Fainthearted about doing the Camino?
An extraordinary coincidence became a common event in the early stages of my Camino last year. I had begun walking with an arrhythmia in my heart. I began to notice that when I spontaneously gave or received something the arrhythmia stopped. On the first day I had passed Kathie a woman from the USA a little older than me and very much slower, which is quite an achievement. Then I felt an urge to wait for her and walk with her at her pace.
My heartrate steadied and slowed to normal and I put it down to simply easing off on my already light pace. This was my first time on the Camino Francès and I soon discovered that I was having many unexpected and surprising gifts from other pilgrims who were helping my heart find a regular beat. Some, like my Korean friends, one of whom sang like an angel, moved me to tears, others in a smile or a hug reached into my heart to still its erratic thumping. Giving and receiving keep the heart healthy.
On the Camino most of the people a pilgrim meets they will not ever see again, some will keep in touch and a few will remain friends for life. Yet all will have an impact on us beyond the brief acquaintances we have in our everyday lives. Fellow pilgrims can touch us deeply, as we can them. I found that even the briefest of conversations could bring a peaceful rhythym back to my heart if it had gone out of synch.
It is hard for me to remember names but details come back with photos. This boy is English but speaks fluent Spanish, his mum being from Madrid. I look at the photo and recall, with affection, moments of laughter mixed with moments of confluence when we know we are on the same Way. All of it is healing.
I find that sometimes a specially joyful relationship forms, as with Tom and Melissa, a young couple from Australia whom I met over a period of 10 days and almost 300km. Travelling the camino as a couple has its special nuances and can be a concentrated spell of growth and discovery. We met up in many different moods and moments, weathers and states of elation or fatigue. Pure joy.
Another couple I met over hundreds of kilometres were John and his son (Daniel?). John walked without a rucksack because he has a serious back injury, using the luggage transport service which operates daily between Albergues. The Camino has many pilgrims with a physical disability. There is a special sort of understanding all pilgrims have, that whatever we are carrying with us is full of our history, in body, heart and mind. Ideas of image and perfection soon get trodden into the path and we struggle if we pretend we are other than we are.
The Camino of the heart.
There is no doubt that this Camino Francés helped me to manage my arrhythmias. One year after finishing it, as I write this piece, I am finding that I have to be cautious about too much physical exertion. Yet, in the end I managed to complete, in several bites, the Camino del Norte. I am very grateful to all those pilgrims who walk the Camino open-heartedly, leaving behind them both ego and competitiveness, filled with generosity and kindness: to the hospitaleros who are patient and tolerant and to those whose gifts of humour and song bring light heartedness others. I must mention, especially, the hundreds of “Buen caminos” from lorry drivers, policemen, bakers, farmers and fishermen (not all of them women, either) who say these words with genuine energy and freshness as if each pilgrim were the first they had ever set eyes on.
This year I met two people with advanced cancers walking the final 100km. Others I have met have lost their children tragically, many know that their lives are changing profoundly, others are penniless. Will the Camino cure what ails you? Possibly not but there is a good chance that the people you meet on the Way will touch your heart – and you theirs. In that giving and receiving is all the Hope we need.