May 29, 2022 Essay: Beginning at the End

May 24, 2022

I turned 70 on April 30th. To celebrate, I wanted to do something special—walk the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage route that has been well-trod since the Middle Ages.

My spouse Karen was game to be a “peregrina” (a pilgrim) too. So off we went—walking seven days (5 in the rain!) from coastal Vigo to Santiago de Compostela. On arrival, our Pilgrim Passports were officially stamped, and we joyously celebrated with some “vino tinto,” a staple of this pilgrim’s journey. The next day, we attended “the Pilgrims’ Mass” at the Cathedral on the feast of St. Catherine of Siena.

Why did I walk the Camino? Recently retired and looking ahead, I sought a block of time to consider what I wanted these next years to be. What habits of mind and heart need to change. What patterns of relating were off-track. How to use my time and resources well, not frittering them away. I needed to get off the grid, to listen to the “still, small voice” within.

We started most days with a prayer of blessings. Two that guided my Camino were, “Blessed are you, Pilgrim, if what concerns you most is not arriving but arriving with the others.” And “Blessed are you, Pilgrim, if on the Camino you meet yourself and make yourself a gift of time without hurry so that you may not neglect the image of your heart.”

We usually started out around 9 AM and limped (literally) into our hotel around 3 or 4 PM. As we walked, I listened to birdsong and rain and brooks and streams and, at times, to that “still, small voice.” I felt rock and moss and eucalyptus tree bark. I tried to fathom the faith made visible by the many chapels and stone crucifixes that mark the Way.

Karen and I talked as we walked and bucked each other up when our spirits (and legs) flagged. And we talked to other peregrinos—a global mix from Spain, Portugal, Poland, Germany, Sweden, England and Romania, and, of course, the US. We met a mother and daughter celebrating their birthdays like I was. We met a young couple walking in memory of two friends. We even met a man from Johnson City, Tennessee, where my mother lives in a retirement home. Most times, other pilgrims just wished us slowpokes a “Buen Camino!” as they passed by.

Have I changed? I think so. I see that I am a pilgrim, in process, forever on the Way. So more than a little humility is in order. Also, I “got it” that it’s not about me getting to some spiritual place on my own. I’m on the way to fullness of life together with the rest of humanity, and I am invited to walk with all of them as family. And I took in that my spouse has strengths I wasn’t seeing and potentialities I wasn’t supporting.

Here is Karen’s favorite part of our morning prayer, and I see why: “Blessed are you, Pilgrim, because you have discovered that the true Camino begins at its end.” My/our Camino continues, one step in front of the other.

— Rose DiMartino, Parishioner & Lay Trustee