People walk the Camino for a variety of reasons, but first and foremost it’s a Pilgrimage. When you walk with an open heart and an open mind you might be surprised by what you’ll experience.
When you walk 15 or more miles a day, mostly alone, you have plenty of time to think. Walking on the Meseta– the high plains– you fall into a rhythm; arms and legs moving in concert with your breath. This was my favorite part of the Camino.
There’s room to breathe beneath the wide blue sky. With every step the weight of modern problems lessens until it’s just you, your pack and the road. But you’re not alone. Even when no one else is in sight.
Your steps become a prayer.
Eventually the rolling hills become steeper paths and you have to place your feet carefully. You automatically adjust your walking poles to assist in the descents. Instead of prayers, your steps become words your mother would take offense at. And then you stop to catch your breath and you lift your head and look around you and back the way you came and tears fill your eyes. This time, you’re standing still when you say a little wordless prayer of gratitude and thanksgiving. You’re not alone, even when the path is challenging.
There’s a place on the Camino just over 220 km from Santiago called the Cruz de Ferro. No one knows for sure who installed the cross on top of a tall pole but it’s believed that one has been in this spot since the 10th century. Before that it was thought to be a Roman altar or perhaps the ancient Celts used it in their rituals. At the base of the cross there’s a cairn of stones brought by pilgrims from all over the world.
Some people walk to the cross, climb to the top, take their photo and move on. Another checkbox on their journey. Others take the time to pray. I carried my little rock to the base of the cross, taking note of the thousands of stones placed before mine. Some had names and dates, others little sentiments. Most, like mine, were significant only to the person who left them.
It was a crisp Autumn day when I visited shortly after sunrise. There’s a little chapel off to the side and I sat on the porch and read Morning Prayer. Afterwards, I put on my pack, grabbed my poles and began walking to Ponferrada. Once again, every step was a prayer.
My little stone, which caught my eye while walking near my home in Valladolid, remained behind to mark my passing and to represent my hope for a kinder world for our children and grandchildren.