Published on May 21, 2014
Last year, my wife, Esther, and my 20-year-old-daughter, Ruthie, took 15 days and walked along Spain’s famous “Camino de Santiago de Compostella.” This is the walk Catholic pilgrims have taken for hundreds of years from France, across Spain, and to the Atlantic coast. These days, most people who do it are not Catholic but rather walking as part of their own thoughtful journey—a break from the travails of daily life.
I was envious of Esther and Ruthie’s camino (camino means "path" in Spanish). And while I met them for a day or two as they neared the end, I longed for the same kind of peace and introspection that they experienced.
Last week, I got it.
Esther and I planned a new camino—this time in France below Lyon and walking for six days starting at a small town called Le Puy en Velay. At first, it was fairly solitary. We hiked up fairly steep hills and alongside pastures on a rutted trail. The wind blew, and the rains came. We walked on. And soon we began to meet people who, over six days, became great friends: Christopher from Wimbledon, Marcus from Munich, Cecile from Bordeaux, and Celina and Beatrice from Paris. Each of us had our own thoughts to sort out.
For me, as a two-time cancer survivor, it was less about sorting things out and more just about being there. I began to see each step as an affirmation of life. Each hill I could climb, each pastoral scene I could take in was a blessing to be savored—I was truly living in the moment. Several times Esther asked me what I was thinking about after I had charged ahead with my stick in hand and my pack on my back. Really I was thinking about nothing particular and, at the same time, everything. I was celebrating the experience, and it has been a tremendous gift.
I recognize that other cancer patients cannot climb up and down hills. But I pray they do have moments they can savor: the sound of their favorite song, the touch of a friend’s hand, the smile from a grandchild. Drink it all in.
And the truth is you don’t have to be a cancer patient to take this step. My friends on the camino all agreed. Anyone can stop and take time to enjoy. Many can set aside a few days—and not much money—to walk and make new friends. I would urge you to find your own camino, close to home or afar. Do it now. Don’t wait.
Generally these days, my answer to all invitations and opportunities is “Yes.” Earlier in my life, the answer was often “No.” No time, no money, no one to go with me. My British walking friend Christopher would say that’s “rubbish.”
I am already dreaming of another camino with Esther next year and making new friends. I pray my cancer won’t get in the way. But if it does, I am so glad I took time out this year to celebrate the life I have now.
Wishing you and your family the best of health,