Never Underestimate the Burdens People Are Carrying
Tim O’Brien wrote a wonderful book called The Things that They Carried about a platoon of soldiers serving in a combat unit in Vietnam. It begins by chronicling the variety of weapons that they carried into battle. O’Brien goes on to explore the other things that these young men carried with them – fears, failures, family expectations, relationships, rejections, inner wounds, and dreams – some of which weighed heavier than their weapons. We all carry things with us.
On the Camino Primitivo, almost everyone is carrying a “mochila” (backpack). It is recommend not to carry more than 10% of your body weight in a backpack. If your backpack weighs two or three pounds and you carry a water bladder inside it or pack two large water bottles to keep yourself hydrated, the pack and water alone can account for six or seven pounds. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for other things. Those, however, are just the exterior things that we carry.
Everyone hikes the Camino for a reason. Many hike to reflect on life – on relationships, work, careers, vocations, difficult choices that they must make, losses, dreams, etc. If you just create a safe space for others to unpack what they are carrying with them, ask thoughtful questions and listen attentively, many people will share what they are carring.
Today, I got off to an early start, walking again through mist and clouds. The sun did not burn off the mist almost noon. The walk from Berducedo to Grandas de Salime took me over mountains and down to the Navia River, which is dammed to create a hydroelectric power plant. The work to divert the river began in 1946. Four villages were built to house the 3,500 workers, some 300 of whom died due to the poor working conditions.
By the time it was completed in 1953, it was the largest dam in Spain and the second largest in Europe. The United States had declared an embargo on Spain refusing to support the dictator Franco. But Britain secretly supplied Spain with the turbines and generators needed to build and operate the hydroelectric power plant.
As I walked, I felt the urge to be alone. I was passed by three incredibly fast Spaniards, including a retired female gym teacher, who helped found the Camino de Dos Faros, which I walked two years ago on the northwest Spanish coast. She has walked the Camino Frances (500 miles long) eight times! I passed Italian, German and French hikers, deciding to walk at my own pace.
This was the first day that I felt as though I could walk for hours, but I stopped at a restaurant overlooking the damn in order to visit with fellow pilgrims. Over lunch, I met Patricio (Patrick), a Spaniard from Valencia, who seems like a very fine person, and two Italian characters – Ricardo and Marco.
After lunch, we made our way to Grandas de Salime, a small town which was founded by King Fernando II in the 12th century. The Collegiata de El Salvador, an attractive, sturdy, 12th century Romanesque church, sits in the center of town. Unfortunately, today was the only day that it was not open for a Mass.
After checking into my hotel and showering, I read a book in Spanish under the shade in a nearby park and visited the Ethnographic Museum, which chronicles Asturian life and what it was like to grow up in the small, rural towns of this Spanish providence.
Patricio and I met for dinner along with Ricard, Marco and another Italian pilgrim. Over dinner, Patricio shared that his marriage is broken and that is what led him to walk the Camino. He can only take a few days off, so he is returning to Valencia tomorrow and hopes to return and walk the remaining portion of the Camino Primitivo at this time. He is a person of real faith.
I tried to listen as intently as possible over the restaurant noise as we spoke in Spanish. Talking and listening in a foreign language in a noisy setting is perhaps the real test of communicating in a foreign language.
Patricio and his wife and daughters are suffering due to their challenging marital situation. I tried to offer pastoral advice and felt honored that Patricio was willing to share about his life.
Every miracle that Jesus performed began with seeing or listening to someone around him and asking questions. If we create a safe space, ask thoughtful questions and listen attentively, the Lord will do the rest. People will share the heavy things that they are carrying with them. It is a grace to help them unpack the heavy things that they are carrying.
With love and prayers from Spain,