On May 23rd, while enjoying wine and tapas in a small Santiago bar, I shared some of my thoughts about the Camino with Irish Peregrina, Una Barrett. I likened the pilgrimage to Peter Pan’s “Never Land”, a place where an adult may return to the spirit of youth and childlike wonder. “Tir na nÓg”, she replied, “It’s Irish for “The Land of Eternal Youth.’”
On May 31st, with cabin lights dimmed, Christine and I were relaxing aboard our west bound flight. We were crossing the Atlantic. We were heading home.
Una’s words came back to me as I gazed out the window at the clouds below. With the benefit of the plane’s Wi-Fi I was able to find passages from J. M. Barrie’s 1911 novel, “Peter Pan and Wendy” that spoke to my heart. I began to type.
May 31st. “Tir na nÓg” (Gaelic for “The Land of Eternal Youth”)
“”Second to the Right, and Straight on till Morning.’ That, Peter had told Wendy, was the way to Neverland.” (From “Peter Pan and Wendy”)
Scarcely could there be better directions to the Camino. Over the last 6 weeks I have learned that it is not so much a place, although it is a place, as it is a Way. It is not something realized through a book or from a video, it is an experience that unfolds within. The things which were important at the start; selection of equipment, route planning, communications, became laughingly insignificant. Destination yields to Journey. Appreciation for the qualities of those dear to you gains sharper focus. One’s “guard” drops, and the door to new friendships opens wide. Expectations give way to Acceptance.
For some the Camino may remain a vacation, an adventure, or an item checked off of a “bucket list”. For me the Camino was a blossoming rebirth of the happiness, innocence, and affection found in childhood. My Camino also included anxiety, discomfort, pain, and illness. However, without the full range of experiences, good and bad, there could not have been growth or appreciation of the Camino’s “gifts”. These included sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures, which were a sensorial symphony that played every day. Also included were intense spiritual experiences, and friendships which were like a morning Espresso; deep, intense, and rich but fleeting.
At the risk of inadvertent omissions, I acknowledge those friendships at the end of this note; a final “thank you” to the people who gave special dimension to my Camino. We walked the path side-by-side, shared a table, ordered dinner and wine from a Pilgrim’s Menu, enjoyed and endured Albergues, and of course frequently exchanged the sincere declaration, “Buen Camino!”
These were friendships that carried with them the uncertainty of not knowing if a parting would be followed by a separation of a day, a week, or a lifetime. Reunions on the Camino were often unexpected and flowing with simple joy. This was the kind of delight that is more typical of a child’s excitement upon seeing a beloved but long absent grandparent. For an adult, such warmth without reservation was a rare gift.
Is it any wonder that my hesitation may be misunderstood when I am asked, “So, how was the Camino?” What can I possibly say that offers justice to the question, let alone the experience?
I carried my backpack over 800 km on the Camino. Difficult at first, but it soon became second nature. I have wondered what I might carry with me from the Camino into everyday life. During an evening prayer service in Rabanal, a monk urged us to be mindful that Christ walked the Camino disguised as a pilgrim, careful not to reveal his identity. Perhaps a metaphor, but the message worked on me. As I encountered pilgrims, I found myself thinking, “What if she…, or he…?” I became a bit more sincere, a little kinder, less inclined to judge, and more patient. Perhaps that is the best thing for me to carry forth from the Camino, that the Spirit lives within each of us, and that I must act accordingly.
There is more from the Camino that deserves to be preserved in my life: The childlike wonder that we are born with was stirred anew. It should not again be allowed to dim. Each day should be a search for a new joy, and when found it should be shared with others. There is within each of us the capacity to do our best, and in that to do good by others. Happiness has its source in these things, and when found gives the soul wings.
From “Peter Pan and Wendy”:
(Wendy’s daughter Jane speaking to Wendy) “What do you see now?”
(Wendy) “I don’t think that I see anything tonight.”
“Yes you do, you see when you were a little girl.”
“That is a long time ago, sweetheart.. Ah me, how time flies!”
“Does it fly, the way you flew when you were a little girl?”
“… Do you know, Jane, I sometimes wonder whether I ever really did fly.”
“… Why can’t you fly now, mother?”
“Because I am grown up, dearest. When people grow up they forget the way.”
May I never forget… “The Way”.
Love to all of you. Have Fun, Do Good, and Be Safe. Buen Camino!
Dedication: To you who I name, and to those who I forget to name, the Camino wove you into the fabric of my life. Do not underestimate your contribution or my gratitude: Kris, Maggie, Bernard, Roberto, John, Lene, Jacobien, Henk, Christine, Gabi, Sabine, Gerri, Paul, Martin, Heika, Ed, Sam, Brent, Michael, Tony, Geraldine, Jenni, Jack, David, Carole, Ramona, Kalina, Regina, Alan, Deb, Dick, Bonnie, John, Patricia, Philip, Alex, Vickie, Kate, Patrick, Karin, Sven, Claudia, Jay, Mark, Chance, Olivia, Stephanie, Marcia, Tess, Lisa, Rose, Mike, Angie, Marianne, Gurtz, Javier, Jessica, Marign, Yosmar, Una, Eric, Andre, Raphael, Begonia, Neus, a Monk, a barber in Vega de Valcarce, a Pilgrim from the 11th Century, and of course my very good wife, Christine.
Some of you I have named will read this, but for others this dedication will be a message in a bottle. If you can pass it on to another who might not otherwise receive it, then the bottle will have reached that shore.
Finally, a special thanks to Albert Hickson. In the earliest days of publishing these posts to my website, Albert began sending me near daily comments, suggestions, and corrections. His contributions were voluntary and unsolicited. Albert is 73, retired, and he has walked the Camino more than once. He and his wife of 43 years, Viv, live near London, England. We had never previously known of or communicated with each other.