Sometimes in life you just have to go it alone. You have to dig deep and find resolve within yourself to face a daunting mountain. With the outcome uncertain, you battle the terrain and your own inner demons. At the top, you feel proud, courageous, and free. You’re a hero!
That was me in 2014, setting out to commemorate my one-year Caminoversary. Mired in depression, isolation, and inner struggles over the twelve months that followed my pilgrimage, I didn’t know if I would ever be happy again. But when I awoke on June 1—one year after watching the sun set with Meg in Finisterre—I took myself on a solo hike that involved conquering a literal mountain. This small-but-personally-heroic act set everything in my life back on course at long last. The accomplishment was mine alone.
Being strong isn’t everything, though. You probably know someone in your life (possibly you) who tries to do everything themselves. This habit can have tragic consequences if “being strong” prevents you from connecting with and experiencing support from other hearts. Sometimes the most radically courageous act you can take is to stop doing for yourself and to seek out the healing of friendship and the blessings of community.
That was my Caminoversary lesson this year.
* * *
When I thought about celebrating my two-year anniversary, I knew wanted to do the same hike as last year, a ritual on the beach, and to watch the sun set over the Pacific while munching on special snacks. This year, though, I envisioned having company. This inclination surprised me, but I followed it. I asked some Camino friends to join me for the day and got an enthusiastic response. Elaine and Carol are both past-peregrinas, and Nancy is walking this fall. I was delighted.
But here’s where things get a little wild: community has an energy and will all its own. I discovered (once again) that I can’t control everything. (How many times will life give me this lesson before I get it—and learn to trust it?) Nancy opened her beach home to us with an invitation to stay overnight (sparing us all an hour-plus drive home). This was a delightful twist, if not in my original vision. Soon there were carpool questions and food discussions and—as it got closer—weather concerns. Then I hurt my knee and couldn’t hike at all.
When we all convened on the actual day, thick dark clouds threatened as we talked about our options.
“We won’t be able to see a sunset because of the clouds,” said one.
“And the beach is really windy, so maybe we can skip that part,” said another. I started to worry that my intentions would get squashed before we’d set foot outside.
“Or you guys could do the hike without me and I could meet you at the beach later,” I suggested.
“No, we can’t leave you behind,” said another.
It was one of those messy, awkward what do I do? moments. In the past, I would have just gone along with the group—or subtly tried to push everyone toward my idea, attached and unyielding. But that was the old me. Instead I stepped up and risked being courageous with my friends:
“I agree that the weather’s iffy. It’s not about the hike so much or even watching the sunset,” I told them. “I think what’s most important to me is doing a ritual on the beach with a bonfire. Does that sound okay to you?”
Nods of assent followed.
“Could we do it this afternoon? That way, we can just stay in afterwards and relax together over dinner.”
“Sounds good to me.” And it was settled.
This may sound like a simple negotiation, an unexceptional conversation. In truth, I was facing a lifelong fear. Instead of being compliant or accommodating (and inwardly resentful later on), I’d struck a balance between authentic honesty and collaboration. Together, we found a solution that met the needs of all present. I was thrilled.
* * *
Decked out in billowing ponchos, we found a sheltered spot on the beach that was protected from the worst of the wind. My sore knee made me gimpy, but I encouraged my friends to take a walk by the surf while I started the bonfire. As it crackled, I wrote in my journal with sounds of ocean waves in the distance.
When my peregrina friends returned, we did a short ritual. Each of us wrote lists of things we wanted to release from our lives. After sharing aloud, we tossed the crumpled notes into the fire to symbolize their release and purification.
Then I shared the tradition of Bugles snacks, wine, and dark chocolate that started at my original Camino-ending ritual. From my bag I pulled out a nice red and, after pouring it into plastic cups, we toasted each other. I shared the words of the friendly German guy on Finisterre: “For to celebrate!”
As we sipped, laughed, and swapped stories, it began to rain in earnest. No one budged.
Are they really happy out here? Surely, they’re miserable and just humoring me. Instead of fretting, I simply asked. Their replies were unanimous.
“The fire’s warm and I’m happy.”
“My poncho works great!”
So we stayed put, making a semicircle in the damp sand. I grinned, feeling deeply touched by their support of me and impressed by their contentment in the sloppy weather.
“Thanks for coming out here, you guys. You have no idea how much this means to me.”
Here I am, letting myself receive support and love. What a difference a year makes.
Many pilgrims use the expression, “the Camino provides,” to describe how the very thing you need appears on the Way in surprising and unexpected ways. What most people don’t realize—and I’m happy to share—is that the Camino keeps on giving long after you finish walking.
Last year, on my first Caminoversary, I learned to be my own hero.
This year, instead of being alone, I’m surrounded by inspiring heroes who are on the journey with me. And I with them.
The Camino continues to provide. ❤