Coming down the steep hill on our second day into the town of Zubiri, I blew out my left knee. On our fourth day, leaving Pamplona, we climbed El Alto del Perdón (the height of forgiveness), with the beautiful iron statues of perigrinos (pilgrims) past. Climbing down the steep, rocky hill from El Alto, I protected my left knee with my right ankle—oh what a painful mistake! I thought I was so much stronger than I am. I had no idea that it would be this hard.
We are now on day 12, approaching the city of Burgos, just before the 200 kilometer-long, flat plain called “La Meseta.” Today was my first ibuprofen-free day. For several mornings after I lost full use of my right ankle, I walked in acute pain. Going downhill was excruciating. Walking flat was challenging. Fortunately going uphill was easy, and quite a relief.
Some of you may remember that one of my motives for walking the Camino was to “learn how to walk with Minga.” I tend to walk much faster than her, and, when we have walked together in our Cambridge lives, I must admit to a bit of impatience with our mutual pace. Well, now it is not my choice. My walking wings have been clipped. I hobble along to keep up with Minga’s pace, especially downhill. I have taken to walking backwards on steep downhills, and so far have not fallen.
The biggest and most surprising lesson for me is humility. I started the Camino thinking that hiking poles were for sissies. On the first day of acute pain, a father and daughter, whom we had met on the first day, passed us. They asked how we were doing. I told them about my ankle pain and that I would be purchasing hiking poles in the next big town. The father had cut his right hand slicing bread, severely enough that he could not hold a pole. He gave me one of his poles. Such an act of kindness! A literal God send. I did buy a set of poles, so now we have three poles between us. We hope to encounter the father/daughter team again, but they were traveling much faster than us.
As I walk, at times I am given to contemplate on the very big questions around participation in a pilgrimage for a Saint who was used as a war symbol in the Christian re-conquest of the Spanish peninsula from the Moors. James was called “Santiago Matamoros” (Saint James the Moor Slayer). Visions of the Saint, leading the Christian warriors on a blazing white horse, were seen on the battlefield. I pray that by walking, I can reclaim the apostle James, transforming his image from the warrior Saint back to the simple fisherman, a follower of Jesus, the prince of peace.
Yet as I struggle to break through the pain, I am humbled and broken with the awareness that I have a whole lot of inward work to do. Walking in pain, I have come face-to-face with my petty, limited, judgemental self. I walk—perhaps like all of us, even all creation—in deep need of forgiveness and the unconditional love of God.