The expectation of the cathedral in Santiago is a long awaited one for the pilgrim. It was a bit anticlimactic arriving to find it covered by scaffolding and restoration crew machinery. Grey clouds and dark skies did little to improve the sensation, but I took my pictures and exulted in the moment nonetheless. Regardless of what the cathedral looked like, I had arrived.
Kristi Märk had a similar experience when she first arrived as an EVS volunteer in Santiago, but the disappointment became an insight for her. “I learned that it's ok to be under construction,” she said over tea that night. I smiled as I shared what I had learned in the cathedral of Burgos, that the structures we have and enjoy today are only with us because they have been diligently maintained and reconstructed.
It's the construction in our lives that keeps us together, and while it's not necessarily something to be showcased, neither is it something to be ashamed of. I walked 500 miles to see a cathedral wrapped in scaffolding and it was still beautiful. And because of that construction there will still be a cathedral for pilgrims to journey to for years to come.
Sometimes it can be hard to let our scaffolding show. But I think about the times that my loved ones are under construction and how it is a blessing to me to be a part of that season of their lives, and I realize that we are one another's work crews. On the Camino that looks like sharing mole skin and ace bandages – maps and bread and sometimes more. Like life it can mean sharing injuries, sickness, and loss of hope. But when the scaffolding comes down and all the equipment is put away, we get to share what has been restored, too.
In Logroño I met Ellen, who had waited years to hike El Camino only to fall on her first day and injure her ankle. She was resting in Logroño for five days when I met her and became a part of her construction. Those five days turned into nine, but she never gave up. Once she was strong enough she caught a bus to the final 100k and set off again. We made it to Santiago on the same day. She actually beat me there by a couple of hours, and oh the joy in her eyes! I never would have been able to experience that joy with her if she had not let me be part of her construction earlier. But because she did, the joy we shared was multiplied between us.
It's not alway that easy or beautiful, but the truth is that being under construction is a necessary part of our lives. And the end results are dynamically superior when we work together than when we work alone. It's ok to be under construction, it's just the process of becoming something new.