Often, it’s in doing something for others that we gain the most for ourselves. In my life, I’ve found this to be the defining theme. Especially when there is nothing to be personally gained in doing it.
Here in Valencia I have this friend. She’s a little older and her body isn’t what it used to be. In general, she’s aware it isn’t going to get faster or stronger. Entirely the opposite. At 68, she’s slower going and she has issues with her knees and hips. So climbing mountains isn’t really in her future.
She moved here from the UK, after living in many other countries over the course of her lifetime. From Bahrain to Holland and the US. But in all that time she had never heard of the Camino de Santiago. And according to her, since moving to Valencia, everyone she meets has walked it in some form or another and they have their Compostella.
Before I went to the US this summer, she came over and wanted to see my ‘Camino stuff’ and I pulled it all out and showed it to her. The credentials with all the stamps. The certificate you get at the end in Santiago. The prayer cards that nuns and others place into your hands, and some of the homemade medals that found their way into my possession from people on roadsides or in random olive groves. Seeing all that stuff again makes me a little emotional and it all comes flooding back. But we have so many other friends here who have also walked the Norte and the Portuguese. And she’s decided she wants to walk the Camino too. But she won’t go alone.
Most of those she knows have other obligations or just don’t have the time. And she’s found another year has ticked by. So, I volunteered. We won’t be starting in St. Jean. We’ll fly to Santiago and take the train to Sarria and start from there. To get the Compostella, starting from Sarria is pretty much the minimum distance on the Frances with 2 stamps per day in the Pilgrim’s passport.
She is eager to do it but she’s nervous too, and her daughter back in the UK told her there is no way she can do it. Which, like anyone, means she’s bound and determined. And I’ve assured her we can go as slow as we need to. I’m not in any hurry and neither is she. We’ll go in October. It will be cooler in Galicia and probably wetter, but I feel sure we’ll make it just fine.
And then I got to thinking. We’ll be heading back to the US for the Holidays. Spending some of the holiday season with my parents. I can’t imagine what gift I could get my Dad at this stage. He will be turning 90 this week and finding a way to celebrate that milestone was hard enough in his condition from so far away. But this chance to help out a friend has presented an opportunity to do something for my Dad.
So when I get to Santiago this time the Compostella will have my Dad’s name written on it. He was a Catholic at one point and the powers that be in the Department of Pilgrimages, or some such in the Catholic Church, let you walk for someone else who can’t do it themselves. So, I’ll be walking for you, Dad. And when they do the pilgrim’s blessing at the Cathedral in Santiago, I’ll accept it in your name. I know I’ll feel better having completed it with you in mind. And with the knowledge that, finally, the day you meet St. Peter at the pearly gates you can show him your backstage pass to heaven, and just maybe you’ll think of me and smile when you do it.
So this time I get to help two people. And it is true what they say. That is its own reward.