At 55 there are still lessons to be learned. And in life there are times we require a refresher course for the ones we thought we learned long ago. It seems I am still a remedial Pilgrim, and the lessons are still coming.
Today was a tough day. I left at first light in a misty fog that had settled over the valley. I saw other Pilgrims periodically, but none were my previous peeps and the weather made everyone broody, with heads down against the wind and constant uphills and downhills. Even people walking together didn’t speak. It was a hard walk.
After many ups and downs I was tired. Looking off into the distance I could see where the path would eventually go up a mountain. And my confidence fell just looking at it. How I was going to get up that, I had no idea. The path wound around bends, but then the future mountain path would come into view again, reminding me of what was in store for me. I spent an hour strategizing how I was going to tackle it. Barely noticing where I was walking as I descended towards the valley floor. It was coming. Thats all I knew.
An old man came up the steep path I was walking down. Carrying a heavy sack.
‘You speak ingles?’ He asked immediately.
I said yes. Then he handed me a card with a prayer. ‘God is blessing you. He loves you and he’s watching over you.’ He told me. Then he continued up the mountainside, not winded at all.
I smiled and tucked his prayer card in my pack, then continued my descent. The mountain in the distance was coming. Finally, I reached the bottom and came to where the road heading over the mountain began, when I saw that the path split at that very spot. And my road wasn’t going over the mountain. The yellow arrows pointed me along the river. It was flat and shady. I had been stressing and worrying about something that was never going to happen. A wasted hour that could have been spent enjoying the pine forest I was walking through. But I missed it because my eyes were on the mountain I thought I had to climb.
At that cross roads I shook my head and laughed. ‘I get it. Lesson received,’.
The walk took it out of me today. I limped into the town and was literally on my knees on the sidewalk, head bent with my poles supporting me at the bottom of the hill town. My feet swollen and my pack feeling like a thousand pounds. Then a British voice in ingles broke through my exhaustion. ‘Are you OK?’
‘Its just been a rough day.’ I said, looking up at the cyclist.
‘’Come on. You can make it. I will carry your pack if you like.’
The man lived in the town and he knew the trip to the top was steep. But I declined. I would make it. However slowly. So he biked on up the hill as I gathered my gumption and got up again on wobbly legs. Villagers greeted me as I took one step after another.
The British cyclist was waiting at the top. ‘Are you going to the church service?’ He asked. I said I hadn’t really considered that. I was just climbing the hill through the village.
‘Well then, come with me. It’s in English.’
It wasn’t like any church service I have ever been to in Spain. They greeted me with water and coffee. And afterwards they gave me hot soup. It was amazing. I was the only Peregrino there amongst the regulars, so the blessing they gave was personalized for me. It was a truly humbling experience.
I think we are all the beneficiaries of grace in our lives. Yet perhaps we fail to see it. But doing this walk I experience it each and every day. The kindness of strangers. People there at just the right moment to lend a hand and lift me up – sometimes quite literally- when I have fallen. Or to lift my spirits. The folks today who fed me and prayed for me touched my heart in ways I can’t explain. I’ve always said the first full week of Camino is the trail of tears. And I shed a few today. Perhaps accepting the grace we are offered is the biggest lesson of all.