When I came back home with my very first Compostela, I went to Mass not far from my office and asked the priest after Mass to hear my confession. I was completing a circuit that had started on Christmas Day 2010 when I flew from New York to Madrid to catch a bus to Sarria all by myself. I was determined to collect every indulgence I could get: I walked, I walked through the Holy Door, I watched the Botafumeiro fill the Cathedral with a heavenly scent, and on December 31, I became an official winter pilgrim.
What the priest told me has stayed with me all these years and over several more walks met with that heavenly scent. He told me I was obliged, not as a recommendation but as an obligation, to tell other people about my pilgrimage. In response to all those blessings, my role going forward was storyteller. It wasn’t enough to collect indulgences and feel serenely happy and glad that I had walked away from my family over the holidays into a greater consciousness, I had to share it.
For a natural storyteller like myself, this was easy. And to fulfil an obligation easily? The best of both worlds. I had read up on legends of the Camino, the small tasks you perform once you arrive, but did not expect a further obligation to be given me once I was home, sleeping in my own bed, making my own coffee.
I wondered immediately what medieval pilgrims would have shared with their neighbors and families. Did they talk about the dangers of walking, the winter weather, the lack of even meagre creature comforts? Or did they bring home that happiness? Did they complain about too many non-believers, tourists, and convicted criminals walking off their sentence, or did they share the sense of awe they got that first time you walk in and see the other pilgrims visiting the tomb? I would imagine they’d be really confused that most of us just talk about a sprained ankle or a rash of bug bites, sunburn, maybe the challenge of overcrowding.
As we close another calendar year, one in which I was fortunate to walk the Camino Ingles with two dear friends, I’d ask what will you share of your experience on the Way? I think the priest meant for me to share my stories of instant friendships, bonding with fellow pilgrims, the glory of solitude, the bliss of a dinner and breakfast shared before setting out for the day, the sense of wonder at what the day’s travel would bring. I heard a cuckoo sing for the first time in my life while I was walking on the Meseta two years ago. I saw wild horses and soaring raptors on the Primitivo a year ago. I have walked long enough to forget what day it is. And, sitting here in the Bronx, I am content.
What will you share? What’s your story?
My books? In My Books!