Most people I have told about my intention to walk the Camino de Santiago have the same reaction.
First, there’s the silence. Stunned silence, followed by a piercing gaze, an: “Are you serious?” sort of look. Then, when they see that I am, indeed, not kidding, they take a moment, processing, and say something like, “I see. Why do you want to do this?”
I’m pretty good at dealing with the initial shocked reaction. I get it; it seems to have come out of the blue to most of my friends and family. They don’t know that I first learned about the Camino years ago, while studying history. They don’t know that I’ve been thinking about it since then, because to be honest, I haven’t said anything about it. It’s one of those desires that has lived in my heart in a cocooned state, because of its outrageous nature. Taking 6 weeks or more off daily life is rather outrageous, at least in my mind. Walking 500 miles is rather outrageous, too. I’m not an athlete by any stretch of the imagination. But what I lack in physical prowess I make up for in enthusiasm.
Foolish enthusiasm, some might say.
I have taken an ice pick to the frozen and hard places of my heart these past few years. I am splitting it open and letting out all the airy dreams and insubstantial wishes. Some flutter away like moths. Others glow and pulse and speak to me in a voice I cannot deny.
Make me real. Do it now, or not at all.
So, yes, I can deal with the shock. It is something I have debated in my own mind, a familiar topic. But what I am not so good at comprehending and answering are questions about why I’m doing the Camino. I don’t respond with the gravity the question demands. Usually I blather on about how I love history and walking and how my spirit says to go. I’m a grandmother now and if I don’t go now when will I? It’s not like time is passing more slowly than it used to. Menopause has wreaked its havoc on my body and that has a way of bringing the reality of the passing years to the forefront of one’s mind.
And all of these reasons are true. I’m a writer and because of that, I have the advantage of calling any and every endeavor research. Who knows what might come of my trip? I am looking at projects now, sifting them and finding those that seem most worthy.
These explanations, especially the part about my spirit – the nudgings of the Holy Spirit – satisfies some. These are those who are used to doing things for faith that others might find strange or incomprehensible. They have learned, as I have, that following Spirit is something that is frequently frightening and strenuous, but that it is always good, no matter the outward appearance, no matter even the result, as counterintuitive as that sounds. That, indeed, God works in mysterious ways.
Others look at me with a blank sort of stare, and rephrase the question.
“What do you hope to gain from this?”
On my end, the blathering continues. Adventure, inner strength, peace, power, love … I have said all these things and more, and yes, of course I hope to gain them. But the true answer is that I just don’t know what will happen. What will come from this great effort, this long walk. That flippant old answer to the question, “Why do you climb Mount Everest?” applies. Because it’s there.
I am open. I am willing to see what there is to see. To whatever blessed fellow pilgrims I can walk with. To whatever centuries-old sights I can experience.
The heart and soul of what I hope to find, though? I don’t know. I am going because I have been called by something greater than me. I am going because I have answered the call. It is an age-old siren song, the call. Adventurers and pilgrims alike have heard it. And so have farmers and peasants and factory workers. Perhaps you have as well. Some listen. Some go, despite the obstacles of health, finances, and danger. I am one of these.
Why am I going?
Here, then, is the answer.
Lean in, listen closely, and I will tell you why, in a soft voice, a sacred half-whisper.
That is the question, is it not?