“It’s about the journey, not the destination.” I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have heard this said, but it was not until finding myself on a wild journey that I truly realized it’s full potential.
After eight hours of walking 16 miles in blistering, humid desert weather on the Way of Saint James pilgrimage route in Spain, I was exhausted by the time I arrived to shelter in a rural town, nonexistent in most tourism books.
As I took my first savory gulp of an ice-cold Powerade in the town restaurant, I saw a woman’s face fall onto her plate of food as she fell off her chair and began to have a seizure. All of the pilgrims around me were stunned and frozen into place, nonetheless, my body sprang into action and in Spanish, I directed a fellow pilgrim to call for an ambulance and told another pilgrim, “Grab her head! Move her onto her side so she doesn’t choke!”
She seemed to have lost consciousness for about two minutes. I saw her lips were pale, but her pulse was normal. When she regained consciousness, I asked her “Are you okay?” in both English and Spanish. However, she gave me a puzzled look, spoke in broken Spanish and said “I am from France and know a few Spanish words.” As I attempted to decipher what was wrong, I became increasingly frustrated by my inability to understand her. I tried to help any way I could but we were both left perplexed after many attempts to communicate. I stayed with her until the ambulance arrived, and in that time, she slowly got better.
This left me shocked but it was not the only jaw-dropping experience I had.
Every day, I had to use all my senses to get to the next step of the journey…walking over 16 miles each day.
Some of these experiences included simply getting to a different town, dislocating my knee with no town in sight, and having to use the restroom when there was no restroom for miles.
The whole 500 miles, us pilgrims were focused on what it was going to be like when we made it to the end continuously asking ourselves “Wow, imagine what it is going to feel like when we make it to Santiago” or “What do you think we will feel when we finally finish?”
When we made it to Santiago, it was bittersweet. It was not the amazing or euphoric feeling I thought it would be. This truly bothered me since it was the destination that was spoken of before the trip and while throughout its duration.
I learned a couple of valuable lessons while on this walking journey as a result.
1. Live in the moment.
When we find ourselves worried about the future or obsessed with dreams we set, our minds wander into the abyss of “what if,” thoughts. It was not until I finished the pilgrimage that I realized that every day provides new adventures, new opportunities, and new memories. When I focused on the day and was present in the moment enjoying the nice crisp sweet flavor of my Pinot Noir or truly engaging my soul in a conversation with a stranger that would go on to learn more about me than my friends back home, I was undoubtedly living.
2. Always observe your surroundings
When you are so focused on the finish line that you do not take the opportunity to look to the left or to the right, you will miss out on many things. Occasionally, I had days of walking where I just wanted to get from one town to the next. However, I decided more often than not to stop at random places along my 16 mile days to drink a glass of wine, have an ice cream on a hot and humid day, or talk to fellow pilgrims that could be from anywhere in the world. Two years after my pilgrimage, these are the moments I remember. These are the moments in which I smiled, cried, laughed, and lived.
We tend to worry about things out of our control or and focus on what MIGHT happen instead of what IS happening. Walking an average of 16 miles per day, I began to realize that I did not need my materialistic things from back home in California. All I needed was my smile in order to greet other people and learn. When I smile at someone, they smile, and then together we make a connection that could have otherwise never happened. A simple smile is sometimes all you need to get through your worst days.
As a man, I will be the first to say that crying was taught to me as a non-manly thing. While in Spain, there were days were I walked for miles without seeing anyone and had moments to enjoy the beauty of only being able to hear the sounds of the wind and my breathing. This in itself makes one realize how small they are in the world, and I cried tears of joy knowing how far I have come in life and how much further I plan to go. As I think we all know, when we cry, it is refreshing! It makes me remember what I really love, and how I would do anything for the things that are important to me.
Let us always remember what is important to us as we live our lives so that when it is all set and done, we can look back with nothing more than a cheerful smile.