A Day on El Camino

“The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.” –GK Chesterton

Never have I understood these words more than while walking the ancient pilgrimage called El Camino. It will be different for each peregrino, but my two weeks along The Way quickly became a steady parade of reminders for “how rare and beautiful it is to even exist” (song). As always, the peace comes just in time.

During my college years, I’d fallen in love with learning more than ever before. I became swept up in gathering information and hypothesizing about the world we live in, but from time to time, there was also an inner voice bidding me to be silent… to just take everything in. Through the hustle-bustle of costs, benefits, projects, and papers, I had willingly brushed aside my childlike capability for wonder. After four semesters too long, I finally rediscovered my balance– a sort of necessary rhythm emerging between fervent knowledge acquirement and quiet awe. Luckily, this is also exactly the kind of thing that a walking pilgrimage engrains within you. 🙂

To commemorate the end of that life-chapter, I’ve decided to write-up the happenings of a typical day on El Camino. The narrative is simple– walk, talk, eat, sleep– and the fluidity of the days made them nearly as a dream (save the very real blisters and ever-pressing laundry needs). Buen camino!

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5:53 am: Waking up seven minutes before my alarm (courtesy of my heavy Polish bunk-neighbor thumping to the ground), I gather that half the room has already emptied out. The older couples like to hit the trail before the day heats up. I emerge from my cocoon sleep-sack, since it’s usually smart to follow the older and wiser. 😉

6:00 am: The rest of our group begins to awake, and we greet each other with a sleepy nod and smile while stumbling to brush our teeth in the dorm-style bathroom. Wow, my nose and shoulders got some serious sun yesterday… those pack straps are going to feel grrrrreat!

6:30 am: On our way, at last! The air is magnificently fresh in the morning, and our group decides to stop at the next town over (someone said its “only 4km away”) for the usual chocolate croissants and cafe con leche. The sleep-soreness is worked out of my body as I hit my stepping rhythm.

8:00 am: We step onto those narrow cobble-stone streets, just as the special Camino cafes begin to open– since the usual opening time for any business in Spain is actually around 10am… (what a life!). It is very common to find that the cafe and hostal owners were once Camino peregrinos themselves, who have decided to stay. This establishment is no exception, and while I wait in line for my espresso, I gaze at their grainy old Camino photos on the walls.

11:30 am: Since we’ve fallen behind a km or so, Favorite Pilgrim and I decide to rest for a hot minute, snacking on almonds and taking in the poppy-speckled wheat fields that cloak the sun-soaked hillsides. Turns out, nature’s fruitful offering is more effective at healing aching bodies than Advil 🙂

1:30 pm: We’ve arrived into our final town for the day! This hostal looks divine– a neat, clean little gift from God. We bring out our pilgrim passports to be stamped while eagerly looking at the peaceful wading pool and hammocks that grace our newest residence.

2:00 pm: The cool showers can wait just a little while longer while we trade our boots for a pair of breathable flip-flops and stumble into the neighboring cafe for lunch sandwiches. It feels so good to sit around, eating and drinking and sharing stories from the other peregrinos we met today along the way. (It has been said that the Camino is the world’s largest walking group therapy…haha).

4:00 pm: Laundry hooray! These words will come back to bite me one day, but I actually have a real love of doing laundry… it’s sooo soothing.

5:00 pm: Interspersed exploration, chatting with other peregrinos (the “so why are you walking the Camino” conversation starter is a tried and true favorite) and card games until…

7:00 pm: Mass time! We pilgrims join the local daily-Mass-goers for the sacred celebration, which always concludes with a special pilgrim blessing. This time, the twinkly-eyed priest demanded that each nationality sings a hymn in their native tongue. Forced performance is good for humility, and I’ll never forget the Italian couple whose (clearly) polished performance put us all to shame 😉

8:00 pm: Dinner (at last). Bring forth the three courses of salad, seafood, ice cream and unlimited vino! I take a moment to admire the bubbling, cross-border camaraderie. People can be so good.

