Today is the feast of St. Francis; a fitting day, perhaps, to take time to shed all that I know for awhile; daily routines, work patterns, ups and downs. And time away from everyone, even loved ones. At the beginning of my decision to walk The Way, taking time by myself seemed self-serving, selfish. But no. This already feels like absolutely necessary alone time. Alone with my walking pace. Alone with my thoughts. Alone with my God. And while I’m conscious, so far, not to get lost in the “cave” of my thoughts, I am breathing in the necessity of this moment.
I arrived today in St. Jean Pied de Port, a small ancient town just east of the Pyrenees Mountains in southern France, the beginning of Camino Francais, the French Route, they call it. After two flights and two train rides, I took a short walk from the train station to a cobblestone street-ed village…to historical St. Jean. Poof, I’m back in time. My bunk-bed (18 Euro including breakfast) is the Chemin vers L’Etoile Hotel in St. Jean. It was built in 1525 and has been renovated several times over the years. Renovation to a 500 year old building puts things into perspective for me. It’s hard to find a 300 year old structure in the States.
My first was given to me by Eric, the hotel keeper. He spoke in English with a classic french voice and said “David, here is your first gift of The Way. Sit. Sit down, David.” I sat. “Don’t be like the fools who rise early and rush up the mountain. Everybody rushes. Why? We don’t know. This is your Camino, David. Theirs is theirs. Yours is yours. Yes, David, humility. Let humility be your first gift.” “Ok”, I replied, gesturing to get up and find my bunk. “David”, he continued. I sat back. “When I walked the Camino, I was a big shot in Paris. High-Tech firm, lots of money. I thought I had everything. I had nothing. I walked the Camino. I came home. I left my job. And I’ve been running this hotel for 8 years.” “My journey is not your journey, be sure of that. But as soon as I was humbled by the Camino, I really began my pilgrimage. And that was just as I entered Santiago, the end! David, I’m asking you. I’m begging you. The Camino has many gifts for you. You will see light come from you. You will surrender fears. You will let The Way tell you when to start and when to stop.” I smiled. “David, don’t be like the fools who rush up the mountain. I was one of those fools, and I missed the gifts of most of the 500 miles.” He stopped. I hesitated. Nodded. And then I stood. He showed me to my room and explained how things happen in the morning.
I wasn’t expecting that. I wonder if fool, pride, or rush was all over my face! Anyway, he gave me my first gift, imprinted it on my heart.
Thank you Eric, first giver of gifts on The Way.