I’d always imagined arriving in Santiago de Compostela as a sort of triumphal entry like Jesus on the donkey into Jerusalem; crowds cheering, palm fronds waving—a sense of having arrived. Something like high school graduation but with more wisdom and less alcohol.
But it was nothing like that.
For you to understand I have to explain about picking up family and friends in Sarria. In Spanish “sarria” means “a wide net made of ropes.” That should have told me something right there except that I didn’t know it at the time.
Sarria the very last point at which you can hop on the Camino and still receive your Compostela. Hordes of people do just that. This is like starting Harvard spring quarter of your senior year then boasting that you are a Harvard graduate.
It’s very easy for those of us who started 440 miles earlier to feel superior and quite annoyed with these people we called, “Sarrians.” Their shoes were clean, their packs were new, their feet were fresh. They walked four abreast and by “walk” I mean, “stroll,” the kind of pace you keep when going through a shopping mall. And they talked. Constantly. Loudly. Often screaming with laughter.
Sometimes I’d catch the eye of someone who’d been on the Camino for weeks and there’d be this unspoken conversation that went like this:
Pilgrim #1: I’d like to stuff water bottles in all their flapping mouths.
Pilgrim #2: I’d like to push their sorry selves off the trail so I could get by.
Pilgrim #1: May blisters be with them.
Pilgrim #2: Amen.
Before I left O’Cebreiro, Steve, a guy I met from South Carolina warned me, “Your head is in a different space now. Your body is different—you’ve been walking for five weeks and you’re going to blow right past them. It’s going to be hard, Debra.”
I felt a slight ripple of fear but said, “Nah, I’ll be fine. It’s my husband and two friends!”
Now this is the scene in a horror movie where you think, “No-o-o-o-o! Don’t do it!”
Steve was right: my head was in a different space. I did not want to hear about house renovations, mortgage rates and wedding showers. Have you ever been in that place where you just can’t get yourself out of it?
Festering resentment that I didn’t get to finish the Camino with Moritz and the German and Danish girls? Unresolved grief? All that and more.
Did I pray? You bet your asthma I prayed! Jesus just shook his head and shrugged his shoulders and said, “I’m here with you, girl. But it’s up to you.”
Steve was also right in that I couldn’t bear their pace. Some days I just tore ahead of them, and then waited sullen and cranky in the next town. They shipped their packs ahead every night and stayed in hotels. Wes and I carried our packs stayed in albergues. I hate how I judged them but couldn’t—or wouldn’t—stop myself.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?
Ow, ow, ow!!!! I could hardly see. You could build a really nice bookcase with all the planks in my eyes. You could sell it through IKEA and call it SNARK.
We’re never upset for the reason we think. It’s almost always about something else entirely—not the other person. The judgment falls on the other person when really it’s because we’re judging ourselves or projecting on them or some other nonsense.
And the snark? Snark is so damaging because it requires thought and in the split second that we create snark, we could have chosen silence. It is like a terrible fart where the odor lingers long after the sound. You can’t take it back.
I tried to salvage it all by talking about what touched me, how I felt spirit working, what life questions arose in me. But they had nothing to say. In spite of the Camino now crawling with people, I felt totally alone.
Carl Jung said, “Loneliness does not come from having no people around you, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to you.”
Amen. And again, I say, amen. Clearly Dr. Jesus and Dr. Jung were collaborating in my care.
Because my friends had booked hotels they were forced to stop and stay. So Wes and I got a day ahead of them. Early in the morning we walked into Santiago together. As we were approaching the cathedral my pack suddenly felt unbelievably heavy. I could hardly take another step. I thought, “Oh, dear God. What is wrong with me? What is happening?”
What was happening was that one of the Danish girls, Emma, was behind me pulling on my pack. She stayed an extra night in Santiago just so that she could walk into the city with me. She laughed in delight and I wept.
I caught many different things in my “wide net made of ropes.” The most precious was the sweet one of Emma waiting for me and entering Santiago with both her and Wes. I’m still examining the rest of the catch.