A Pilgrim's Reflection on Walking the Camino by Canon Nancy Hoxie Mead
Greetings fellow pilgrims!
I am writing to you from Narragansett, Rhode Island on the Atlantic Ocean not quite half way between Colorado and Santiago de Compostela. Married 48 years to an Episcopal priest, I am the mother of two, grandmother of four and caretaker of three chickens. Gardening, sailing, and walking keep me mostly out of trouble.
Twenty years ago, when I was turning 50, I walked my first Camino from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela. I celebrated my birthday in Finisterre by burning my clothes and swimming in the freezing ocean.
Since then a woman whom I met on the Camino and I have spent one month nearly every year, walking somewhere in the world.We have walked five full Caminos, four partial Caminos, the Via Francigena from Canterbury to Rome and the Via del Sud from Rome to the Adriatic and down to the heel of Italy.
In between, we have walked Coast to Coast across France, Italy and England -- so far about 7000 miles. I am a serial walker.
Like Saint Paul on the road to Damascus, the Camino changed my life. I learned about Spain, Pilgrimage and my fellow pilgrims but mostly I learned about myself. I am also a slow learner.
I walk each year to learn and relearn the lessons of the Camino. There are many lessons. Four words come to mind:
FLEXIBLE. There are some things we can control; others we can’t. Today we can’t walk in Spain but we can still walk. Tomorrow may rain but walking in the rain can be beautiful. We won’t melt. The albergue may be full tonight but there will be a bed. In 20 years of walking, we have never spent a night in the open. We may have slept in a barn or a jail or in the home of a kind stranger but we were warm (mostly) and dry (usually). You may not see a McDonalds. Try percebes (barnacles). They are delicious and a kind stranger will teach you how to eat them. Live dangerously. Be flexible. Don’t break.
OPEN. While you walk, open your eyes. Look around. Look down. Open your ears. Talk with another pilgrim. Hear how her life was shaped, what her opinions are. Open your mind. Learn the history of the Camino and Spain. Learn about the rocks that you are walking over or the flowers beneath your feet. Open your heart and let God in.
SLOW. The Camino is not a race. There are no prizes. The beer at the end of the day will wait. There will be beer tomorrow, but will you be on the Camino tomorrow? To quote from the Eva Rose York poem “I shall not pass this way again.” Who knows what tomorrow will bring? Today you can walk - maybe not in Spain, but in Colorado, even in Narragansett. Slow down and savor every step even the painful ones.
ALONE. Don’t be afraid to walk alone. My walking pal and I begin and end together but we walk separately and silently at our own pace. We regroup every two hours and talk for about fifteen minutes. It is a good thing to be alone with one’s thoughts, one’s fears, one’s dreams, one’s family, one’s friends, one’s enemies, one’s God.
Those are my thoughts: advice as much for myself as for you.
FOSA: FLEXIBLE, OPEN, SLOW, ALONE
I look forward to meeting you “along the way” and I am grateful to Father Greg for inviting me to share your virtual Camino.
Ultreya and Buen Camino.Nancy