It’s the question everyone asks. It bisects language and cultural barriers. In no way is it rhetorical; the asker nearly demands an answer from the peregrino. Any pilgrim in their right mind ought to expect it and most have walked in enough reflective solitude to form a considered answer.
Why do you do this? Why endure the pain? Why?
It’s not altogether a simple, off-the-cuff response. Nor should it be. Just a bit ago, an Aussie and I asked a German woman, Uta, over a beer, ‘Why?’ It seems a year ago her husband jilted her for another woman. In tears, she related how she’s now saddled with a house and two children, and a demanding job.
The six weeks of introspection and reflection, Uta said, was for her. Not friends, not others. Her.
Kirsty, the middle aged Australian, recently quit her job – she described her manager as a ditz – and although she denied a spiritual side, she too is looking for resolution to internal conflicts.
Then there’s Steve, a lanky retired flooring contractor from San Diego who has put up with my rants for 35-40 kilometers. Earlier this year his prostate was removed – after 35 painful cobalt treatments at $5,000 per. It left him incontinent and, distraught, he delayed his Camino until it was under control.
I asked Steve about his most moving moment this early in his nearly 800 kilometer trek. He didn’t hesitate. On his first morning, he entered a medieval catedral and sat in the dark in the first pew, hoping for that first sign that his Camino would commence in the right way. As dawn emerged through the narrow windows, rays of the sun shown directly upon him. It was, he said, due “to the hand of God.”
And then there’s Nora, a fit young Belgian who’s putting the pedal to the metal to reach the end point, Santiago de Compostela, in 25 days. That’s seven below the norm.
As we talked, she confessed to suffering from depression for years and her hopes were for learnings she might apply to keep depression at bay. The Camino is, she said, “what I needed to do.”
And the same question has been asked of me. My answer is in flux: what began as a mere adventure is slowly becoming what Uta, Kirsty, Steve and the others learned well before me: what you think of the Camino and what it thinks of you are two entirely different things. My spiritual tilting aside, I am definitely in the minority. Perhaps I’ll move over to the other side in the next 23 days.