I had the most amazing experience yesterday late in the day. In Ottawa I attended and participated in an informal discussion with a small group of “caminoholics”, a group of pilgrims and people interested in the camino de Santiago. It was organized by Dr. Lesley Harman, a professor at King’s College, London and featured a reunion of several of the people with whom she walked the camino two years ago. Her fellow pilgrims included a woman from Toronto (not so far), a woman from Sweden and another from Germany (quite a bit farther) and a man from Brisbane, Australia (about as far away as you can get). Other pilgrims there were from Ottawa (four or five of us).
What was amazing were the stories of transformation that each had to tell, based on their experiences of trial and generosity while on the camino. One person spoke of a very difficult and bitter divorce, which was changed into a relationship of mutual respect after completing the camino. Two women spoke of their deep, deep fears about walking alone and how they overcame them when they realized that “we are never alone”, as they put it. Remarkably, only one, as far as I could tell, of the pilgrims was religious, and several made the clear point that they were not religious, but were transformed spiritually as a result of their camino experience.
It was almost cultish, the depth of openness and feeling of shared humanity that was clear as some of us talked about specific experiences on the camino. The sense of emotional bonding was quite remarkable. It seems as if the camino changes all of us in ways that we did not expect.
I gave a copy of my book, A Journey of Days, to Lesley Harman, who is completing and self-publishing her own book We Are Never Alone, this fall. She says that she won’t read it until she has completed her own manuscript. I also offered any help that I can give her with the final stages of her book. I also gave a copy to the Australian, Simon from near Brisbane, because I want him to seek out the Aussies from Brisbane who celebrated arriving in Santiago with me in late May of 2007. Their names and a group photo are in the book, so he may be able to track them down. I have had no success yet but am hopeful that he may be able to succeed where I did not.