A letter to… a would-be pilgrim

Dear Pilgrim,

Are you having second thoughts?  Pre-Camino doubts?  Well, don’t!

I stumbled across the Camino Frances whilst on holiday and as we drove along the motorway close to Burgos, I could hear it whispering… come walk. 

I was a rather plump, middle aged woman.  I was three years clear of cancer and maybe I needed to feel alive.  Everyone thought I was crazy.  Nobody thought I would succeed.  My husband gave me a book by Tim Moore called Spanish Steps; he thought it would put me off but it did the reverse. 

This is a little excerpt from my Camino journal…

… today was different.   We walked through a prairie landscape; wheat fields as far as you could see.  I walked towards what I christened 23 tree hill. I could see it for ages; there wasn’t a lot else to see. After a while I was alone, just me and the hill.  

I don’t know when my thoughts changed but as I walked towards that hill, I thought of my life and the events before my 15th birthday.  I thought about things that happened so long ago that I’d forgotten the memories still existed.  As I approached that hill, I recalled it all, and I sobbed and I sobbed and I sobbed.  I cried for all the years before my 15th birthday and I sobbed for the mother I never really knew.   I just sobbed.  Not a gentle tear but I cried hard until I was a mess of tears and snot and sweat… just me, sat on the edge of the road, beside those 23 trees.

I have no idea where that emotion came from but as I walked on I felt as though I had left something behind that I should have dropped many years ago… I felt OK… More than OK… I felt great.

The truth is that my father was a brute, worse even.  My mother became sick when I was very small.  I was raised to never get above my station, not to dream, not to ever believe that good things can happen.  The first beating that I remember was when I was four.  At fifteen, in a bid to escape the horrors at home, I tried to take my own life.  A few months later, fully recovered, I left home and I left my past behind me.  But it’s never fully gone.  Those memories, those scars, they bind you. 

As a child, my sanctuary was our local church. I found that if I joined every club, I could be out every night of the week.  Our vicar had a huge family and (maybe because he’d figured things out) he welcomed me into the fold.

I grew older, I eventually met an amazing gentle man, who helped me heal.  We married, have kids, he is my rock and he was waiting for me in Santiago in 2014 when I finished my first Camino.

I’m not especially religious but I know that the Camino found me.  The Camino gave me space to think.  The Camino let me heal.  I found my six-year-old self somewhere around Burgos and I found my fifteen-year-old self somewhere around Castrojeriz.

I’m still middle aged, still cancer free, no longer so plump and no longer living in shadows.  The scars that we carry from childhood are chains, but hand on heart, I know that walking that first Camino taught me that I am allowed to dream.. and that I really can fly. My husband has been telling me this for years… but actually doing it… well it was life changing. 

So, don’t be afraid… just put one foot in front of the other. You won’t regret it and who knows, it might change your life too!

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