On day eight of the Camino, aggravated by the crippling pains my body was experiencing, I seethed internally at the thought of my ONCE dear friends who had suggested this insane endeavor. They had told me, quite convincingly, that they “loved” the Camino, that it was the “best” thing they had ever done, and that they were so jealous that I was going because they would “give anything to walk it again.”
As I weaved yet another needle and thread through yet another blister, always leaving the thread behind for “drainage” purposes, and as I faced the very real possibility that I may need a hip replacement at the age of 26, I could not fathom how my friends had so successfully lied to me. Slowly, though, my body did become stronger and my shoes and feet came to an agreement and signed a peace treaty.
Hundreds of kilometers later, I actually found myself forgetting the pain of earlier days. How I wondered was this possible? How had I forgotten so quickly? By the time I reached Santiago would I remember the pain at all?
The truth was that as I entered the Cathedral Square in Santiago and sat on the ancient stones making up the plaza that was, for the time being, the end of “this” journey, I contemplated my friends who had been so excited for me to walk the Camino and my own inability to conjure up the memories of the pain that was. Suddenly, I understood how they had so convincingly “deceived” me into this walk because it wasn’t deceit at all. If anyone were to ask me about the Camino, I would tell them the same as my friends had told me: it is the most wonderful thing I have done in my life to date and if they should ever get the opportunity they should undoubtedly find the time to do it themselves.
The Camino changes you. Rather, the Lord changes you as you walk along the ancient trail paved by the steps of the many souls who have gone before you. In a very particular way, He allows us to walk in His footprints on the Camino. As our bodies, and often our minds and hearts experience the suffering of the early days, slowly one either gives up and goes home, or there comes a moment of death. Death to self, in which the pilgrim surrenders to the Way: surrenders to the pain and discomfort, surrenders to the unknown of the next day let alone the next week, and most of all surrenders their control or attempt to control anything and everything they can. Through this death, comes the glory and the joy of the new life awaiting each pilgrim in Santiago.
Santiago, however, is not the end of the Camino, for the Saint, buried below the city’s ancient walls, sends you forth with a new challenge, to live in your newness of life. For the Lord continues to unroll the Camino trail before us, guiding us with little yellow arrows, until we reach the true end of our Camino: eternal life.