In summer of 2021, I walked 73 miles from Santiago de Compostella, Spain to Muxia and Fisterra on the Spanish coast. Though much shorter than my previous Caminos in 2013 and 2016, it was a poignant journey of transition and joy. The following captures my memories of summer 2021.
My bed feels like a cloud.
Even if humans are built to walk. Even if the long distance I traveled yesterday is reasonable for a healthy human. Even if I only plan to spend one night in Muxia at a nice hotel, I need to rest my body and recover from the intensity.
The morning sun shines through the gauzy curtains of my floor-to-ceiling windows. Rising, I push them back to look out at the new day, enamored with the cloud-filtered rays and angled buildings that ascend the Muxia’s hills. The town hugs the C-shaped beach of white sand and turquoise water. Gulls cry from the terracotta rooftops of colorful three-story buildings wedged together side by side. I love it here. What a change from yesterday’s storms.
At nine, I go down the three floors, down the echoing stone stairwell to the restaurant for breakfast. I sit by myself, fidgeting with the silverware and cloth napkin, self-conscious of my aloneness. The waiter arrives, greets me warmly, and asks if I want coffee.
“Sí, claro,” I joke. “I can’t speak Spanish this early without caffeine.”
Moments later, he smiles without speaking as he sets down a tiny cup and saucer on the cream tablecloth. I sip the hot espresso and exhale deeply.
The concept of walking and rainstorms fade into a distant memory.
At home, breakfast is quick and simple. A bowl of cereal. A banana smoothie. Consumed in mere moments and forgotten. But things are different in Spain, especially in this boutique hotel. My waiter brings a stemmed glass of freshly squeezed orange juice.
A few moments later, he places a plate of sliced melon and ripe pineapple on the table–one of my favorite fruits.
“¿Mejor?” he asks, gesturing to my coffee.
“Sí, mucho mejor. El espresso es perfecto. ” I smile. “Gracias.”
“Nada,” he replies.
Minutes later, he leaves a tray of cheese slices, Iberico ham, two croissants, and warm toast with jam and butter. My table is piled with riches.
Good God, I think to myself with a chuckle, I worked hard yesterday, but I don’t need ALL these calories!
Sometimes I feel a little guilty for splurging like this. A part of me believes that a pilgrim shouldn’t enjoy such pleasures, that true pilgrims walk long days, stay only in cheap accommodations, and eat bread for every meal. Do only squeaky bunk beds and cold showers make me deserving?
If I’m honest, it’s not just the Camino. I’ve spent a lifetime succumbing to the the litany of shoulds and judgments echoing in my mind.
As I accept the reality that I’m divorced—truly single for the first time in seventeen years—maybe it’s time to lighten the conversation in my mind. I might be ready to learn how to embrace what I enjoy and really savor the simple pleasure of melted butter or morning sunshine or comfy sandals.
What would it be like to practice gratitude with my whole body?
This question brings to mind the beloved Mary Oliver poem, Wild Geese, “You do not have to be good. / You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. / You only have to let the soft animal of your body / love what it loves.”
Yes. With tears welling up, I savor the next sweet-tart bite of perfectly-ripened pineapple. The soft animal of my body loves what it loves.
And I recall the deep emotional work I did yesterday. Walking in the pouring rain and enduring unexpected distance didn’t make me deserving of all this abundance. It was difficult to let myself grieve all that has been lost. It was a big spiritual step to decide to hand over all I cannot control to Divine care. And it’s okay to balance hard work with softness.
Maybe—just maybe—I am worthy of the relief of deep healing and the pleasure of living in this body.
And perhaps… Yes, definitely… Another espresso, por favor.
More to come.