Along the Camino, pilgrims stay in albergues—hostels with open or minimally private spaces, with bunk beds and limited shower times and communal meals. Having survived some relatively rustic summer camp experiences, dorm/apartment living and that time we slept on the floor with our two dogs before the new mattress arrived, I figured I was prepared.
We were coming with our own crew, of course—Will and I, plus our two dear friends—and there was a communal nature to this from the beginning, with the planning and group texts and the trip to REI in Concord for a packing-for-the-trip lesson, not to mention long dinners and our every-other-week training walks. But we each had a different reason, a personal one, for wanting to do the trip.
This is the paradox of the Camino—at its heart, it’s an individual walk. You don’t walk hundreds of miles to please someone else or to fulfill their dreams. And even when you walk next to someone, the walk is a mental exercise—more man-versus-himself (woman-versus-herself) than a battle of the elements.
I imagine the first night of our walk being a challenge—we would be exhausted from the climb the day before and be asleep the second we were snug in our sleep sacks. Or maybe not. Maybe the noise of the albergue—the snores and shifting and farts and random beeps of electronica—would keep us awake. Maybe the feeling of being very far from home would hit hard and sink in.
Maybe I would miss too terribly LG’s nine-pound body tucked up against my side. (She’s basically a blanket and therapy pillow all at once. It’s hard to sleep without her.)
We would wear our walking clothes to bed and wake in the dark, each at our own time, pack quietly, leave early. There was much talk of the breakfasts (plural intentional) we would eat—first breakfast before hitting the road, second breakfast a few hours in. (I have rarely seen my husband so happy as when he was contemplating a second breakfast.) One by one, we would walk, and one by one, arrive at the next stop, eager to reconnect, to fill each other in on our thoughts.
It’s a strange time to think about community, since I’ve barely left my house since March 11—only for daily walks, mostly alone, masked trips to the grocery store, that one mad dash to Home Depot for wasp spray. My community has been disembodied heads on a Zoom screen—friends, family, colleagues, my writing group. Also, community has been the people I’ve encountered on social media—some grieving, some protesting, some frustrated, some angry, some silent. Like passing through an albergue, scrolling my Facebook or Twitter feed is being all up in someone else’s business.
People can be the absolute worst.
And also the best.
I wanted to write something uplifting, like “we’re all in this together.” We are—whether we’re on the streets or in front of the television or madly arguing with a stranger on Facebook (cough—wasn’t me)—but we’re not all going the same direction at the same time. Like being on the Camino, this is an individual walk, but our footsteps echo and our actions cast shadows.
Of the four of us traveling on the Camino, I was always going to come in last, hitting town when everyone else was settling down to meal #3. That’s fine—it’s not a race. I’m just acknowledging that I’m a slower walker, that I might need to rest my knee, that I’m someone who likes to see everything and stop to write things down.
I was always going to get there eventually.
Yesterday I began reading my way through the Justice for June doc linked here, and I joined an anti-racism book club to discuss White Fragility. (Do you want to join me? Leave me a comment or shoot me an email.) Others who have gone before me have done the hard work and blazed the trails, and for that and so much more, I’m grateful.
Paula Treick DeBoard