some people.

“Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for awhile and leave footprints on our hearts. And we are never, ever the same.”

This may be the cheesiest, douchiest quote I’ve ever heard. It’s the kind of thing I would have proudly added to my eighth grade yearbook page in anticipation of graduation. In Comic Sans, no less.

But it has been running through my mind periodically over the past few days, and I can’t shake the damn thing. It’s like a black-eyed peas song.

For the past four days, my father and I have been walking the Camino de Santiago (“The Way of St. James” for you english-speaking folk), a centuries-old pilgrimage across Spain to the city of Santiago de Compostela. We have roughly thirty days left. It’s exhausting, it’s humbling, and it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced. The scenery is gorgeous and the ability to travel (relatively conflict-free!) with my Dad is a true blessing. But the biggest gifts, I’ve quickly learned, are often the people we meet along the way.

I’d like to respectfully disagree with the author of the above quote. I take issue with the implication that those people who briefly enter our lives, those people with whom we share something and then never see again, are unable to leave a meaningful impression on our souls, on our perspective on the world and its inhabitants. Over the past four and a half months I’ve made many friends — beautiful, fascinating, brilliant, exciting people — whom I may never see again. It’s hard, traveling: you make friends, fall in love (platonically) with these other humans, and then you must go your separate ways. It can be emotionally exhausting. But it doesn’t make those relationships any less meaningful, the memories of those friends any less inspiring. It doesn’t make their “footprints on your heart” invisible or insignificant.

Here on the camino, this idea is amplified in a constantly moving microcosm of human interaction. We are all going to the same place, all moving at our own pace. Like an endless game of leapfrog, we pilgrims are in a constant state of passing each other, bumping into people we met briefly three days ago, having an inspiring conversation with a new acquaintance we met on the road only to quickly say goodbye (maybe forever?) because a pee break is imperative. You never know if you’ll see someone again; last names are almost never exchanged. To pull a concept from yogic philosophy, it is truly an exercise in detachment.

But then something funny happens. People reappear at just the right moment, just when you need a pick-me-up (e.g. when you’re tired and dragging and they yell “bullshit” across a public park to get your attention), just when you wrote them off as another beautiful soul that you’ll simply never see again. It’s uncanny. It’s the type of thing that could turn the most cynical into devout believers.

I’ve learned that these people can still be my friends, can still be influential in my life. Many of them I consider angels. I don’t have to hastily jot down their email address and friend them on facebook just to ignore indefinitely. I don’t have to know everything about them, or their job, or even their hometown in order to share the most basic human things: food, water, conversation, a smile. And very often, I know — really know — that these interactions we share were meant to happen. These people, these connections, are truly a gift from God.

Let me tell you a quick story.

On day two, my dad began to veer from the trail to find a place to pee. I looked over my shoulder: “There’s someone behind us, Dad”. He veered back into place ahead of me as our fellow peregrino blazed past us with strong legs and a confident stride. From his pack hung a small, stuffed heart, complete with dangling arms and legs and – if my memory serves me right – a cheery smile. “I like your heart”, my dad said, never one to pass up a good conversation piece.

So began our hour spent walking with Ricardo, an oncologist and father from Brazil who has already walked the second half of the Camino and is now completing the first. He was full of wisdom regarding how to prevent blisters (oops too late), the importance of taking your time (this is not a race), and the intangible beauty of the Camino. We all stopped to rest together, then once his companions caught up with us, they all headed off to the next destination. I felt grateful for our interaction — such a beautiful surprise — but assumed we wouldn’t see him again.

Today, as we sat outside our albergue in the tiny town of Urtega, talking blisters and travel plans with our new friend Alex, a familiar man strode up the driveway confidently. Before I knew it, Ricardo and his big, exuberant, loving smile were greeting us, and he placed his stuffed heart down in front of my Dad. “Webster! This is for you — I give you my heart. You have to take it to Santiago for me.” Both of our jaws dropped, the edges of our mouths creeping up into awe-struck smiles. First, we never expected to see Ricardo again; I think we both assumed he had zoomed past us somewhere between Zubiri and Pamplona. And second, we both knew that the heart had been a gift from a friend who was unable to walk the Camino because her husband suffered a heart attack two weeks before she was scheduled to leave for France. Her bag was already packed; the plans had been made; everyone was devastated. And now Ricardo was asking my dad to bring her memento, her heart, all the way to the end, since he would be heading home in a few days. As I fought back tears, Ricardo echoed our disbelief at the our meeting today: “I was telling my friend this morning, I hope I see my friend Webster again! I prayed to God that I would see you, and now here you are.” He left just as he had arrived, full of joy with a brisk gait, but only after giving a few much-needed band-aids and some medical advice to Alex.

This is the kind of thing that happens out here.

9 thoughts on “some people.

  1. Excellent work, Marian! You are definitely your father’s daughter. I’m very much enjoying his posts, and yours. You must tell him he has to keep the ‘stache. Makes him look almost as handsome as me, (That should be ‘I’ but it doesn’t sound right,) I think of you every day as I walk to Mass. ‘Webster and Marian are on the Way now, halfway through their day’s trek.’ God bless you both. Can’t wait ’til you get home.

    Ferde

  2. Hi Marian!
    I just wanted to let you know how much I have been loving and living vicariously thru your posts! You are a wonderful writer and photographer! Such an adventure, and culminating with this spiritual journey with your own dad! An incredible experience! Something I would love to do with my own children someday! Or maybe my grandchildren! I just returned from 2 weeks helping my daughter after the birth of her first baby, and my second precious little grandson! What a miracle, joy, blessing and honor to witness him entering this world, and my daughter becoming a Mom!

    Soon our next adventure will begin! I now wish we had even more time scheduled so we could “walk The Way”! We take off next week, flying to Barcelona…..and leave from Rome 2 months later. What happens in between is the Magic! We only have a reservation for our first night, but will move on our whims from town to village, the Spain coast, then France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, and down for a lot of Italy. We decided to lease a car so as not to be limited by the train routes and can get away from the main cities into the countryside. We also are looking forward to lots of walking and mountain hiking.

    I am nervous as I have never traveled like this before, without a planned itinerary! But it will be a practice in letting go and opening up to whatever the moments bring each day! I will be thinking of you, and your dad on your journey together. Thank you for the Wonder! I send my love to both you and your Dad! He has got to be a pretty special guy, with an awesome daughter! Cherish each step of this time together! Take care of those blisters, and your little fostered “heart”, and remember..when you lead with your “heart”, the rest will follow! Good Luck!!
    Namastexo! Elsa

  3. Thanks for your write-up, Marian. I’m convinced that if one were to maintain a level of attunement with Higher Purpose such as you and your dad have evidently achieved on the Camino, joyous synchronicities such as the one you describe would become the norm, not the exception, in our daily experience and our lives would become more transparently what in actuality they are: a pilgrimage of remembrance.

  4. Hi Marian. I think of you and your dad every day as I read Tim Moore’s “Spanish Steps”. Enjoy those precious moments together and stay safe. Love and hugs, Aunt T.

  5. Beautifully written. I am so glad I stumbled upon your blog as I was doing some research on the Camino. We are heading there this May to walk as much as we can in 3 weeks. It’s a bit of a homecoming as we had planned the trip 5 years ago but had to cancel the night before flying out (being a responsible adult! blah!). Anyways, I don’t think we were ready for the lessons to be learned along the trail but now we are ready and will fully appreciate it. Buen Camino!

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