Sunday, September 29, 2019

Email Draft: Why I Walked the Camino

The following is an unsent email I wrote based on my experiences walking the Camino. The address is to the man I met, once when I let him back into our albergue and again later on down the road and at its end. For the complete story, see In Medias Res: Walking el Camino. Unlike my last post, this one is less of a narrative and more speculation.

Dear Looney,

It’s been a while. Well, maybe not a while. But four months can feel like a long time when you’re still waiting for an e-mail. It seems silly now—that I would’ve given you my name and contact information but neglected to ask for yours. Perhaps it doesn’t mean anything that I meant to ask. I just never found the opportunity.

Please don’t think that this correspondence is the result of some love sick girl. It’s not.

I haven’t yet had the opportunity to share why I walked the Camino. I’ve heard my parent’s reasons countless times, and I’ve shared a bit of my parents’ stories. While I may have shared the story of how you and I met (did you know I’ve told that story more often than we’ve talked?), I have yet to share why I walked the Camino.

Here goes.

It started off as a physical and philosophical challenge. Could my body handle 800 kilometers? What would it be like? After I read A Philosophy of Walking by Frederic Gros, I was honestly, dreadfully curious. What is it like to walk for days on end? Would I lose my sense of place on the road? Would I think of nothing but putting one foot after another?

Truth be told, I never got to that last, mind-numbing stage any more than I walked 800 kilometers. 260 km isn’t so bad, I suppose, but it’s still not 800.

All the same, as I walked along the road to Santiago, I came to learn more of what it meant to be a pilgrim, not just a mere passerby or tourist. I learned what it was like to take a journey with countless others from across the world, people from different backgrounds, different denominations, even different faiths, all seeking one destination. A pilgrim is a seeker—a traveler with a goal, sometimes a person seeking some self-inflicted penance.

What is that even like?

To use an old cliché, being a pilgrim felt like a small representation of life. But, at the same time, a pilgrimage is not like life. In some ways, it felt more real. How many people in everyday life will talk about their purpose instead of making meaningless small talk? How many people will open up about why they’ve forsaken the comforts of home—the convenience of modern transportation, the accessibility of the internet—simply to walk?

Walking the Camino felt real. I’ve never seen so many people tear up in one journey, whether at the foot of the Iron Cross or over breakfast because they’re morning a wife or daughter. Never have I gotten both my parents’ approval on a man I’d just met. Never had I come to the acceptance that my relationship with God is more than just an emotional connection. It’s so much more.

I guess you could say I started off the Camino looking for a spiritual reason to be walking. What was I doing, treading the path of so many before me? Those of great faith. Who am I to walk where they walked? What do I know, when I’m filled with all these doubts?

I didn’t even start the Camino with some spiritual purpose.

But still, I heard God speak.

It was on our own rainy day, believe or it not. The rain wasn’t a downpour or anything torrential, but after an hour, it was plain tedious. Even with our ponchos, we felt soaked to the bone. So it was that my family and I shuffled into a tiny art gallery on the roadside just to get out of the rain. There we met Art, a painter who created these beautiful watercolors and who prayed with us before we continued. There, along the road in a building that looked like any other, I gazed at the paintings and postcards and read their inscriptions, “Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.’”

There, I heard it. Not in audible words, just in an inclination.

Find the truth.

I’m not referring to my truth, or even your truth. But rather the truth. I’ve always enjoyed learning, and as the old saying goes, “The more I know, the more I know I don’t know.” There are so many things I want to learn.

How does climate change affect our world, and why are most conservative Christians adamantly against the very concept? Aren’t we supposed to be stewards of our world?

How can I be a Christian and show love to my friends who have openly admitted they aren’t religious?

How can I truly accept other people if I can’t even accept myself?

I can never learn everything. Such a task would be impossible and take the lifespan of the entire world. But maybe, just maybe, one day I can ask the right questions, challenge the right stereotypes, face the honest truth. It’s a daunting task. In some ways, I don’t feel up to it. But it starts with plain, bold, honestly.

Here it is, Looney. Did you lose my e-mail, or did you just forget?

Write me back.

I miss you.

Azelyn Klein

P.S. You never told me your actual name. I know, you gave me something you thought would be easy for my American tongue to pronounce. And it is, but might I trouble you for your real name?


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