I Didn’t Plan On Walking the Camino de Santiago this Summer (and the unexpected blessing that is sending me on my way)
Back in January my twenty-six-year old son Zach told me about the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, a centuries old Spanish pilgrimage given new life through Emilio Esteves’s and Martin Sheen’s movie, The Way. “We’d need to cover 500 miles in about five weeks,” Zach said, “Will you walk it with me?” It didn’t take me but a heartbeat to respond.
I said, “Yes.”
In the months that followed, however, I became intimate with disappointment. Not about the Camino. About — well — other things.
Three separate, life-changing opportunities fell through. The details are not important. Suffice it to say, every sign seemed to be pointing toward new, exciting, and professionally affirming developments, none of which came to fruition.
Despite regular discernment with a spiritual director, I was left bereft. I did not know how to proceed.
In the midst of that disappointment, Jarod* showed up at my office. A non traditional student, he had recently left the Hutterite community where he had been raised. After a brief interview, I hired him as a part-time research assistant.
We met once a week. Bright, curious, and engaged, he was a delight.
Then he found out that I was planning to walk the Camino this summer. This ex-Hutterite had walked it just before he came to Missoula.
His eyes blazed as he told me about his pilgrimage.
I didn’t want a nontraditional student confirming that the next thing that I should be doing was to prepare to walk the Camino. I wanted to sit in my disappointment.
But Jarod was tenacious. He kept talking about the Camino right through the rest of the semester.
The academic year concluded with my grief still fresh when Jarod asked if we could meet one more time. “I have some things I want to give you,” he explained.
Our schedules didn’t mesh well, but we found a half hour to talk while I walked our dog Pauli.
First he gave me a small box of homemade chocolate caramels. They were delicious.
Then, he gave me advice about the Camino:
- watch out for bed bugs;
- join communal meals whenever possible;
- bring a pair of sandals for the shower;
- listen to your body;
- take days off.
It was excellent counsel.
The Camino guide he gave me, replete with notes about things not to miss, was his next gift. Such a treasure.
But it was his final gift that focused my attention.
“When you walk the Camino, God speaks to you at some point,” he declared, “I get the impression that you’re open to that.”
I said that I was.
“Good. Can I offer you a blessing?”
When I heard that question, I froze. I don’t know how long I stood immobile.
Weeks before, after I had received yet more disappointing news, I had told my spiritual director, “I long for someone to reach out and bless me.”
For seconds — minutes? — more I did not move until Pauli sniffed my feet and brought me back to the present. There on the cement between our back door and the garage, I told Jarod that yes, of course, he could bless me.
Without hesitation or awkwardness, Jarod laid his hand on my shoulder, and said, “May you find what you don’t even know you are seeking.”
I did not weep then. The tears only came that evening when I told Cheryl about the blessing while we ate mac and cheese.
From June 19 through July 25, Zach and I will walk the Camino — the French way if you’re interested. Five hundred miles.
We’ll be two of thousands who walk the Camino every year. I’ll do a bit of participant research for a book project. Pilgrimages figure prominently in that history.
We’ll eat good food, see beautiful country, practice speaking Spanish, and do a lot of walking.
And, I’ll do my best to be open to that which I don’t yet know that I’m seeking.
If you’ve read this far, I’ll let you know that I plan on posting weekly photos and brief entries about what I find along the way.
You can find my posts at:
Twitter: @TobinShearer #zandtwalkthecamino
Instagram: tobinshearer #zandtwalkthecamino
*Not his real name.