i spent two weeks at the beginning of september walking 300km across northwestern spain. i was tracing the steps of ancient pilgrims before me, who for centuries have been wearing the path toward santiago de compostela and the remains of saint jacob. this is one of christianity's three great pilgrimages, the other two being jerusalem and rome. but the camino de santiago is currently the most popular, with over 100,000 pilgrims each year.
a pilgrimage is a spiritual journey, and the night before i started walking a nun at the pilgrim's benediction service told us that pilgrims are searchers. "what are you looking for?" she asked, and her question stayed with me during the long walk ahead, always playing in the back of my mind, like a song i couldn't stop singing. initially, i was searching for peace and quiet after a busy summer, for a chance to be alone and disconnect. but the pilgrimage is more than the trail itself, it is a way to bring questions like this into focus, so that you can bring them home afterwards. and questions like this do not always require an answer. indeed, what am i searching for?
the camino taught me how to suffer, and although the physical pain -- for me, it was localized in my feet -- was often overwhelming, it is already dissolving from my mind and will not be what i remember about the camino. the physical beauty of the trail was specatcular: the cold mornings watching the sun lift out of the fog, the dank wet cowpaths in galicia, the stone villages full of toothless farmers, the blooming wildflowers, the steep mountain passes, the cobblestone streets. as well, the beauty of my fellow pilgrims was incredible and humbling: there is an instant camraderie bordering on love that develops between people who are experiencing something like this side by side. i have never been so well cared for by strangers.
so now i am a pilgrim returned home, changed in ways that i am still appreciating. my feet are still recovering, but my spirit is ready to keep searching.