The silhouette of a hunched little man hobbles along towards the town square. He shuffles a few centimeters at a time, slow and steady, and pauses to take in the announcements posted at the parish church and then considers the next direction to point his body. He orients himself and then gingerly plops one worn foot in front of the other making his way onward.
That hunched little man today was me.
There is an old saying along the Camino de Santiago: “The Camino humbles all.” I surely consider myself duly placed among the prideful today as we set out, clothes clean and shoes nearly spotless, at 5:45am to beat the rush and catch the last breeze before sunrise. (I know know the origin of those “sizing-me-up” stares. “Your shoes, they’re too clean for you to have been on Camino” is what they were saying. It was a look of genuine pity. Read on!)
It was quite a nice walk out of the city of Pamplona with the street lamps illuminating the little metallic shells set into the pavement. My pack or mochilla as they are known here, beginning its methodical sounds of motion swaying along with my footfalls. I even made up a little exhortation that seemed to match the rhythm: “Father-Son-Ho-ly-Ghost...Father-Son-Ho-ly-Ghost...”
And then we began to climb. You might have to look at the previous blog post to get an idea of what I’m talking about. (Which, by the way, ends the rest of my “pre-typed and pre-scheduled” blog posts that tend to sound so chipper since they were composed inside an air-conditioned, near sea-level, rectory.)
And then we climbed some more. And we kept climbing: “Father-Son-Ho-ly-Ghost... Father-Son-Ho-ly-Ghost...” Eventually, I just cried aloud in my head the shorthand for this Trinitarian formula: “Oh God..Oh God...Oh-my-God”. While it was helpful to have a “mantra” to take the heaviness of time away, it didn’t do anything to ease the sheer weight of my pack against my shoulders and hips. Steeper and steeper, up and up and up.
More than once, I recalled the story of my namesake, St. Christopher, who carried the Christ child on his shoulders across a raging river. He was, as the legend goes, shocked at the weight of this mysterious and small child. Of all the grown men he had hoisted on his back, never had someone so diminutive as a child of about seven ever made Christopher fear that both he and his passenger might drown under the weight. Of, course the story ends as they cross the river and Christopher sees that he indeed has been bearing for a moment the Cross of Jesus Christ and its weight mysteriously present in The Holy Child Jesus.
I named all of those on my intention list and considered the weight of my pack as an opportunity to lighten the load of so many who both suffer and hope. I prayed my rosary for our new bishop and the burdens he will bear as he takes this new office. With each strike of my bastone (my walking stick) upon the extremely loose pebbles of the incline and the decline, I tried to pray for the many souls looking for Jesus today.
But, I won’t lie to you. All pious and well-intentioned prayer aside, I realized that my body was beginning to reach the limit of both what and how far it could carry. At the gym (Ha! Obviously not one of my frequent destinations on Google Maps!) it’s not uncommon to work a muscle group for as many repetitions that causes it to achieve at exhaustion. I’m no physiologist, but the idea is that the exhaustion of the muscle and the resulting tears in the fibers cause new growth as the arm or leg now get stronger to take on more strenuous challenges. Suffice to say, this darn mountain was my gym today.
Practically limping into Puente la Reina, not because of any blisters, but because of muscle atrophy is one of the most humiliating things I think I’ve ever experienced. The pride of thinking “it’s a pack that can hold a great deal, so I should be prepared” has quickly given way (as you’ll remember I mused like a fool) to “what can I shed and send along to Santiago?”
So, that’s the plan for tomorrow. The prideful one has (likely not for the last time) been brought (literally) low. It feels like failure to send my pack along to the next town– a handy service along the Camino for dunderheads like myself– and make for the post office to offload the non-essentials to the end of the journey.
Thank you, St. Christopher, for praying for me today and filling me at wonder with the weight of the cross. Even though I cannot bear its full weight, I long to bear the burdens of the Camino with courage for the sake of the people I carry in my heart.