The Itch to Write

Journaling in a monastery in Conques
Journaling in a monastery in Conques

When we first got back from our Camino, there were three questions I heard all the time—and I was terrible at answering all of them.

How was it? How do I summarize three months, a thousand years of history, a thousand miles of walking? It was great. Amazing. Hard. Humbling. Beautiful. Awesome. If I saw any of these vague, cliche adjectives in my clients’ work I’d pull out the red pen. Imprecise. Be more specific.

What was your favorite day? Yeah, that’s like asking a parent about their favorite child…if they had 79 children. Because there was the day that we… and then there was also the day… and there was the night we ate… and the other town in that valley… and by then my audience’s eyes have glazed over.

Are you going to write about it? Okay, it was a fair question. I’m a writer and editor by trade, but I’d been intentional about going totally dark and offline for our pilgrimage. Surely there were words on paper somewhere, right? I didn’t just take a three-month sabbatical all for myself?

This one, too, stumped me. Because of course this was something I wanted to share. But in July, when we first got back, the whole experience was still too new, too tender. Writing about it felt too intimate. And besides, there are already enough narcissistic travel memoirs and blogs out there. Yes, I had a life-defining experience. But there was no single moment of epiphany. I didn’t survive anything life-threatening. Did I really think that anyone else would care to read about it?

So I put it off. I threw myself into all the chaos of our re-entry, while I slowly, slowly sorted through my 2,000 photos and relived the trip. Eric and I sat up late, cementing our memories and trying to figure out how to hold onto what had happened to us. I even got a tattoo. But I still didn’t write.

Then, about a month ago, I started to feel the itch. It happened unexpectedly, when one of my office mates introduced me to her mother.

“This is Beth. She just walked a thousand miles across Europe.”

The mother raised her eyebrows. “Wow! You must feel so self-righteous.”

I understand what she was trying to say, really. She meant well, I know. But ouch. If that’s the impression that people have when I try to shorthand and summarize my Camino, then maybe I have something to write about after all.

I am damn proud of what I did. It took a lot of commitment. And it pushed me way past the places where I thought I was comfortable. But perhaps I walked a thousand miles sounds a lot like Look at me.

When the real story sounds something more like this:

I took a sabbatical, and the only thing I had to do every day was walk about twelve miles. In exchange, I was offered inexpensive shelter, good food and wine, an international chorus of companions, stunning scenery, and a place within a history much bigger than me.

I’m not self righteous. I’m grateful.

Walking the Way is HARD sometimes. There are mountains and valleys and mud and traffic, and it takes a long time.

But it’s also not some superhuman feat. You can go at your own pace. There’s no camping, and the food you carry is aged French cheese and fresh baguettes, not freeze-dried mystery stew. You don’t have to bushwhack your way up those mountains; you follow well-marked paths. You’re not going to be attacked by bears or freeze to death in some isolated cave. If you want it, you’ll always have cell phone service and a place to charge your battery. If you want to unplug, you can do that here, too. The Camino isn’t digital; it happens outside and face-to-face.

So here I am, and I’m going to write about this…Thing that I did. Because it was awesome, and amazing, and hard, and humbling. But it’s nothing to be self-righteous about. It’s a thing to share.

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