It’s been two and a half months since I and our intrepid students finished the Camino de Santiago, so I’ve had ample time to process the experience. And my left ankle is nearly its normal size, the swelling having mostly abated. There are dark marks on my feet where the massive blisters used to be; part of me hopes they remain as permanent symbols of the walk – Camino tattoos. My knee still squeaks when I walk, but maybe that’s just because I’m old. The reflection I anticipated doing while on the Camino had to wait until I was no longer tromping through the mud, lancing blisters on the feet of students and shivering through damp, chilly nights.
The physical hardship has begun to recede in my mind and taking its place are a sense of achievement, a focus on the positive moments, and an appreciation of something gained. I liken it to having a baby: going through it is painful, messy and wet but the memory of that dissolves quickly when you find you have something incredible in your hands.
It is something incredible, for which there may be no accurate words. In spite of having no time nor energy for romantic and philosophic considerations of life, and in spite of (or perhaps because of) getting lost, I also found some things: I can walk 15 miles in one day and not drop dead. (It only makes me nearly dead!) I can shut up when I’m not happy. Wallowing in pain increases it. The divide between people evaporates when an intense experience is shared. People make funny noises when they sleep. A KitKat bar constitutes a meal (sorry parents, but sometimes it does). Communal showers suck. Teenage girls scream. A lot. People have a genuine urge to help one another, never more so than in times of strife. Deprivation increases appreciation. Humor profoundly diminishes struggle, puts things into perspective and brings people together.
I also found that my daughter is resilient and tougher than her long blonde hair and quiet demeanor make her appear. She didn’t cry while others cried (including me). When she was lost herself for a short time, she never feared she wouldn’t find her way. While others complained, she gently reminded them that focusing on pain worsens it. She reminded them that it was a really cool thing we were doing. She and I only walked together about two hours of the entire week and we did so because she hung back to wait for me, to be with me. She told me that the other kids were happy I was there, knowing that it would give me strength to hear it. Even as she limped with a swollen knee, she wore a smile. Mothers are always proud of their children (or should be), but I was never more proud of her than watching her march 72 miles in the wind and rain with strength, appreciating the opportunity before her, and being a friend to those around her. I found a little bit of me on this journey, but I found a little bit more of her.