10:00 pm: Fortunately, the hostal curfew doesn’t mean the merriment has to end. Here’s to the nights of bunk-jumping, story-sharing, and giggling ourselves to sleep! Before submitting to the exhaustion, I lift up my heart to the One who gave me feet, food, friends, and the beautiful Christian faith… and I pray for the chance to do it all again tomorrow 🙂

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If there is anything I’m taking with me from the pilgrimage, and if there is any reason that you should consider El Camino, it is this:

“If you become Christ’s you will stumble upon wonder upon wonder, and every one of them true.” — St. Brendan of Birr

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To Him of the Seasons

Praise

To Him of the Seasons,

That hidden Strength behind wind and thunderstorm.

 

Who hushed the elder birds,

Only that they might be a lively chorus of fledglings.

Who allowed hands to cut back the barren brush,

Only that the uncovered earth might kiss the seeds into fourfold fertility.

Who darkened morning and froze the sandy shores,

Only that the sun might swell in splendor by cracking them open.

 

Who encircles my fragile limbs in everlasting mercy,

That my heart might be free to run home

Again.

Pope JPII on Economics

It is not wrong to to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life that is presumed to be better when it is directed toward ‘having’ rather than toward ‘being’, and which wants to have more not in order to be more, but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself. It is therefore necessary to create lifestyles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness, and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings, and investments. —Centesimus Annus 

 

Piccoli Passi Possibile

Life has been a whirlwind lately. A powerful, exhilarating whirlwind– and better than I deserve to be sure. I’ve been fighting to maintain the delicate balance between my classes, internships, teaching, other positions, and the consistent presence of writing, reading and sheer spontaneity that I am fond of upholding throughout my weeks. Guess which portion has been sadly neglected? Though I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my duties come first, especially those that involve the trust and reliance of others, my brain has been collecting thought-essays which have the stubborn habit of arising to the forefront of my mind, time and time again. Like little children tugging at my skirt begging to be picked-up, they beg to be written down. So, it is the day of rest, I have a free hour, and I submit!

I have picked a little, shining one to unburden first:

Piccoli Passi Possibile

(literally, “small, possible steps”)

I first encountered this phrase in this article about St. Chiara, an Italian mother who recently passed away after choosing her child’s life instead of aborting the unborn babies within her– three times.* The saying really struck a chord with me, since it was similar to a familiar phrase that my dear housemate Lexi often encourages me with, saying: “little victories.” Both revolve around the idea, “give us this day our daily bread.” Our human nature strongly tempts us to fixate on the future, anxiously making sense of the whole picture immediately so as to predict and control it. I have felt myself become paralyzed when I think of all the tasks I must accomplish, even just for the week. Leaving faith aside, there is clearly a sane logic in taking each day for what it’s worth. When you perform each action to the best of your ability, for example, spending the extra minutes to craft concise, clear and cheerful emails, people notice. There is something irresistible about a soul who lives life consciously.

If there is any grace that I have been taught this semester, it is to understand that this rich life is packaged into 24-hour portions for a reason. The genius is that each day brings the perfect amount of happenings that we can handle (though somehow still always flowing over with blessings, when we have the eyes to see.) Although I cannot write an economic research paper in one day, teach my confirmation class all I would love for them to know, or even learn a chapter of finance all at once, I have the daily power to spend an hour or two toward the desired goals. We trust that one day it will all make sense. Until then, piccoli passi possibile along this breathtakingly beautiful path.


And still, the best news is yet to come: at the end of the daily battles, our eyes will be opened to see that our goals were too tame, our sights set too low, and that there were unimaginable miracles in store for each of us all along.

cs-lewis-quote-we-are-far-too-easily-pleased

*Upon finishing the article with brimming eyes, I immediately ordered her biography (fully aware that an imperfect, yet enthusiastic essay-to-be lies in store when I finish it.) Stay tuned!