Everyone who walks the Camino understands its a metaphor of your life. If they don’t at the beginning, they know it at the end. Your life, personally. Seriously. And for those who have walked it they know exactly what I am talking about.
This time I am walking alone. No Jeff training-wheels until I am steady. Just me. And my walk is a reflection of myself. It can be nothing else. So far I have met lovely people who have spent hours with me and told me their stories. And I’ve had to say goodbye to most of them at certain points, as I am staying off-stage if I can manage it. And I am trying not to walk so far I injure myself.
This is new for me. In my life as a general people pleaser and never say No-er, I would ignore my pains and aches, my plans for MY Camino, and I would succumb to the pleas of ‘Come on, Kelli. Don’t stop here. Its only another 10,11, 15 k.’ To where they had reservations. But this time I have hugged my new friends, wished them Buen Camino, and sent them on their way. Explaining that likely we would see each other again. Maybe in Burgos or in the Meseta. That’s just how the Camino works. Its like weird time travel.
Then I had an encounter that has reinforced my commitment to MY Camino. I met a woman who could only be described as a condescending bully. And she made a beeline for me and my friendly, Golden Retriever-smile -criticizing my rest periods on the trail and staying in the same Albergue (there was only one accommodation open in that town) and questioning my every move. Even while laying on my bunk. ‘Are you lying there in your sleeping bag because you are cold or just lazy.’ Yup! You get it. It was fun.
Of course, in my life I have known many bullies. People who belittle and diminish. I was raised by a pack of them, so I know these types of people by the feeling I get in my body when they come near. Sometimes without them saying a word. So many times over the decades I would try to placate the bully. Or acquiesce to their demands so they wouldn’t continue to hone in on me with their laser of negativity. Of course, this is a fatally flawed strategy with bullies. They look for perceived weakness and they go in for the kill. But this is MY Camino, damn it. And I’m no newbie. So my Camino bully could fuck right off.
She criticized my pack. My sleeping bag choice. My boots. Even my kilometers per day – as if she was keeping score. I just smiled and continued to lay in my bunk and read. Finally, after all the prattle I was tired and ready to put an end to it.
‘Is this your first Camino?’ I asked her.
She laughed ‘Of course. Who has time to take 5 weeks to do this more than once.’
I raised my hand ‘I do.’
She looked shocked. ‘You’ve walked the Camino before?’
‘Yes.’ I told her. ‘And I didn’t take the Valcarlos route over the Pyrenees. I did the harder Napoleon. Straight up and over.’ For the record, I would actually like to walk the Valcarlos someday. And its just as valid as the Napoleon route, which is closed due to snow right now. She had to take Valcarlos. But I had had enough of her bullshit.
Her mouth hung open in response. For the first time in hours she was silent, so I continued.
‘This is the perfect pack for my size. Yes, it’s bright yellow, but not because I’m a fan of My Little Pony cartoons or Pokémon. It’s so cars and trucks can see me. I’d like to arrive to Santiago alive. And there is not one thing in it that doesn’t serve a purpose. I will use it all. And I know that because I have done this before. I know my perfect boots. How far I can go each day. How much rest I need to recharge. And no, we are not Camino buddies due to proximity, and tomorrow we will not be waking out of this Albergue together.’ I pointed my finger her way and made circles in the air. ‘Cause whatever this is, I’m having none of it.’ Then I rolled over and continued reading.
The silence from her bunk was deafening. If she only knew. I’m here working shit out, lady. You don’t want to mess with me.
You might think I should have more empathy. This person is clearly freaked out by this experience and she is falling back on her standby of bullying to feel in control. But I’m not here as her therapist nor her priest – thank God. Hopefully, for her sake, she uses the next four weeks for inquiry and self reflection . Or not. It’s entirely her choice.
And I am proud of myself. No more putting the bully’s feelings first. No telling myself that she didn’t mean it or she was tired. Some people are just assholes, taking out their anger or fears on someone they perceive to be weaker. She learned she had chosen the wrong victim. And perhaps I saved someone further down the path from her wrath. Maybe, just maybe, she will think twice next time and not judge a book by its cover. Even a usually very friendly Golden Retriever, when pushed too far, has teeth.