While preparing for the journey, you own the journey; once you step onto the path, the journey owns you. My friend Olga Mas and her friend Humberto Rodriguez, both attorneys from Miami invited me to join them on El Camino de Santiago, and I jumped at the chance to go on this medieval hike, a spiritual quest that others have taken for over a thousand years.
The Camino de Santiago, also known as Way of St. James or the Road to Santiago is any of the pilgrimage routes ending at the shrine of St. James the Apostle in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, northern Spain. Tradition has it that the remains of the saint are buried there. If you are fortunate, the end also signals a new beginning in your life. At least it did for me.
As I walked the first day, I talked to others and I asked them why they were doing this ancient spiritual journey. Most said that they were at a crossroads in their lives, asking if they should get married, or divorced, or have children. Others said they came for health reasons, needing a healing miracle. Some said they walk for people in their lives who can’t; either for physical reasons or that they are no longer alive. So, I began to ask myself the same question. Why am I doing this? Why was I in northern Spain walking for over 17 miles each day? Up until that day I had felt as if I had been running away from something or maybe someone or maybe my life. My hope was that at the end of this very long expedition that I would feel like I was running towards something or someone or my life.
Each road and path was marked with yellow arrows that supposedly mark the Camino. But they often failed at crucial points, because I didn’t always see them. I began to understand that our wanderings are metaphors for life, filled with wrong turns, dead ends, detours, being lost—and found. The poorly marked Way also provided numerous opportunities for me to rely on the generosity of strangers and the help of friends. I learned that we are all pilgrims and strangers on the Way of Life, regardless of our degree of faith or lack of it.
One day as in a vision, I saw before me a grand panorama of people in movement, spanning the centuries, traveling across the outer landscape of Europe, traveling through the inner landscape of the soul.
Life slowed to a walking pace. Lessons and messages began appearing around every corner and reflection became an everyday activity.
I met other pilgrims and heard their stories. There was a sense of camaraderie among us. We were pilgrims sharing a journey, not excursionists or holiday-walkers. We were pilgrims participating in an ancient rite during which we were invested with sacredness. Townspeople offered us something to eat or drink or asked us to light a candle for them or to embrace the statue of the St. James when we reached the cathedral in Santiago. People thought our prayers meant more because we were pilgrims. We had embarked on a spiritual adventure, one filled with significance and gifts of grace. I was in good shape, but I pushed my body to the edge of what I thought it could do and to my surprise the edge kept moving. This was the most difficult physical thing I had ever done. If it was easy more would do it, and it would not be a sacrifice or a pilgrimage.
After almost 100 miles with bruised, blistered and bleeding feet we reached Santiago. The town was overflowing with ebullient pilgrims and as we pushed our way through the crowds to the steps of the Cathedral I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude. What had I expected? I wasn’t even Catholic—so why would I have thought that arriving in Santiago would mean anything to me? I realized that it was the Camino that mattered. The pilgrimage had transformed my life. I had a new sense of myself, of my capacity to persevere, to push my physical and emotional limits. I had done things I never would have imagined possible. I slept in adult hostels where the walls were so thin; I could hear someone sneeze a floor above me. At any other time in my life I would have bolted. But I stayed. I walked in the footsteps of my ancestors and in the beauty of Spain like so many have done over the centuries. And in the silence of my days I began to hear the clear voice inside of me. I would never be the same.
The Camino will continue to reveal new aspects of itself as I delve below its surface, exploring its hidden meanings, its esoteric symbols, its inner teachings. I understand that I am running full throttle towards my wacky, often messy, always magnificent life-not away from it. I offered up prayers for all my friends at the pilgrim’s mass the last night underneath the gigantic swinging incense in the stunning cathedral. And I prayed for myself. And I thanked God for miracles. Because of El Camino, I now know, life is not about the destination and it’s not about the journey as so many say. Life is about the people that walk with you-beside you, and the guidance you receive along The Way. Buen Camino!
Muy agradecida, muy agradecida.