Join our Lenten Campaign 2024.
Life can be overwhelming. In part, it’s the agony – the tasks to perform, the stressors to manage, the deadlines to meet. In part, it’s the ecstasy – so many beautiful moments and people in whom the Lord is clearly at work.
I often have the experience of meeting someone and quickly realizing: “Wow. There’s something going on here. And, it’s good.”
Recently, I was walking on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela with a group of pilgrims. Each day, we’d all start together and end together, but we’d spend the middle miles largely on our own. While on my own, I would often fall in step with random people. I was working on an academic degree at the time that required some language study, so I was on the lookout for patient pilgrims with whom to practice.
One afternoon, I found myself walking next to a young woman from Germany named Cynthia. She was on the Camino with her mother, working their way from León to Santiago de Compostela. (And she was super tolerant of a foreigner’s mistreatment of her native tongue.)
We met on what happened to be the rainiest day of the trip. It poured pretty consistently for several hours. My group rolled up at our destination soaked, chilled, and generally brutalized by the slog. Ordinarily, I’d have been a little raw, inclined to feel sorry for myself. (How dare it rain!) But, on this particular day, my experience was saved by my fellow pilgrim, and I’m still not quite sure how.
The substance of our exchange wasn’t especially deep. We talked about her home and her family. I learned the words for “wet” (“nass”) and “dry” (“trocken”). We schemed about how many espressos we would consume in the coming hour. That was most of it. And yet, something about her openness to the day, her openness to the conversation, totally transfigured the moment for me. I had just enough bad German to thank her: “Aber, du hast ein Licht in dir!”
In the end, maybe the agony of a rainy day was just the setting for the ecstasy of a radiant encounter. Perhaps the sorrow and hardship of the way is just the backdrop against which life’s masterworks – our fellow pilgrims – appear in starker relief.
This is part of the series called “The Human Being Fully Alive” found here.