I am going to skip past my walk from Moratinos to León and my new Camino along the San Salvador route and, instead, share a story that is important to me. You’ll understand why I’ve decided to do this in an upcoming post called, “The Catalyst”. If you’d like to see photos of those sections and read a short blurb about them you may view my Flickr galleries, Moratinos to León and Camino de San Salvador.
This story represents the magic of the Camino that I had been searching for this entire journey but didn’t find until the end…
Last evening on my walk back to Moratinos from Sahagún I met Paul, a Slavic man. He reminded me of “being present”.
We walked towards each other on the Camino path. The same evening sun that lit up his tanned face warmed my back. He stopped and asked me how I was. He was interested in why I was walking away from Santiago.
We began talking and he offered me his water bottle. We stood for a while, but then dropped our packs onto the dusty gravel path and sat down. We shared Camino insights, stories and even silent moments enjoying the beauty of the Meseta for at least an hour and a half before continuing in opposite directions. I lost track of time.
This was one of those special moments along the Camino that pop up when you least expect. I certainly didn’t as I neared the end of my journey with only four kilometers left to walk. It restored my faith in “Camino moments” and synchronicity. It reminded me of the magic I experienced the first time along this path.
Paul walked without a guidebook, also without a watch or a phone. He had shed anything that would bind him to the busy outside world. He walked the Camino his own way. Yesterday he walked 17 kilometers from Carrion de los Condes into the night and towards some dark looming clouds. People thought he was crazy, but I think there is something liberating about his choice, like a surrendering to the universe that things will work out.
There are many ways to walk a Camino, like there are many ways to live a life. We can walk by the guidebook and live by society’s expectations or we can walk without a guidebook, in any direction, and live our own way. We can break away from “the norm” and get off what I call the merry-go-round. We can see what’s out there and discover new things about ourselves. We can become free.
Sometimes how we walk the Camino and live our lives may seem strange to some, but I learned it doesn’t matter. Two cyclists speeding towards Santiago yesterday evening shouted out to me, while I walked in the opposite direction, “Bye bye el Camino!” They don’t know. It’s their story; their view and understanding of the world projected outwards.
Paul’s journey has been challenging, but also good. A catalyst has ignited change in him already and there are still 400 kilometers left for him to walk.
In the beginning, he walked as if in a race, but an injury changed that. In Castrojeriz, a monk asked him if he had the courage to stop, so he stopped for four days. Then another asked him if he had the courage to keep going. He did. There he was sitting on his pack right beside me. They were pivotal moments along his journey; tough ones, but important ones. He questioned what he was doing and why.
I remember those moments and the shin splint that ignited change during my first journey, also in Castrojeriz. I still recall Øyvind’s words from the albergue patio while I hung my laundry to dry, “The destination is inconsequential, the journey is home.” I slowed down and became more present after that. The journey is what mattered. “Now” mattered.
In a similar way, Paul became more in tuned with his journey. He tapped his forehead and said, “There was something wrong with the programming. I needed to change it and slow down.”
He began walking again and took all day to get 10 kilometers while pilgrims zoomed past. He even napped for three hours in a grassy field.
“I notice more now,” he said while he sat on his grey backpack. “I see the birds and flowers all around.” He pointed out a black bird with a white belly soaring above. We sat in silence listening to the crickets chirping around us. A white butterfly fluttered around the blooms of some magenta sweet peas in the field next to us. A slight breeze tousled my loose bangs. Time didn’t matter.
Paul eventually waved goodbye and carried on his way towards Santiago while whistling an upbeat tune. I felt blessed to have experienced such a unique “Camino moment” with a fellow pilgrim and I smiled while I walked my last few kilometers on a path that has taught me so much about myself.