A few short days ago I walked into Santiago de Compostela in Spain. I did so with dear friends. These “dear friends” were unknown to me 35 days prior. We had no connection in this life on this spinning ball before we started walking. We walked and talked for weeks. We shared our stories, even the messy parts. We shared life, meals, bathrooms, dorms, blisters, soreness, rain, heat, remarkable sights and beautiful scenes.
We walked into our “destination” a mix of emotions. We walked into Santiago connected by a shared experience and some common core values. We walked in as friends. It was the culmination of some 34 days of walking, talking, sharing, connecting and experiencing a life I’ve never experienced before. It seems only right to honor that amazing journey and these beautiful souls with some reflection.
The first question I often get asked is why? What possessed you to want to spend 5 weeks walking through Spain carrying a pack and sleeping with snoring, farting “pilgrims” in sometimes crowded Albergues or hostels. Was it the movie (The Way)? Am I Catholic? Is it religious? The answer to those specific question is no, or mostly no. The movie did add fuel to al already curious heart about this adventure. It fed my curiosity but no, it was not the original inspiration. Truthfully, I can’t tell you how or when I first became aware of this Camino. It was many years ago, but the original source escapes me.
To describe my why, and my Camino experience, I will use words as best I can. These will be honest words. They may not resonate with you. They might seem strange or they might just pique your curiosity and cause you to ask questions. I promise they will be sincere words and deliberate words.
I’ve traveled a bit, albeit late in life. Not enough, just a bit. I was asked by one of my Camino amigos if this thing that led me to such an endeavor has always been in me or if it was a more recent curiosity that I decided to explore. The question spoke to who I am and whether the Kirk they were meeting was the product of the Camino or if the Camino was the result of responding to who I really am. The answer is yes. Yes, it has always been in me and yes, I was changed by the process. I have always had a wanderlust, a curious heart and the desire to see places and meet peoples. However, the life I’ve lived does not necessarily reflect that.
I’ve lived a good life. I’ve loved and been loved. I have been a part in raising two beautiful humans who make my heart explode when I think of who they are and what they stand for. Yet, my life was fueled by some typical cultural perspectives of life, success and career. I bought in. More is better. More sets you free. More gives you capacity for the “good life.” However, if not carefully managed and kept in perspective, it also buys you a space on the hamster wheel of life. That’s where I found myself.
Please don’t misunderstand. I chose my life. I made decisions that led to a path and I followed it. No regrets… OK, well a few but none I will spend much time on because I still haven’t found that DeLorean with the flux capacitor that might help me relive some of those regrettable moments or epochs. Regrets are useful as teachers but not prisons.
“’Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”
So, regrets and time travel aside, my life’s choices led to a path. That path produced a life. It was neither good or bad. It was a path, a choice. It was a version of life. It just was not my BEST version. I’m unique. So are you. My life should reflect my uniqueness. My life, MY Camino is, or should reflect my heart, my soul, my passions and the decisions of my mind. It should be created with intention to serve who I am, not who I think I am supposed to be or who society encourages me to be. It should not be me living to an expectation that I didn’t create, one that does not reflect me living my best life.
The Camino de Santiago was this thing, stuck in my sub-conscious and sometimes, with the help of a book, Facebook post (thank you Kaira) or Hollywood movie, would catapult to my conscious awareness. I told many people it was a bucket list item for me. I have a few. I’ve checked off some but not enough. The problem with a bucket list, or any other kind of list, is the lack of check marks. Mine was full of beautiful, Kirk defining ideas of a rich, full life but woefully lacking check marks. The Camino came to represent actually taking action, radical, unique and committed action.
So, I did. The idea of asking an employer to support taking 6 weeks off to pursue the desire of my heart seemed like a big ask. And, since I was at the end of a long battle with the hamster wheel anyway, I made the radical choice to resign, to step away from the job and the business that had provided for my financial needs for many years. I quit. Not to take another job at brand X, but to reclaim control of the remaining years of my life. This is my Camino. This is what THE Camino represents to me.
In the coming posts, I’d like to relive my experience on the Camino. I’m writing this for me. I want to remember. I want to hold these memories close. I want to remember the moments with these people I came to call dear friends. I want to keep them close. I want to hold onto the significance of one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. The “no extra charge” benefit is that may of you have asked for more detail. So, I get to remember and you get to get some of your questions answered about this thing I did.
Oh, and since this is the most oft asked question, I won’t make you wait until the end of this series to give you my answer/opinion. the answer is yes! A resounding yes!!! You should do it. I want to be responsible and say “if you can…” but what I really want to say is “if you choose…”.
No, you don’t NEED to do the Camino but you must choose to live YOUR Camino, your journey, your path, your way. If you’d like a spark, a catalyst for getting you on your way, hell yes, do THE Camino. If your heart is open and your spirit willing, it will serve you well. All you need are good shoes and socks, a pack and a decent dose of grit. With those things, and the ample resources available regarding the Camino you will be set.
There will be difficulties. Your body will ache, maybe even hurt. You will get blisters and maybe shin splints. You may twist a knee and take a day or three off (set a loose schedule). You’ll also feel your body get stronger and stronger. You will experience the wonder of connection with people and places with whom you previously thought you shared little. You’ll find you were wrong. You’ll see amazing sunrises and sunsets. You’ll see compassion and love and friendship. You’ll be changed and with your great big open heart, you will be an agent of change for another. If your heart is open, it will be all of this and more and you will grow in ways you never imagined. I promise.
After that, whether your Camino or THE Camino, you just need one foot in front of the other and pretty soon you’re walking into “Santiago” and your life will never be the same.