A Camino Rant

This post may be a bit more serious than my usual ones…but hey!  Good to shake things up a bit.

Last night, after another strange day of this relentless flu and way too many episodes of Mad Men, Ben and I went to see the movie The Way.  The film is about the Camino de Santiago, a 500 mile pilgrimage across Spain, which for anyone reading who I don’t know well, I completed a little over two years ago.  I haven’t stopped talking about it since…until about two months ago…

On the way home, I asked Ben to imagine everyone that everyone on the train had the same day he had.   Every random dude, from all over the world, had just hiked about 20 miles, seen almost all the same things you had, and also just wanted a bed, any bed, to collapse on.  Tomorrow, you would wake up with all these people, and climb the same hills as them.  Yes, maybe a cheesy and odd comparison for NYC, but that’s what walking a Pilgrimage is like.  “I don’t know you, where you came from, or what’s going on in your head, but I know we are both going the same direction and hoping to end up at the same place.”  Try it, it makes people on the subway seem a bit less hostile.

Backing up a bit…TWO nights ago, Ben and I had a wonderful dinner with a few of his Circle in the Square Alums.  As usual, they were very sweet, welcoming, and we all drank a bit too much.  Toward the end of the night, Ben very sweetly mentioned something about me walking a pilgrimage through Spain.  For whatever reason, I instantly wanted to run from the room, change the subject, create a diversion by spilling another drink (there had been several drink causalities so far) , or anything to keep me from discussing it.  WHYYY???  Why did I suddenly have this discomfort talking about it?  It tops the list of things I am most proud of and I never thought I would feel embarrassed bringing it up.

Entering St. Jean Pied de Port

The movie last night brought me back down to earth.  Here’s what I think the problem is: when I left Spain, the Camino slowly began to seem like a figment of my imagination.  But sitting in the movie theatre and seeing that these places ACTUALLY exist was emotionally overwhelming.  I didn’t make this up?  I walked across Spain?!

When Claire, Courtney, and I reached Santiago after five weeks of walking, there were no parties, dancing or huge crowds cheering, and that was just fine with us.  If anything, the tourists were more openly excited about Santiago than we as pilgrims were.  This was the part of the movie that rang the most true.  When the hikers in The Way reached the Cathedral, they are all stunned, exhausted, and almost confused.  Can your brain process completing something like this?  It’s over, now what do we do?  Well, as the saying goes…the Camino begins when you reach Santiago.  And man did it ever.

Immediately after leaving the Camino, I had my heart broken.  Going from the psychological high of my trip to the extreme lows of that flooring situation, I was not in a place to process my thoughts for a long time.  And two years later, now that I am wrapping my head around writing about this experience, I can say that openly without anger.  I now say it with triumph, because here I am, nearly at peace and finally remembering the trip the way I wish I could have upon immediately returning home.

Re-entering the world after walking the Pilgrimage was harder for me than hike itself.  I had so many stories to tell, so many kindnesses I received along the way, so many realizations that freed me from the monotony of life that I hoped to pass on.  I had many incredible people by my side those next few months, to listen, give advice, or make me drive around Sarasota and blast Lady Gaga to get through my angst (thanks, Travis).

Bedroom window view in Sarasota

The hardest part was the shock of the people who didn’t care to hear about it.  I respect that, of course, but many met my stories with anger or resentment.  It took me a long time to realize that this is not for everyone.  And that fact is a very sensitive subject for many people.  I never wanted to seem proud or above anyone else’ way of living by saying I chose to leave everything behind for 5 weeks.  But this resentment created a loneliness far beyond anything that came from a breakup, the end of college, or moving away from home.  I started to keep my stories to myself, because at the end of the day, a Pilgrimage is just for you, and what you choose to do with what you learned.  I can’t fully share with anyone what my experience was, simply because no one was in my head (which was a good thing, trust me).

I am grateful to have been a part of something so rare.   I could write about in this post for hours, but won’t until I know what I really want to say.  And if there was a purpose to this rant of a post, it’s that now is the time for me to find what to do with all those experiences.  Yes, I have to ride the subway, go through emails, and chase Kindergartners around today, but I can do all that with the knowledge that there is more than all of this and my anxiety.  If I can walk across a country, I can get through a raining day in New York.

Buen Camino, all.

One response to “A Camino Rant”

  1. I didn’t realize until you posted this, but I too refrain from talking about this wonderful and amazing experience because so many people just don’t want to hear about it. Even those who care about me just sort of smile indulgently and nod their heads as they listen. After I finished that photo album, all I wanted to do was show it to people, and no one (other than you and my mom) wanted to look at it. And I guess that’s just something I need to accept, like you said, you don’t do the camino for other people, you do it for yourself. And at the end of the day, no matter how hard it was, I can look back and say, “I walked across a country, I can handle this”. Thanks for this post.


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