Click the image above to go to the thought piece. It got us thinking that sometimes we can only talk the talk; other times we make the effort to at least talk the walk; on a good day we walk as we talk; but on the best days we walk the walk:
For 44 days, I walked El Camino de Santiago de Compostella. “The way to Santiago along the field of stars.”
The standard icebreaker along the dirt path is simply, expectedly, “Why are you walking?”
I walked because after earning my doctorate in clinical psychology, I found unemployment. Pilgrimage seemed a good option. En route to Spain, I read a quote from the philosopher Mark Kingwell, “Genuine idling is never an evasion of work; it is instead, as Aristotle argued long ago, cultivation of the most divine element in us through the exercise of leisure: spirited but serious reflection on who we are and what we are up to, free from the base demands of mere usefulness.” I was ready for idle walking.
Arriving in St. Pierre at the foot of the French Pyrenees, I knew nothing of the journey upon which I set out. I found out this is a Catholic pilgrimage to honor St. James the Apostle. I discover that I need to wear a scallop shell, which reflects the Camino’s pagan roots of fertility. I receive a pilgrim passport that needs a stamp from every church along the way. I learn that we literally will follow the Milky Way to Finnistere, known in medieval times as the end of the earth. I always wondered Where the Sidewalk Ends. In Spain, it turns out.
Rebecca Solnit author of Wanderlust: A History of Walking, writes, “Walking itself is the intentional act chosen to the unwilled rhythms of the body to breathing and the beating of the heart. It strikes a delicate balance between working and idling, being and doing.” I walk. I eat bread with chorizo and cheese. Churches offer free warm meals and the cold floor for sleep.
I come lexpecting silence, but find people instead. I discover that over 180,000 of us walk every year. I walk right into the pages of Canterbury Tales where pilgrims share their stories.
I find many Spaniards also on unemployment pilgrimage. Along the dirt path with yellow painted arrows, I meet Francisco.
“Where are you coming from?” I ask.
“Rome,” he says.
After walking together a few hours in silence, he shares, “During the housing boom in Spain, I had lots of construction work. About three years ago it all dried up. I did not know what to do and so I started walking.” He walks and works in exchange for food and lodging. Francisco shares his chorizo and bread with everyone around. While unemployed, he reminds me that one can have dignity.
Later that evening, I meet his two walking companions. “I met these two,” says Francisco, “begging on the streets of Madrid. I told them, you’re not beggars, you’re young men. Get up and walk with me.” One of them planned to walk with Francisco back to Rome. The other one planned to walk to Germany to look for work. We all enter Pamplona together and see young people protesting, camped out in the plaza, holding signs demanding a better economy. The plaza holds wandering dogs, a wine fountain and conversation. In spite of the crisis, Spaniards display resiliency and know how to have a good time.