Well so far the feet look fine and the hips are still working! Danny and I are four days and about seventy kilometres into the Camino de Santiago. We are also celebrating our twenty sixth wedding anniversary today.
So what profound reflections have come to me as we walk through woodlands and vineyards, up boulder-strewn paths and down precipitous lanes? Well I have become deeply appreciative of a good pair of socks. I have realised how important the wellbeing of my feet is for the rest of my body. I have found myself recalling the experience of giving birth and seeing the connection with the Camino. There is pain. It is as simple and obvious as that – but it is pain that is leading somewhere.
In childbirth the joy was in the birth of each of our children. Now on this journey it is the joy of arriving at the next destination along the way, the prospect of a good meal and a decent bed. As we pass each stone way-marker with its scallop shell it is the joy of knowing we are that bit closer to Santiago de Compostela.
I realised early on that no matter how good the socks or robust the shoes, my feet and legs are going to ache if we are walking up to 25 kilometres in a day. Initially every twinge made me worry that I was going to get blisters or pull something. A wise midwife in Holles Street, before our eldest was born, encouraged me to focus outside myself, to not allow pain to dominate. And so now on these Spanish roads I focus on what is around me and find that twinges settle and muscles relax into the rhythm of walking.
Before we began, I felt daunted – how would we deal with the demands of the Camino? I am a worrier and it is typical of me to get ahead of myself, worrying about the whole Camino. What I’ve discovered is that it really is impossible to think about anything other than today and in fact, I don’t even need to worry much about today. I need to trust in the capacity of my body to keep stepping out and in Danny to walk by my side. So in many ways this Camino is proving to be an exercise in mindfulness.
I’ve also found myself very aware of Pope Francis’ call for October to be an Extraordinary Month of Mission and his invitation to reflect on what it means to be ‘baptised and sent’. The image of the disciples being sent out in pairs echoes within me as so many of us peregrinos take to the roads. I know that for many this Camino has little to do with faith in any explicit way.
However, for many it is genuinely a pilgrimage. It frustrates Danny and I that so many of the parish churches we come to are closed. We would like the opportunity to stop for a few minutes and pray.
But in another way, there is a shared sense of solidarity and to me there is a strength and a spirituality in that. As we pass each other people the shared greeting is “Buen Camino”. Now on day four there is more sense of connection between people. We recognise those we have met before along the way. On the first night we met a group of Canadians. Last night, in the square in Ponteverde, there was real joy and warmth when we bumped into them again.
I’ve been reading the reflections of Richard Rohr each day. His theme, that we are all ultimately one body, that we are called to a shared compassion, that when we suffer or rejoice we do it in solidarity with each other makes a lot of sense to me on this shared road to Santiago de Compostela.