“You can kiss your family and friends goodbye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.” ~ Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth
Back in 2011, my former boss-turned-friend Tom Humphreys sent me a note. “I just watched a movie called ‘The Way, ’ and I think you’d love it.” I thanked him and prompted added the film to my Netflix queue where it remained for several months until I finally watched it, alone.
The film moved me so completely that I insisted to my family that we watch it together. We did so that very night. I can’t explain the feeling I had — and have — about walking the Camino but I can tell you it’s visceral and it began as soon as I learned about the Camino’s existence.
A seed was planted, and I nurtured it by reading books about the Camino, watching documentaries, and reflecting on its history and importance. The more I tended the growing sprout of an idea, the more it rooted and grew.
“I’m going to walk the Camino someday,” I announced one evening to my then-husband.
He laughed. “You’ll never do that. Look at you.”
I feel a rush of shame at the weight I’d put on and the weight I couldn’t seem to shed. “I will walk it one day. Watch me.” I buried my desire, but every once in a while, it surfaced. I asked both my kids to walk the Camino with me. They weren’t interested.
Fast forward to November 2016 where a lively woman named Heather Waring entered my life. From the moment she uttered the words, “I take women walking on the Camino,” I knew she would play a large role in my life.
“I’m coming with you in April.” The old sprout, withered and untended, suddenly sprang to life as if the rains came after a drought. I signed up to walk with her that very day. (Normally, I’m not so impulsive. In fact, my dithering and indecision can be maddening to all, especially me.)
The first person I told about this encounter was my long-time friend, Susie McShea. I barely had the words out of my mouth when she said, “You have to do this.” Since that moment, the universe began sending to me amazing friends who helped prepare me for the upcoming journey.
Three weeks from today, I’ll board a plane for Paris, France. Once there, I’ll hop on a train for the five-hour ride to Cahors, where we’ll begin our trek. But from the moment I committed until now, I have been blessed with encouragement and support. I’d like to express my profound gratitude to some of these amazing people in this post:
Dr. Lisa Gordon, Natural Health Improvement Center of Columbia, discovered that my constant knee pain was derived from an old injury to my sacrum which stymied the electrical impulses needed to engage my quads. My knees hurt because they were doing all the work, all the time. After just one chiropractic adjustment, my knees stopped hurting. I went from being in constant pain to having none. Talk about a confidence booster!
Keri Harris of Miracles Massage gives me most amazing bi-weekly massages, which releases the knots and tension in my shoulders, neck, and legs, allowing my energy to flow freely and my muscles to remain loose and supple. I’ve long had one huge, immovable knot in my left shoulder that I affectionately referred to as “Fred.” Keri discovered a matching knot in my right shoulder whom she named, “Wilma.” Fred and Wilma have been with me since a 1988 car accident where severe whiplash resulted. Although they like to show up for old times’ sake, Fred and Wilma are mostly gone thanks to Keri’s magic hands.
Fred (not my pain-in-the-neck Fred) and Keith at Columbia’s REI patiently fitted me for both my day pack and new hiking shoes. (My über-comfortable hiking shoes, at 12 years old, were no longer providing the support I’ll need for long hikes.)They walked me around the store, helping me locate the dozen small items which will ensure the Camino experience is a pleasant (and clean) one.
Linda Gourley, Susie McShea, Cooper Greenman, Caroline Kevin, Debbi Reid, Laura Shovan, Kris Faatz, and Susan and Robert Haggerty have hiked countless miles with me as I prepare to tackle this journey. Their companionship and encouragement have been priceless. I wish that everyone could have such ardent supporters and friends such as this magnificent group.
Dona Rutowicz, my sister-from-another-mother, and I talk nearly every morning. She offers a different and loving perspective for those days when I just don’t want to hike. “Just get outside, and you’ll feel so much better.” She lights me up every morning with her sunshine.
There are countless others who ask about my plans, cheer me on, and carry me in their hearts. But there’s been one person who, since 2011, has encouraged (and beautified) me like no one else. Holly Fitzpatrick of Symmetry Hair and Day Spa has been my hair stylist for 17 years. Every three weeks, like clockwork, she performs her magic. She’s seen me through some of the darkest days in my life and has always provided loving encouragement in a non-judgmental way. I’m grateful for her heart, spirit, and friendship. (Not to mention her practical suggestion of growing my hair out for the trek, so it’ll be easier to manage.)
They say that one is drawn to the Camino for a spiritual purpose. I believe something amazing awaits me there. I know I’m meant to traverse the entire path and have set in motion annual plans to tackle the pilgrimage one week at a time. Although my pack will be physically heavy, it’s the internal burdens that are most likely the heaviest I’ll carry. As I leave them behind with each footfall, I believe my heart and soul will become lighter.
But it’s that I carry within me which will lighten my load most of all, and that is the love of each of these amazing friends and the others who, in large or small ways, encourage me.
And these precious gifts I’m not leaving behind.
About the Camino de Santiago de Compostella: El Camino de Santiago de Compostela (in English: The Way of St. James) is a network of paths across Spain and Europe which all lead to Santiago de Compostela, in the northwest of Spain. Starting in the Middle Ages, these routes were walked as a pilgrimage to the tomb of the apostle St. James. Today, tens of thousands walk or cycle the Camino de Santiago every year in an epic journey of 500 miles.
About Heather Waring of Women Walking Women Talking: Twice a year, Heather and her team lead women on a spiritual quest on the Camino.