Until she showed up, I walked quite happily with Moritz and a now-and-then posse of German, Austrian and Danish girls. The girls floated in and out according to their schedules. Moritz took a selfie with all of us and sent it to his family who texted back that they had no idea he had a harem.
Until she showed up we were a jolly bunch and I loved being behind Moritz and the two German girls listening to their German conversations. Every twenty minutes or so, they would turn around and apologize for not speaking English.
No, no, I don’t mind a bit,” I said. It was like listening to some kind of music what with the percussion of the walking sticks, the clanging of carabiners and the soft scraping of gravel. I loved walking, breathing, listening and taking in whatever landscape Mother Earth offered us that day. We went on quite happily like this—until she showed up.
She was Sally Ann*, a woman just a few years younger than me. She was cheerful and chatty and I disliked her immediately. The posse loved her. But underneath her cheerful smiling face I detected a deep grief.
But instead of being compassionate I judged her as a phony have-to-be-right, attention-seeking, bossy, know-it-all.
She loved to correct everyone on their Spanish pronunciation. “It’s lay-own, not lee-own,” she said. “The ‘e’ is Spanish is pronounced with a long ‘a.’ Léon!” Well, I knew that. I said it correctly!
Now they say that two hours on the Camino with someone is like two years. So that meant that pretty soon Moritz and I got comfortable enough with one another to institute what I called, “The Judgment Hour.”
We usually held The Judgment Hour first thing in the morning. During the first thirty minutes we gossiped about what happened the day before; who we didn’t like; who bugged us; who we wanted avoid; whose behavior outraged us. We usually laughed our heads off during this part.
The next part wasn’t quite as hilarious—in fact, it was usually downright painful.In the remaining thirty minutes we reflected on the deeper reason we disliked that person. You know—the reason behind the reason AKA the Real Reason.
Of course it was during Judgment Hour that I brought up Sally Ann. Moritz was shocked I didn’t like her. He just nodded quietly because by this time he knew me pretty well. So I went on to list her sins.
Then it was time for the Real Reasons. I took a deep breath. “She reminds me of me—that is my Worst Self: a have-to-be-right, attention-seeking, bossy, know-it-all.”
“That is not how I see you,” Moritz said.
“No, that is not how I am most of the time. But it is something I so detest in myself that when I see it in other people I feel repulsed by it.”
We walked in silence for a while until I said, “I’ve always believed that Jesus meant it when he said, ‘Love one another,’ but he never said we had to like one another. So now I have to figure out a way to love her in spite of not liking her.”
I already knew how to do this because I had done it many times with patients. If you can’t be compassionate, at least be curious because many times curiosity opens the door to compassion which can open the door to love.
So I sat next to her at dinner that night and forced myself to talk with her. It turned out that her husband of two years was supposed to walk the Camino with her but he pulled out. Then he said he would walk the last sixty miles with her but changed his mind about that too. Her voice got low and thick as she talked. For the first time I felt she was being real.
I felt no satisfaction in being right about her cheerful veneer. I felt compassion for her. When her eyes filled with tears, my did too. Then she overheard someone talking about ordering a tortilla and she immediately gave a mini-lecture on how unlike a Mexican tortilla, a Spanish tortilla is an egg dish made with potatoes and onions.
I sighed. I felt compassion and even love for her—but she still annoyed me.
I spent the rest of the Camino thinking about how if we don’t have compassion and love for others then for sure we don’t have it for ourselves. What if in the midst of detesting our behavior we got curious about it instead? What if we said to ourselves in a friendly way, “My heavens! Where did I ever learn this? What is the Real Reason? Well, how about that!”
*Not her real name.