On my first Camino three years ago, my friend Rick and I would see people with small daypacks. These were the people who hired a service to bring their packs to their destination instead of carrying them themselves. “This walk would be a piece of cake if I wasn’t carrying a pack!” Rick would say. “Yeah, I could walk so much further if I didn’t have my pack,” I added. A few days ago, I learned we were right. For the first time ever on the Camino, there was no belt cinched tight around my waist, no straps pulling on my shoulders. I carried a tiny bag on my back that held water, my jacket, and some snacks.
“You already did this trail once carrying your pack. You’ve got that story to tell your grandkids,” Lois told me.”You’ve got nothing to prove, kid. And me? I’m only doing this once and I’m here to enjoy it. We can enjoy it a lot more without carrying our packs.” Well, since she put it that way . . .
I studied myself that day–how I felt being on the other side of the carry-your-pack or not debate. I didn’t feel guilty–initially. I did, however, wonder how other people would react to us, but was surprised to see we got the same “Buen Camino” greetings we received the day before.
A few hours into our day, after crossing a busy mountain road, we got to a food truck. Plastic chairs held weary pilgrims, their packs and walking sticks strewn about the pavement. Lois and I stood looking at our food options as a large man dropped his equally large pack and settled himself into a chair beside me with a big sigh. We smiled at each other, and I patted his back, then started to massage his shoulders. A man sitting across from him said, in an Irish accent, “Over here next!” pointing to his own shoulders. We all exchanged answers to “Where are you from” and “where are you going today.” I let out that this was my third Camino. “You’ve done this twice already? From St. Jean?” “No–I’ve done this route once before, and did 10 days on the Portugese last year.” I very deliberately did not add, “carrying my pack the whole time.” These men had seen Lois and I arrive. Looking at Lois, one would easily forgive her for not carrying a pack. But me? What was my reason? Did I need one?
I’ve just finished my third day without my pack. And the guilt has come and gone and come and gone again. Yesterday, a German man caught up with us and one of the first things he said was, “I see you’re not carrying much.” I stumbled over an explanation.
He and I had a delightful discussion, and when he moved on I said to Lois, “I need to come up with some good responses to the question of why I’m not carrying my pack.”
We came up with:
- In case I have to carry Lois.
- My pack? You mean it’s not on my back? Hm.
- The better question is why are you carrying yours?
- I’m probably carrying about as much as the pilgrims of the middle ages carried.
“People can’t have a one-sided conversation,” Lois said. In other words, I didn’t have to say anything. That hadn’t occured to me.
“You know it’s not personal–he asked about your pack to make himself feel better.” Indeed, this idea of “it’s not personal” is one of the best things I’ve learned from Lois.
A few days ago, pilgrims gathered in the choir loft of the church at Zabaldika, some sitting on cushions on the floor, others on chairs. The Sister who ran the evening prayer service asked if anyone would like to share anything they’ve learned thus far on their journey. I hadn’t taken the time to consider either question until that point. But something simple came to me quickly. “On my first Camino I learned to stop judging other people. On this Camino, I’m learning to let go of my concern about other people judging me.”