“Yes and trust!” David called out to me. He had stopped and turned on the cobblestone street ten paces from where I stood at the hostel door to remind me of the two words. His eyes, shaped like half-moons, crinkled up in the corners and beamed through his round silver-rimmed glasses. His broad, bearded smile seemed to say “You’ve got this!”
These two important words were loaded with intention. We had promised each other that we would live by them with optimism: to say “yes” to opportunities that presented themselves, no matter how doubtful we might feel, and to “trust” that good things will result.
I met David at a place called Pilgrim House, located in the heart of Santiago, after posting a thread on the Camino Forum called Lost in Santiago. After visiting all of the special-to-me places around the Santiago cathedral in the wee hours of the morning, reminiscing about the past and then finally bunking up in the same hostel that I had before, I wasn’t any closer to knowing what the heck I was doing than I was when I was walking.
Out of desperation, I turned to the Camino Forum for help. While sitting in the foyer of the Last Stamp Hostal I wrote:
In September/October of 2013, I walked the Camino Frances from SJPDP to Santiago. It was a very special and life-changing experience. Ever since I got on the plane to come home I’ve wanted to return. Now I’m back and I’m entirely lost.
On May 6th, I began walking the Camino del Norte from Irún. I got as far as Deba and didn’t find what I was looking for, so I bussed to Pamplona and began walking from there. Every day I would walk, see the beauty, but ask myself why the heck am I here? I’ve done this, it was special, it changed my life in big ways, but why am I here? I don’t want to be here. Everything I remembered with rose-coloured glasses was no longer ‘rosey’.
I know I can’t repeat the same journey, but I couldn’t help, as I passed certain places but miss the old journey. I tried changing it up…it’s spring for starters, of course different people too, but I also stayed in different villages and at different albergues. Still, I would tell myself each day, I don’t want to be here.
On my last day (yesterday), walking out of Logroño, all I could do was cry until I reached the tunnel that leads under the highway. I turned around and walked to the bus station and felt better.
Now I am in Santiago picking up my suitcase. I don’t want to be here either though. I am not ready to let go of the old journey or to have a new one. I want to flee the Camino. I have tears and a lump in my throat even now.
“So now what?” I am asking myself. I was very excited to be hospitalera in Grañon between June 15th and 30th before I left Canada. I don’t want to quit that like I have quit this last Camino. I want to be ‘good in my head’ and ready to serve the pilgrims. I just feel so lost right now.
I have time to kill between now and then. Part of me thinks I should go somewhere off the path and read a book on a beach for a few days or be in a garden or a mountain retreat where I can recoup and figure out what happened. Walking to Finistere came to mind, but I’m not sure I want to.
Any insights or ideas? I really appreciate it.
Thankfully my thread gained much attention and I received tons of compassionate responses and advice from fellow pilgrims. It was like I had been wrapped in a hundred warm hugs. If you’re a member of the Camino forum you can read the responses here.
This is the beauty of the Camino and the special souls who embark on and who are impacted by the journey. Pilgrims told about their own struggles, showed encouragement, shared stories and poems and offered wonderful advice from staying at local monasteries and pilgrim retreats to volunteering and visiting Pilgrim House. After toying with some other ideas including bussing to Porto and sitting on a beach with a good book, I decided on two approaches: I would visit Pilgrim House and then I would accept a special invitation.
When I walked into Pilgrim House, David was relaxing on a couch reading. I waited my turn at the counter observing my surroundings: a comfy large sitting area with couches, chairs and a coffee table and, behind the information counter, a kitchenette and laundry facilities. Furthermore, the place had WIFI and there was a small quiet space in the back for meditation and prayer.
The young man behind the counter intently listened as I explained my confusing journey. He suggested that I chat with David since his feelings were similar to mine except that he had walked the Portuguese Way. He also encouraged me to attend a support circle later on.
David and I hit it off right away and spent a couple of days together exploring Santiago, including walking a few kilometers on the Camino to find the two giant pilgrim statues.
We also bussed to Finisterre, explored the lighthouse, picked scallop shells up off the beach and, later on back in Santiago, enjoyed some vino tinto and seafood tapas.
Pilgrim House, I found out, is a valuable resource for any pilgrim who needs assistance, especially those who are lost and confused about their journey like I was. I joined the support circle where I spilled my guts and listened to others spill theirs. We supported one another just by being there and quietly listening without judgment. We also had deep, meaningful conversation about why we thought we were there, what we thought went wrong and how to come to terms with our journeys and move forward in a new direction.
During the circle, I had mentioned my concern that I might not be a good hospitalera because I had quit my Camino. Others encouraged me, saying that I would be an even better one since not only do I understand how beautiful and life-changing walking the Camino can be but also how disappointing and confusing it can be when the journey doesn’t turn out the way that you had hoped. I could see both sides.
Often people choose to walk the Camino with a purpose in mind whether it is to contemplate or come to terms with a big life change or decision or, alternately, to enjoy the challenge, solitude or to knock a world-famous pilgrimage off their bucket list. Some of us figure things out along the way like I had the first time I walked the French Way in 2013 and sometimes we don’t, like me on this recent journey. Luckily, there are a few resources out there to help when things get confusing.
David’s journey on the Camino was just about over. He’d be heading home shortly, but not before volunteering some time to restore an old abbey and then relaxing on a beach in Barcelona. Me? I had a month to kill before volunteering as hospitalera for two weeks in Grañon, a special-to-me tiny village in the heart of the la Rioja wine country along the Camino.
My first stop, though, would be a tiny village called Moratinos on the Meseta. A special invitation in response to my thread had caught my eye. It was from a couple, Rebekah and Patrick, who run a special albergue there called, Peaceable Kingdom. It is a retreat for pilgrims who have “crashed and burned” so to speak. In a way, although not physically, I guess I emotionally fit that description so I accepted their invitation.
So, as David stood on the cobblestone street smiling at me, I nodded, smiled back and with a wave goodbye I turned and walked into the Last Stamp Hostal for the last time to pack my bags for my morning bus ride.