We were entering Nájera, Thomas, Robert, and I bringing up the rear as wounded soldiers. Thomas says so nonchalantly, “Something just happened in my boot.” There was nothing we could do but laugh!
We all hurt from blisters or strained tendons, and there was nothing left to do except make it to the next albergue on the other side of town. So we kept walking.
We managed to find the albergue where the rest of our group had ended up, and after settling in, Thomas had a look at what had happened in his boot. As it turns out a blister previously wrapped with mole skin on his toe had popped. But it didn’t just pop, his toe had basically split open. He described it like stepping on a knife.
The Camino brings us all together into one experience, but it’s things like language and age that group us up. Then there is the bond of suffering. Suffering passes even the language barrier. Just this morning I held a conversation with an older Italian man about the strains in our feet and legs and how to care for them, neither of us speaking the other’s language. Mutual suffering reveals mutual humanity.
Logroño to Nájera was a grueling day. It was close to a 30 km hike that started in the rain and spent a lot of time along the highway. My shin hurt something fierce, and I got to the point were I just wanted to be left alone to trudge on. Just me and my Camino. My suffering changed that day and it separated me from my friends.
I was reminded of a lady I met in Logroño named Ellen who had injured her ankle in a fall on her first day in the Pyreneese. Getting to Logroño had only done more damage, and now she was holed up in a church albergue for five days waiting to heal. For 12 years she had wanted to make this pilgrimage and now she was not going to be able to complete it as she had hoped. Her suffering had separated her from everyone she started with and pulled her out of the flow of pilgrims. She no longer felt like one of us. As I sat and talked with her I realized that there were no words to make things right, so I simply thanked her for walking her Camino. I told her that my greatest fear was not being able to finish, so she was an encouragement to me as someone facing that very thing. Her story was a strength to me, so it was not a waste. And now she was no longer alone in her suffering.
On the Camino we have opened up to each other with our stories, hurts, and fears to depths that would usually take months of interaction. But what else are you going to do when you’re walking for 10 hours a day suffering together? I have learned that suffering is the greatest bond we have because it crosses every barrier – race, creed, language. The death of a loved one, cancer, injury, loss, war – when we come together in our suffering it becomes more than just misery loving company. It becomes victory.
I would learn that everyone in my group had experienced a similar day as I did going from Logroño to Nájera. By sharing our stories we shared our pain, and we were longer alone. Now that stretch of the Way is a mutual victory.