I could reflect on the beauty of my walk for days, but I want to start integrating what I learned into my everyday life. I want to start verbalizing and embodying my experiences.
And so I will attempt to do so…
I learned a lot about participating as part of a group.
I sometimes resist community. It feels messy and risky to me. I’m afraid of disappointing others, and I often think I have to be someone I’m not to keep others happy and comfortable.
I resist what I think being a part of a community brings: obligation and drama.
Given my relationship to community, I imagined I would walk and eat alone on my Camino and occasionally connect with kindred spirits. I pictured myself acting independently.
That rarely happened. As I wrote in my journal the first day: “Apparently it is impossible to escape community.”
I met my first walking mate the moment I stepped off the bus in Irun, the first city on the walk. I met many more over the next several days, and I quickly became a member of a six-person family. We spent eleven days together, walking, eating, and looking out for each other. We even took a family portrait together. We called ourselves “la familia.”
On day twelve, I left la familia. I needed to change the dynamics, and I felt it was time to walk alone. I told la familia at the end of a long day that I was leaving them. We hugged. I cried. They stopped to eat and sleep; I walked on.
I walked independently for the next week or so. I met several amazing people, but I always bid them farewell at the end of a section, meal, or evening. I engaged with people, but I moved on and maintained my individual freedom. I walked alone during the days and enjoyed many meals while reading a book or sitting outside, just me and the birds.
While I was alone, I started hearing rumors that a woman on the walk had disappeared. People started warning me to not walk alone. Having heard such warnings before, I brushed them off, not wanting to make a big deal out of something that was potentially nothing. However, I eventually read the news and saw that a woman had indeed disappeared and that numerous others had been attacked. I knew it was time to once again find community.
It took me a few days to do so. I didn’t want to walk with just anyone—I wanted to walk with people who felt good—who felt right. I therefore continued to walk on my own. As I walked through remote forests, I sometimes imagined what I would do if I was attacked. I imagined how I would quickly throw off my backpack and where I would run. I had more than a few jumpy moments as I heard rustling in the bushes or saw movement out of the corner of my eye. Thankfully, however, my nervousness quickly subsided and I enjoyed what would be my last few days alone.
In a tiny village called Bodenaya, I met my next family. Bodenaya had a community-oriented alberque, and we all had to eat together, commune together, and wake together. None of us acted independently—all of us connected over food, conversation, and wine. The people I met in that tiny village became my partners for the rest of the walk and my family for life. We walked together, cried together, talked together, ate together, laughed together, and took care of each other. We sometimes walked alone, but we always tracked one another. We waited for each other at restaurants, tricky parts of the trail, and moments when we had multiple options for places to stay. We became each other’s people.
A particular day on my journey with my people stands out. I was on my period and had a horrible cold. I was miserable, and I had to walk 17 miles without a place to rest, use the bathroom, or eat food. My friend Mike and I stuck together that day, and I remember walking behind him silently. I was watching his feet and telling myself that all I had to do was put one foot in front of the other like he was. Mike granted me the gift of silence and lovingly handed me tissues and rolls of toilet paper to handle my ever-dripping nose. He patiently waited while I peed in fields and kindly encouraged me to keep moving. Upon reflection, it was one of the most beautiful days of my life, even if it was full of suffering and challenge. It was beautiful because of community.
On another day, my friend Juan Luigi stopped and waited for me. When I caught up to him, he told me he had stopped to protect me from a huge bull. We walked nervously past the bull, holding onto each other as we moved through thick fog along a thin trail lined by a steep drop. His kindness and desire to protect me still move me.
A few days later, my friend Marco and I arrived at an alberque. All of the beds were taken with the exception of one. He gave the bed to me, and I gave him my pillow and blankets. We moved the dining room table and made him a super comfy bed on the floor. We took care of each other and made the most of the situation. We laughed and bonded as we created our places to sleep.
I had equally simple and beautiful moments with each of the other people in our group and numerous other I met along the way.
I completed El Camino with my people. On our last day, we walked to our final destination in joy and tears. We hugged and congratulated each other and made plans to meet that night. We briefly parted ways.
I went to pick up my dad and father-in-law from the train station (they had been traveling in Spain and were meeting up with me). I was so happy to see them, and I felt incomplete without my group. Later that night, when the three of us walked into the restaurant to meet my group, they applauded our arrival. Then, true to the spirit of the Camino, 100 or so strangers joined them. The entire room erupted in joyous applause. We smiled and bowed. My dad and father-in-law got to witness and experience the power of Camino community firsthand.
In quite perfect timing, I just received an email from Mike, my friend who walked me through that hard day. He wrote to say hello and to check in on me.
This is what we do! I love my people. (Mike, by the way, turned 72 on our walk, and our group gave him a beautiful birthday party, complete with dinner, dessert, presents, and songs.)
I could write about this forever, but obviously I won’t.
So here’s what I learned and what I now declare:
- I can be exactly who I am in community.
- Who I am and who others are is a contribution.
- My community supports me in living life fully, being happy, and being safe. My community loves me, holds me, and protects me. I love, hold, and protect my community.
- I get to choose who is in my community. I can love everyone, but I do not have to include everyone in my intimate circle. I can choose who I walk with in this life, and I get to do so with joy and intention.
- My people are my people, and they live throughout the world. My people is a group that grows and flourishes every day.
- It’s okay to leave community behind. Sometimes doing so is the perfect choice.
In love and liminality,