Open to life
I miss making five new friends a day.
Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but the truth is, the habit of instantaneous friend-making among all pilgrims walking the Camino is simply unparalleled. As I walked kilometer after kilometer, stopped for coffee or cerveza, lay in rickety bunkbeds in albergues of varying quality, massaged my sore feet, and washed sweaty clothes with my meager soap supply in deep sinks, I met people from all over the world. Mortiz from Germany and Sillian from Italy had a similar story to Katie and me, each having come to Spain alone but meeting early on and continuing the rest of the way together (although their kilometer count topped 1,000, putting ours to shame). There was Dennis, the Irish yoga teacher, who mocked our lack of ambition (but deep down really loved us lackadaisical Americans). Domenico, the Romantic Italian, serenaded Katie and me endlessly and insisted we adopt a new joint motto: amici per sempre. Geraldine from England kindly shared her home-cooked meal with us, satiating our desperate longing for vegetables after days and days of bread upon bread. There were the Latvian priest and seminarian, the kind Australian couple in their 70s who travel the world fulltime, the Belgian hospitalero with whom I had delightful conversations in French, English, and a touch of Spanish.
There were so many people, and I loved them all. And upon reflecting about this newly far-reaching love for humanity, I’ve come to recognize that there is a pronounced openness to life on the Camino, one that I’d love to take hold in every corner of the world, not just along spindly Spanish paths marked by yellow arrows. Unlike in my usual day-to-day life, I looked at everyone I encountered, whether we said a quick Buen Camino as we passed or spent hours sharing from the depths, as a gift straight from God. These people each had a unique story to share, a wonderfully particular reason for pilgrimaging, and a readiness to receive me, too.
And not just that, but I found myself constantly ready to rejoice at interruptions. There was always room for one more—one more along the path, one more at the table, one more in my heart. Some friends and I gathered one night in a small, remote town, having collected groceries on the way, and cooked a meal together at our albergue. It began with a joyous hour of peeling carrots, chopping nectarines, setting the table. A woman I’d met a few days earlier happened to wander into the kitchen as we cooked, and we warmly welcomed her to our humble feast without a thought. In Santiago, I ran into my Floridian friends Steve and Connor on their way to share a bottle of wine. Right away, they invited me along. Often, Katie and I would be deep in a heart-to-heart when a fellow pilgrim approached, and we’d happily pause our conversation to make a new friend.
It wasn’t something I made conscious effort to do; it was simply a grace. God made me gloriously open to life, and I noticed the same in everyone around me. As I readjust to my Philadelphia life, a life of routine and comfort and long-held preferences, I long to hold onto that spirit of openness, that joy at encountering the other. I long to look at each person I meet as a gift to be treasured, not an inconvenience to be tolerated. I long to love.
I thank God for the taste of this grace, this openness to life in all its forms. I hope and pray I continue to receive it, to retain such gratitude for humanity. And maybe, from now on, I can settle on making just one new friend a day.