Yesterday morning, having walked a couple of hours as the rising sun burned away the fog, I stopped for breakfast in a serene cafe setting of lawn and trees. Soon David, an Irishman I bunked with a couple of weeks ago, came by, followed by an American (from Seattle!) who slammed his pack down and whined loudly, “Why did they make us take that pissy little trail when we could have stayed on the road?” He was referring to a steep shortcut that took pilgrims safely off a blind curve. It wasn’t long, but the footing was tricky.
David replied softly, “The Camino wants you to go its way, not your own.” And I chimed in, “The Camino is all about surrender.” The poor man had no reply. He was a newbie, one of the many who had only recently joined the trail to rack up the minimum 100 final kilometers required to earn a “Compostela” – the treasured certificate of completion. He hadn’t yet put in enough mileage to have the willfulness walked out of him.
But can I, having now trod 478 miles in 31 days, really claim any kind of illumination or transformation as a result? I still get annoyed by the loud and incessant talkers who mar the tranquility, I still get angry when a speeding truck comes close to knocking me into a ditch. I have yet to perfect the pilgrim equanimity urged by my guidebook, which sees every irritation as the sand that produces the pearl. But at least I try to make these things part of my walking prayer. As the monks say of life in the monastery, “We fall down and get up, fall down and get up …”
Speaking of which, I took a fall today. After a month without a mishap, now but a day’s walk from Santiago, I tripped on a root and did a spectacular face plant: bloody nose, minor nicks and scratches, and broken sunglasses. A French woman and an American student stopped to help, and walked with me to the next town, where I found a room and cleaned up. I am fine, but it was odd that this occurred only minutes after I had paused at a touching trailside memorial for Guillermo Watt, a man exactly my age who had died there in 1993, just one day short of completing his pilgrimage.
These final stretches of walking have been especially lovely, reminiscent of the English countryside of the Romantics – low stone walls dividing leaf-shaded paths from sunny green pastures, as wandering clouds drift lazily overhead. While the degree of my spiritual surrender to the Camino may be difficult to measure, I have wholly surrendered to its beauty.