Apr 10, 2018 - Over the past few days, the weather conditions on the beginning stages of the Camino have been quite severe. Those who have just begun walking are experiencing heavy rain, flooded trails, and perilous river crossings. On Facebook, I am reading of people finding themselves knee deep in water in some places. One man found himself neck deep, after trying to cross a river. Add to these obstacles, kilometers of mud, which constantly tries to suck your shoes off our feet, and it has been quite a start for those who have just set out.
Four years ago, we had rain on the first day, but it was nothing compared to the tales of the past few. The stream I encountered at the end of my first day was a welcomed sight. It was a place to wash off the mud from my shoes, and did not provide any danger of submersion.
In 2014, rather than the weather, what I remember about the first few days was my pace. I was up early and walked quickly. I rarely, if ever stopped. I was in a hurry. I had come with questions. I was looking for answers and I must have been subconsciously thinking, the quicker I moved, the sooner I would come upon them. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
A couple of days in, a woman named Yavidan, asked me if I had been stopping during the day for a café con leche. I had to admit I hadn’t. The way she asked the question “Why Not?” and the look on her face told me she thought I had been missing something very important. I had a hunch she was right.
Because I did not have a good answer to her question, I decided the next day I would stop. I still set out early. I was still moving quickly, but at about 10 kilometers into the day, I stopped. The decision of where was made easy by the fact there were already a couple of people I knew waiting. It would not take too long for Yavidan and others to also arrive. I entered into the routine by ordering a café con leche and a chocolate pastry and then sat a table with my new friends. It was a first for me, rest before I reached my destination.
The café/bar we chose was in the shadow of a stone church. It was a beautiful spot to rest. We drank our café con leche, ate our pastries, and enjoyed the company. The people who sat around the tables were in the process of being knit into a cohort. The threads binding us together were the journey, conversations, laughter, rest and food we shared.
We did not stay long, but it was long enough that I caught a taste of what I had seen in Yavidan’s expression the day before. As we got up from the tables and stepped back onto the Camino, I understood why my new friend was so surprised that I had not been taking advantage of such opportunities.
Over the next 450 miles or so, moments like this one became the places where the questions I had come to the Camino with began to be answered. The truth is, I would have never been able to walk fast enough to catch up to the answers. I had to slow down, even be willing to stop, to be able to discover them.
As I have been walking in preparation for my next Camino (427 miles so far), I have notice my pace is still quick, probably too quick for my own good. Some patterns are easy to slip back into. Sometime, as I walk fast, I notice my heart is also in a hurry. When I become aware of this, I tell myself to slow down, physically and internally. This movement is as important in training for the Camino as putting in all the miles. I do not want to walk feeling like I am chasing anything when I step on to the way this year. What I desire is to begin with my heart ready to move at the pace the Camino invites me into, even if it is slowed by rain and mud.
To remind my self of what taught me to walk this way in the first place, I am meeting Yavidan in Paris, on my way to the St. Jean Pied de Port. We are going to have dinner. I am sure we will share a few memories from when we walked together. I anticipate we will catch up on where life has taken us since the then. But what I am really looking forward to, is sharing a meal with the person who invited me to step out of my hurry, and into simply being present.
I imagine we will end diner with a café con leche, the first of many to come in the days to follow. Thinking about it, I have to smile, because I cannot think of a more appropriate ways to begin.