In 2012, over the course of my 37 days on the Camino de Santiago, generosity knew no bounds. This network of thousand-year-old pilgrimage trails is walked by hundreds of thousands of people each year and, in reality, is a moving community of people helping people.
- Unable to find my way out of a large city early one morning, I stopped a woman in scrubs to ask where the route was. She spoke no English. I spoke no Spanish. But she waved at me to follow her and took four minutes out of what was clearly her commute to work to literally put me back on the trail.
- My (at the time new) friend Rick comforted me through tears more than once along the way. And I’ll never forget the day I woke up with a rash on my chest, arms, and belly. Rick and I got to a town with a pharmacy, but it wasn’t open for another hour. I told him he could keep walking without me. He refused, instead staying to enjoy a cup of coffee with me as we waited.
- There was the hospitalero in Vilacázar de Sirga who washed and dried every cloth item in my backpack for me when I thought I had bedbugs; he even gave me his own shirt to wear so that I could wash even the clothes on my back (for my bottom half, he pulled out a fitted sheet and suggested I fasten it as a skirt to complete my outfit, which I did!).
I was given so much on that journey–both physically and mentally. But I always felt a little guilty for accepting the generosity of others until the day I met a woman who said, “By turning someone down on their generous offer, in some way, you are depriving them. By accepting their generosity, you are making them happier. Why would you deny anyone that experience?”
“Think about it,” she went on. “When you want to give someone something and they turn you down, how do you feel?”
Her words stuck with me. I started to see offers as opportunities for me to make others smile.
For two weeks I am volunteering at an albergue (hostel) along the Camino de Santiago. My co-hospitalero John and I are helpful people by nature. What joy we feel when a hot, dusty, road-weary pilgrim walks through our door and we are able to offer them a glass of water, a place to sit, a smile, and a greeting of “bienvenidos.” Opportunities for us to give of ourselves abound in this place.
But there are also many opportunities to accept the generosity of the pilgrims who walk through our door. Nearly every day a pilgrim has asked if we will take food they do not want to carry forward with them. To our breakfast buffet we have added cheese, salami, and hard-boiled eggs left by the previous days pilgrims. The other day, a Czech woman gave me a business-card sized photo of Prague, telling me I should visit one day. The day before, sitting at the breakfast table, a Spanish pilgrim crocheted two tiny bracelets to give to me and John.
Every gift we are offered, we accept with a smile.
Today, I invite you say “yes” to someone else’s generosity.