and I was in for quite the revelation about Life.
My feet were little more than lumps of wood. I was tired, dehydrated, sore, bleeding in various spots, aching in every regard, and ready to throw in the towel. It was my first day – my first day! – and I wanted to quit and go home. “Help me,” I remember calling out to the sky. “What have I done? Why have I done this?” I stumbled into Romont, a medieval village in the French-speaking part of Swissland, looking the absolute worse for wear.
And suddenly: God sent a nun.
That first day in Romont, approximately 35km from Fribourg, was the first revelation about Camino: no matter how trying the day, you are prepared for the next.
I had stumbled upon a convent at the entrance of the walled city, and as I was looking for the Way, a sister came out of the front. She stopped, astonished. She stared at me for a few moments, trying to determine if I was real or not, before she excitedly started speaking in rapid French. I recall waving my hands about, repeating “non Francais,” as she approached.
But the language barrier didn’t matter. She saw what I was: a pilgrim. And as a sister of that particular convent along Jakobsweg, it was her duty to care for lost souls like myself. Eagerly she invited me inside and there bid me drop my gear and rest; she soon had a few more sisters at her side eager to see their first pilgrim of the week.
An anomaly. Even on Jakobsweg, I was something to be looked at with amusement and confusion. None of the sisters spoke English or German (not even Swiss German!) and I didn’t speak a lick of French then, but again, it didn’t matter. We were able to communicate in the universal language of signs and smiles. Before I knew it, I had my first genuine Camino Angel experience.
Clothed, well-fed, freshly showered, and with a full night’s sleep, the nuns sure knew how to care for destitute pilgrims. But perhaps the best thing – though I didn’t realize it at the time – was their desire to tend to my spiritual needs.
Again, as we all know, I’ve never been a good Catholic. Part of my reasoning for walking the Way was to determine if I had chosen the right path in regard to my faith. It is a Catholic pilgrimage after all – surely I’ll find something out about myself out here?
Those nuns. They must have sensed it. Sensed the doubt and fear I had brimming beneath the surface. They just knew I was tormented by demons I couldn’t squash alone. I just limped into their world and suddenly they were doing their best to care for me.
And they helped me by encouraging me to go to Mass with them the following morning before breakfast. Everything was in French, but smiles are universal. I attended Mass for the first time in months with those sisters, in a musty church from centuries past, listening to a middle-aged priest saying Lord knows what.
But how soothing. How calm everything was. To be embraced by complete strangers – a foreigner in their land! – and be made one of their own. Language was moot. So was culture. Custom. Everything. They saw me as a pilgrim in need, and without any prompting, they gave me a taste of what I sought.
As I departed Romont that day, I recall looking back upon the convent numerous times throughout the day, checking to see if it was still there, if it indeed was real. Had I been rescued by women of the cloth on my very first day? The day where I was ready to give up and go home in disgust? It wasn’t coincidence. It was Providence.
And as I said in the first part of the series, it was exactly what a person like me needs:
“Because this is the only way you learn, asshole,” it said. “Pain is the only thing you listen to. Now that you’re in absolute pain – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual – let Me help you. Trust in Me.”
Pained and bloodied, the prodigal son was making his way home to his Father. It didn’t matter that I didn’t realize it at the time for the conclusion was already determined.
Yes, Camino was full of such revelations. For three months, God showed Himself to me time and again: meeting and befriending Pascal and Robert, the drunken night debating with Oliver, seeing the ocean for the first time, crossing the Pyrenees, hurting my foot outside Pamplona, every day. Every day was a blessing and every day was a reason to smile. I could speak for hours about any of these events (indeed, it’s a drinking game in my family these days…) because of their significance upon my Life.
Before Camino, I was merely alive. And now: I’m living Life.
We’ll call it here for now, comrades. There are a couple more points I want to hit in future posts and we’re already at ~1300 words.
Thanks for reading, and more to follow!