This is a post in a series by Alexander Garoutte. You can read his first post here.
I never thought I’d find so much joy in the moments of real, felt community. I never thought I’d find myself so attached to the people I’d meet. I never thought I’d enjoy so much the blend of different languages and cultures that come together on the Camino. I never before knew the joy of seeing a Church bell tower on the horizon signalling a respite from the troubles of the trail. I never knew how hard it was to focus on spiritual things while the main task is a physically taxing one. I never knew the simple joy of a tree’s delightful shade on a blistering afternoon. I never knew the hospitality of being offered a cool drink after a long, hot journey. I never knew the clear and explicit difference between a warm, smiling welcome and a rushed request for credential, passport, and payment. I was never so in tune with my body, and particularly my feet. I never thought I could live as simply as two pairs of clothes and a bag on my back.
The Camino was filled with so many unexpected moments. They were not always comfortable surprises: When I struggled with the social element of the experience in a way that showed me my uglier side, I was none too pleased. Those difficult surprises gave me pause and caused me to ask what I was really doing on the Camino. But even those moments taught me important new information about myself – they taught me new ways to grow in self-awareness. The happier surprises were filled with joy and consolation. They gave me a new appreciation for the natural world around me and offered me a growing gratitude for the community of strangers and new friends that I found along the Way. I uncovered a sense of wonder and curiosity that had been dormant since my childhood.
I was left wondering where these surprises were in my daily life as a parish minister and student in Boston. What was different about my time here in Spain?
While on the Camino, I had no idea what the next day would hold. Of course, I knew that it would involve walking, but often I would not know exactly how far we would go that day, where we would sleep that night, nor what the landscape would look like. I certainly did not know if I would twist my ankle or develop a new blister. On the Camino I was outside of my comfort zone and was able to let myself be vulnerable (yet still safe) in a way rare to my life in Boston. This openness to vulnerability was the difference between my time on the Camino and my time at home.
Perhaps like yours, my life in Boston is planned out in a way that protects my vulnerabilities. I avoid putting myself in uncomfortable situations. I frequently keep my social interactions predictable and safe – it’s a strange day when I go out on a limb to speak to a stranger at my local Starbucks. I cannot imagine an instance in my usual life in which I would even be in a place to accept the hospitality and kindness of the stranger. Yet the incredible thing about finding vulnerability on the Camino was that I never really had to leave home to learn the same lessons. The truth was that I never knew quite how much the world had to offer me and how much I had to offer the world because of the walls of security that I had built around myself. I didn’t have to go to Spain to begin lowering those security measures.
Maybe it’s time for us to take down those walls. Time to let ourselves be affected by the world’s great beauty, joy, sorrow, pain, kindness, and generosity. Maybe it’s time to stop planning every minute of our lives and to stop avoiding challenging interactions. Maybe it’s time to reach out to the poor and socially vulnerable, especially when it’s uncomfortable. Maybe it’s time to let God surprise us in ways we never imagined before.