“Why doesn’t this happen in the real world?”
I have to be honest, every time I hear someone say that I get this snarky urge to ask them what world they’re currently living in if not the real one and then go on this soapbox rant about how people these days spend all their time complaining that life isn’t shiny like their dreams of how it ought to be are, all the while doing nothing to actually better it and thus making the proverbial fence a few feet higher and the proverbial grass a few shades greener on the other side. (See, I may have actually gone ahead and ranted anyways).
But there is a strong point to be made for the Camino not being real life.
And so when I heard Michelle ask that question over group dinner on our third-to-last night from the end of the Camino, I didn’t soapbox. Because I absolutely agreed. Everyone did, over and over and over. And I think they had a good case.
Why doesn’t the type of community that I found in 8 days of backpacking across northern Spain as a pilgrim on the Camino happen in this so-called real life? When our knees can’t take another downhill and we’re still three days from the destination, why aren’t people as nonchalant about graciously giving up their personal walking sticks for those few days as they are on the road? When we spend the first ten minutes of every night anxiously checking our bunks for bedbugs, why are we not as quick to offer around our precious supply of repellent to fellow travelers so everyone can sleep in peace? When the rest of life’s pilgrims walking with us are so quick to spill their fears and failures and deepest misgivings, why are we not as quick to listen and only listen? And when they laugh and celebrate and live in joy, why are we not the most thankful and most joyful among them? When our bandaged feet are blistered and bruised and it is the first hour out of five in our day’s walk, why aren’t there more people that come alongside and just talk with us, helping to forget the throbbing until the next thing we know it is all over and rest is in sight?
Because that’s the everyday life on the Camino. Michelle always called those people her “Camino Angels” which I always thought was silly until I started thinking about it (and until I was the one whose knees refused to bend on the downhills and Tim gave me his walking sticks). Life on the Camino is one filled with pain and monotony and long days and short nights. And yet it is made beautiful by who it is also filled with: people who make those days fuller and that dullness shine colorfully and who take care of “their own.” And everybody seems fall under that category. So it is that I was left asking the very same question that everyone faced with the prospect of going home and back to “real life” in a few days was asking. Why can’t it be like the Camino?
I do not think that I am going to write much more about this, or even begin to attempt an answer. That isn’t the point.
This is: Make it so.
Below are a few pictures of some of my friends on the Camino, hanging out. The list isn’t comprehensive, and there’s no way that you’ll ever be able to know all of their wonderful stories or see the ways that they’ve been written into my life. But they’ve done a fair job of keeping me alive these last 8 days, and I hope that in all of my rambling and stumbling along the path with them they’ve gotten the message clearly enough that I really do care about them. And that I long for the same thing in the real world.
One last thought I had: I think God is asking the same question that my friend Michelle asked. Why don’t people live in such generous community, constantly giving what little they have to those with less, continuously encouraging a pretty worn-out and ragged band of pilgrims on life’s road? I think this meandering path across northern Spain filled with tired and searching people might be his little way of reminding us that it was his idea in the first place, this whole loving each other thing. And a kick in the pants to get off our soapboxes and start living as if the real world were the Camino.