Last week, I received a package in the mail from Sue. Holding it in my hands, I felt a burst of happiness tinged with sorrow. Here’s why:
I met Sue a few years ago after hearing her speak about a life-changing journey. After the presentation, I approached and asked if she’d join me for coffee. I was curious to learn more, especially since I’d never before heard about the profoundly moving experiences she’d so passionately recounted.
Sue Kenney is among the thousands of women (and men) who walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, a path taken by religious pilgrims for many centuries. Sue first walked the Camino nearly a decade ago, after being downsized from her corporate job. Needing to refocus her life, she embarked on an ambitious endeavor, walking the entire 780 kms of the Camino along the route crossing the northern regions of Spain. It was during that first pilgrimage that Sue found purpose: with each step I took forward I walked back to myself and in the process I discovered that everything I needed was within me.
Sue and I hadn’t spoken much during the intervening years between our first meeting and now. However, I always enjoyed receiving her newsletters, in which she wrote anecdotes and inspirational stories about her most recent self-guided journey along the Camino. As a way of sharing the challenges and blessings of the spiritual path with others, Sue began leading small groups on the Camino.
She authored a book and then produced a documentary about her pilgrimage with a group of women, titled Las Peregrinas – the (female) pilgrims. Both her purpose and plan have grown since then; she is now preparing to establish a pilgrim’s centre in Santiago, where she hopes to coach pilgrims on the process of returning home.
Since my accident, Sue has been a regular source of support and inspiration to me. She always signs her emails ‘with peace and light,’ and although we don’t know each other all that well, I know that the source of those wishes is the mind and heart of a true and caring spirit.
And so, one of my craziest ideas came up during our correspondence: I wondered if I might be able to join Sue and her group on the upcoming pilgrimage. It would ‘only’ be 180 kms, spread over 10 days… might I be able to join them, could I possibly manage to integrate a therapeutic routine of walking (interspersed with necessary periods of rest) for 10-25 kms daily with a spiritual journey of this magnitude?
Sue and I spoke about it at length. With characteristic optimism and fortitude, she heartily encouraged me to join her. She offered many options to ease the way for me, and I appreciate her efforts and encouragement still. It was a terribly tempting offer, what with me itching to travel and hike again, itching to engage in a meaningful journey, itching to crank up my therapeutic routine at least one more notch.
But, alas, it is not to be. Not this round anyway. The voices were split; go for it, some said; while others cautioned that I might jeopardize the significant strides I had already made. Really, though, it boiled down to this: I alone had to face my ever-present limitations, my still-constant pain (with ups and downs), the jarring truth that I simply could not yet physically embark on something that would be too grueling for my still-healing body. My heart and soul were brimming with excitement… but I awoke to the reality: my body’s just not ready. For now.
Still, I am heartened to know that Sue was fully prepared to embrace me – walking stick and all – and include me in her group. I am grateful that she had faith that I would manage and that the route and experience would be as beneficial to me as it had been to her and countless others.
¡Buen viaje, las peregrinas! With peace and light, go off on your journey, your pilgrimage, through rocky villages and hilltops, through pastures and fields, in sun and rain, with smiles or sorrows, knowing that you are in good hands. On the Camino, I will be with you in spirit.