After three hours of torture, this is what I walked away with – the scallop shell that pilgrims have carried for a millennium. At least I won’t have to buy a shell next camino.
On the day Dana and I left for Madrid, and one year to the day when I embarked on my first pilgrimage, a friend published a blog post that captured my attention.
Beth Jusino and I connected as friends through the American Pilgrims on Camino forum when I was on that first walk. It was just a few months after she and her husband, Eric, completed the Le Puy route – double the distance of the Camino Frances. She’s a gifted writer and editor and someone whose opinion I value when it comes to all things literary. And she’s kindly help guide me in an important direction or two as I work to complete my book Pilgrim Strong. That process is indeed, a marathon to itself.
Her October 20 blog post was about a commitment, of sorts, that she’d made to herself. A commitment that once made, would permit no turning back – a little like that moment when you walk away from the Orisson refuge to battle the Pyrenees – but deeper, and perhaps more personal.
Beth got a tattoo. And what she wrote about it resonated deep as I read, waiting to board a flight at the Memphis airport.
These are the first three paragraphs from Beth’s post:
“I live in Seattle, where tattoos are practically a requirement for entry. And yet, whenever the subject would come up, I’d shrug. There was nothing I could imagine that I would want to commit to having on my body forever. Surely I would regret that quote/image/memory when I was 90.
But then I walked a thousand miles in a single spring. It was the biggest, hardest thing I’ve ever planned and completed.
I wanted to commit it to being part of me forever.”
I understood exactly how Beth felt.
People who’ve experienced the camino say a lot of things about it, chief among them that “it will change your life.” Some speak of it as a magical, mystical place and a journey whose conclusion will take all your problems away.
Truth is, the Camino de Santiago is just a place. It’s a place of historical significance regarding the spread of the first-century gospel, but it’s just a place. It doesn’t whisper to you or bring down some supernatural life-changing light at the zero-mile marker. What happens there is entirely up to you as you walk the path.
The camino didn’t change me at all. To the contrary, it refined me, and made me much more of who I already was. It was, and is, the extension of a journey I’ve been on for many years. It confirmed for me that I’m headed in the right direction, no matter the mistaken turns and shortcut detours I’ve wrongly or selfishly taken along the way. And so I walk still, pressing on to the prize. A wise Frenchman told me last year, “The true pilgrim never stops walking the path.”
Still, it was a big deal for me, both times. Words may never adequately explain how big a deal it’s been and how I carry the experience with me daily. The lofty opinion I once carried of myself as a young man has given way to the truth that we’re all just walking each other home.
I’m a better person for experiencing the camino. It’s helped refine much of the way I think about the world, people, ideas, and even myself. When I need to reach deep for determination I think about the camino. “If I can walk across a country, surely I can rake the leaves today,” I’ve told myself. And that parking space WAY across the lot at Target doesn’t seem nearly so far now.
The camino is special to me in so many ways, and above all, has connected me with new friendships that I value immensely.
And alas, it’s drawn me closer to God.
I knew exactly what Beth meant when she wrote about the desire to make the experience a more permanent part of her life.
So I did the same. And the walk goes on.
(Blogger’s Note: I asked Beth’s permission to replicate the art that was her original idea. She graciously granted that request.)