Nearly five years ago now, I went overseas for the first time to walk the historic Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in northern Spain.
It was a life-changing experience in many ways.
At first, I was scared and anxious, being 5,000 miles and an ocean away from home in a foreign country, by myself, far from my comfort zone. After a few days, I settled down and it became a magical month-long journey.
Sometime during my first week there, I was spending the night in a nice, little albergue (hostel), sitting in the backyard after a pasta dinner, talking with new friends from England, South Africa, and Norway.
Everyone was taking turns telling about themselves and their lives back home, the reason or reasons they decided to come and walk 500 miles across a foreign country with only a backpack full of basic supplies, and the stories were fascinating.
One young lady named Nix was originally from Cape Town, but now living in London, where she worked as some sort of home health care provider. The epitome of a free spirit, this boisterous girl in colorful clothes with a large silver ring piercing the middle of her bottom lip talked about her travels and adventures all over the world.
Paula, a British throwback to the 1960s Woodstock generation who once backpacked alone through India and lived in a treehouse in Thailand or somewhere, was carrying a ukulele in her backpack, which she used about a week later to lead a sing-a-long one evening at an albergue near Atapuerca. She started playing, “Don’t Worry; Be Happy,” and pretty soon, there was a small chorus of voices chiming in, representing the countries of Spain, France, Germany, England, and me from the U.S.
Very cool stuff.
Tom, a retired engineer, originally from Norway, was walking in honor of his late wife, who died five years prior from cancer. He was – and still is – having a hard time dealing with losing her.
All three of us became friends over there, and still stay in touch. There were so many unforgettable moments that I still think about all the time.
It was a day or two after that backyard dinner that I developed an enormous, unbelievably painful blister across the ball of my left foot. I tried different methods of treatment, but it took about a week before I could walk normally and without pain.
A week or so after that, Tom and I walked into the backyard of yet another beautiful albergue near a river, and hanging up clothes to dry was none other than a smiling Nix. We had not seen her in a while, as people generally split up and sometimes reunite as they make their way at different paces along the pilgrimage.
As we hugged and chatted, I asked Nix if she had a needle and thread that I could use to treat a couple of small blisters on one of my feet. These ampollas (Spanish for blister) were nothing compared to El Grande, and I had discovered by then that the treatment which worked best for me was to pierce the blister with a needle and then run a small length of thread through it to keep the thing from closing up and reforming before it has a chance to dry out and heal.
“Sure,” Nix said, brightly. “Would you like me to do it for you?”
She caught me a little off-guard, offering to doctor my feet like that, but I agreed, and she went inside and came back with some iodine or something and a needle and thread. And there I was, in the middle of nowhere in Spain, with my foot propped up in a plastic lawn chair, and a girl from South Africa I had known for a very short time, carefully tending to my aching feet.
It was very moving, and made me think of the Bible story about Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.
In John 13: 14-15, Jesus says: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”
I never washed anyone’s feet or tended to their blisters after that, but I did actually get a chance to do something for Nix in return. In fact, I had already done so, but did not know it yet.
Back at our first meeting, when we were all discussing our lives after dinner, I mentioned that I was now on my third career: first a draftsman, then a newspaper reporter, and now a school teacher. Nix was fascinated by that, and told me about a year later that she was inspired to leave a stifling occupation and pursue her dream of working as a crew member on ocean-going sailboats, which she is happily doing now.
I was humbled to find out that my story played even a small part in encouraging someone to make a difference in their life.
That was a few years ago now, and it still makes me stop and think. You never know, I guess, when those ripples you send out are going to have a positive effect on the world.
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