Until about five, maybe six years ago, I had never heard of the Camino de Santiago, the Way of St. James. For over 1200 years, pilgrims have been walking the Camino Frances or one of its many less populated variations: A 500 mile path from St. Pied du Port in France to Santiago, Spain where the apostle James is buried. There are many paths but the most popular is this 500 mile trek most people make in 30 to 35 days with daily hikes of between eight to ten miles per day.
My good friend told me about a talk she heard from a woman who had decided to celebrate her 50th birthday walking the Camino.
By the third day, the pain in my knees was excruciating, walking hurt so badly, I was in tears. Other pilgrims stopped to advise me and all of them told me to lighten my baggage. But I carried only water and mascara, in case I met a cute guy. There was nothing to lighten. It took time and intense pain for me to see that the baggage I was carrying was not physical.
It has been years since my friend told me about this woman’s talk but the power of her metaphor intrigues and frightens me still- I have touchy knees which can erupt into almost crippling pain if I get careless.
Pilgrimages are not new to me. In the years since I’ve been a Christian Catholic I have done many pilgrimages; three of which I did not want to do; Camino feels like them.
I had no desire to spend the time or the money for ten days in Mejudgorje, The Colonias, a thrown together series of hovels for Hispanic emigrants southeast of Tijuana or a Benedictine Monastery in Virginia but knew these places to be trips I needed to make, alone. During none of these ten day pilgrimages did I have an ‘experience’…a vision or any answers to questions I was battling with; in fact I was not sure why I had gone; my only sense that those things about which I have the most fear are generally the things I must do. I suspect that Walking the Camino may not be all that different. But ten days is nothing compared with over thirty days of walking-thirty days of walking and thirty nights of sleeping with strangers.
Meanwhile I have watched the recent films, The Way and Camino de Santiago, and wondered at the renewed interest in this centuries old tradition by young and old; religious and those with no religious belief at all; wondered at the universal call to something more in an age and a culture ostensibly rejecting all things religious.