I woke up this morning in the remote town of Samos. I stayed across from a gorgeous monastery:
After some hours of wet morning walking I found myself in falling apart little town with mud streets that could be the set for a medieval horror movie (if such a film existed.)
I followed the Camino signs through the slippery streets: left, right, straight, left… straight?
This is when I got distracted. There was all this garbage in the mud… old shoe soles… a doll’s arm… stuff. I focused on the uncharacteristic refuse and kept walking. A kilometer later, I was standing alone in the center of a field. No more path. I had clearly lost my Way.
I backtracked and at the point where the garbage began, I had missed a ‘right turn marker.’ I had gotten distracted.
Still, I was in good spirits. Today I was looking forward to crossing the 100 kilometer marker, indicating the last leg of my journey to Santiago.
Then I arrived in Sarria and everything changed.
My beautiful, private pilgrimage, in which my thoughts were my constant companion, was invaded. It was invaded by aliens. It was invaded by THEM and they were legion for they were many.
Them. Their pants had deep creases, fresh from the store. Spandex and cigarette smoke. Obnoxious group laughter and music played aloud. All equipment newly purchased (just as mine had looked 26 days ago, but that was different and I had evolved.)
You see, you only have to walk the last 100km to get your Camino-certification (indulgence?). I wanted to hate them for taking the minimum path, when I had walked with so many Camino-friends who had traversed multiple mountain ranges and hundreds of miles.
To make matters worse, suddenly I was in Camino Disneyland, every shop full of Camino swag: hats and pins and water bottles and staffs and baby jumpers.
What had they done to my sacred, ancient and very personal Camino?
I fought to suppress my judgmentalism. I tried to rise above the fray. My Camino-friend Jamie even exhorted me to be a “beacon of love and light.”
So, I reached out. I engaged. I humanized. I was even honest and self-deprecating about my struggles along the Way. And how did these tourists, I mean “short-term pilgrims” respond. They corrected me. They told me that I need to have an enlightened view of the Camino as they had. It is a place of joy and happiness, if only I would understand that and change my attitude.
And you know what? As condescending and naive as they may be… They are right.
It is just a distraction. Sure, the Camino will be different for these last 100km. Sure there will be a ton more people, less silence and quite frankly, less shared struggle with strangers.
BUT, all these changes are not what effects my Camino experience. I am the only one who can allow myself to get distracted, like focusing on shoes soles and doll arms and wandering from the Way.
Transformation, discoveries and participation with God are always, every moment a very present opportunity (if I am on the Camino or back home)… And only I have the power to distract myself into losing my way.
Special Bonus for those who read to the end: At the end of today’s walk (26 miles over 7.5 hours) I arrived at my destination city. Looking up at the long historic staircase leading into the medical city of Portomarin, I didn’t see the steel pylon, and with my eyes up (distracted), I slammed my shin into the top of the pylon. In pain, gashed and bleeding, I jumped into the street and hopping about like an idiot, I serenaded every pilgrim within 500 meters with some very colorful American curse words… something I had not heard from ANYONE along the Camino. Great! Real nice, Tony. Distracted.