Its funny. When we are growing up we want nothing more than to fit in. To be exactly like our peers so we don’t stand out. There is safety in the anonymity of blending in with the crowd. Especially, during a time of our developmental lives when we aren’t quite sure who we are, yet.
Then, we enter adulthood and our goal changes, especially where I come from, the US, where individualism is worshipped. It’s the mythical land where our ‘Anyone can be anything they want to be in America’ ethos comes from. Born by an immigrant population who left everything behind, traveling to another country across the ocean, often alone, to create a ‘better life.’ In America, we believe we can do anything. Achieve anything. Limited only by ourselves. We truly believe this, and we even have a name for it. The American Dream.
But as our lives roll on, even in America, we begin to change. We require less stuff and more meaning. Time is ticking by, after all. Some call it a mid-life crisis. Whatever it is, it compels us to take another look at our lives and ourselves. Often, we change course. To the surprise of our friends and family. We have played known role for a long time. Those are the rules. We are supposed to keep playing it. But there are those of us who can’t do that. And these days, I meet those people every single day.
The Pilgrim experience is an interesting one. A wholly singular experience, while at the same time being so similar to tens of thousands, millions of others who have trod the same path. The Pilgrims I meet believe their experience is unique. However, it is anything but. And that is what makes it uniquely interesting. These individuals, sometimes for the first time, are part of something greater than themselves. A collective transformation of spirit that you can’t explain to someone who has never done it. Even those walking the same stretch, at the same time, can’t articulate it. They just have a look about them. A smile they give to each other. Words are not necessary.
But, when they come to our little oasis here on the farm, they are at the end of a long journey. Or sometimes in the middle. And they seem to talk to me about how they are feeling. What they are feeling. Perhaps, it’s because I have walked in their shoes. I am as unremarkable as they are. Just another Pilgrim on the Way. Well, a permanent Pilgrim. 😉 But they are happy to tell me why they walk. What they have learned about themselves and the world. What the walk has meant to them. I guess I am like a bartender, now.
It’s been busy. Learning to do a job I have zero experience doing. Moving things around. Redefining processes to optimize things. There are moments when all the tables are filled and there is a line at the window. I’m making iced coffees by the score. I have no time to chat. But then, there are moments, usually after mid-day, when the crowds thin out. Sometimes it’s just me and one other Pilgrim. They linger over their smoothie. We strike up a conversation, and the tears flow. Sometimes it’s heartbreak. Sometimes it’s recovery from addiction. A voice filled with shame and regret. Looking for redemption. Other times, it’s about hope. Hoping for a cure, for themselves or another. I had a woman who asked me to pray with her while she held my hand and cried. I wanted to tell her I’m not religious. I’m not sure I could supercharge her pleas to a higher power. But I didn’t. This was about her, not me.
Today, a Pilgrim came up. She asked to buy bottled water. As I do a hundred times throughout the day, I explained that I don’t sell water. Our water is from an aquifer in the earth. It’s healthy and it’s free. Water should be a human right. I keep a large jug filled with water, lemons, and mint with glasses for anyone who wants it. I refilled her water bottle and we chatted a bit. She is a 20-something from Mexico. I meet many Mexican Pilgrims daily. She had a wide smile and laughed a lot. Just as it was time for her to be on her way she reached into her jacket and pulled out a stone. Handing it to me, she said. ‘I was praying this morning. God told me to give this stone to a kind person. I want to give it to you.’ She smiled her beautiful smile, then she turned and left.
I thanked her and wished her a good journey. The stone is pink and smooth. Running my fingers over it, I looked it up. It’s a stone signifying unconditional love and healing. I don’t kid myself. I don’t believe I received this stone from this girl because I am special, or more worthy. She gave it to me because I am not special. I am just like this girl. Exactly like every Pilgrim I meet. Because, if the Camino has taught me anything it is that none of us are special. Beggar, king, philosopher. It doesn’t matter if you are a celebrity or a billionaire- broken and healing – you will walk the same Camino as the poorest, humblest traveler. At it’s most simple, the lack of our uniqueness, our ultimate humanity, that make the Camino so special. And every day, I am so lucky to be reminded we are, all of us, part of the same beating heart.