Love is the Camino de Santiago
By Gabriel Schirm
In the popular 2003 film, Love Actually, Hugh Grant opens the movie with these wise words, “Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.”
I met my wife, Amy, in a coffee shop 10 years ago. It was a moment that turned me from a love skeptic, into a believer. Instantly I went from thinking romantic comedies were a cruel Hollywood form of torture, to finding I had something in common with those sappy love stories. Up until that point, love at first sight was a lie, a ridiculous dream, that is, until it happened to me. I had been struck by lightning, and it felt so good. After we were married on a beautiful June summer day in the mountains of Colorado, we moved to Spain, and spent 2 wonderful years falling madly in love with a country. When it came time to go home, we decided to walk the Camino de Santiago together, as one final farewell to our temporary home.
I watch Love Actually every Christmas with my wife. We even managed to do so in Spain. This past Christmas, back in Colorado, as we situated ourselves on the couch with some hot drinks, as the snow fell outside of our window; I heard those opening movie lines and thought about them in a whole new light.
For those that have walked the Camino de Santiago, as my wife and I did, you will understand what I am getting at. For whenever I get too gloomy with the state of the world, mass shootings, terrorist attacks or hate represented in its many forms, I think not about an airport in London, but about the Camino de Santiago. You see, the Camino de Santiago is a representation of love in its many forms: mothers, sons, fathers and daughters, husbands and wives.
I think of a man we called The Barista, from Hungary, a new father, beaming with Love. I think about the father from France, I met in Grañon, mourning the recent death of his daughter, walking through severe nerve pain in his feet and legs, as a simple, not particularly newsworthy trek, in honor of his daughter. I think of the father and son from China whom I met in Zuriain. They were walking the Camino together, before the son left the nest and headed off to university abroad. Dad teared up as we all shared wine, seated around a large dark wooden table, accompanied by people from 8 different countries. Not everyone spoke the same language, but we all understood the love that a father had for his son.
How could I forget the man from Portugal, who without saying a word, lifted my tired swollen feet from my simple mat on the floor of an albergue, and massaged them with olive oil. We never exchanged a word. It was a powerful act of kindness.
Perhaps one of the greatest examples of love were two best friends from Iowa, whom we met in Burgos. One was strapped to a wheelchair. His legs were twisted and useless and his smile was brighter than the sun. The other was pushing him, slowly but surely, 490 miles to Santiago. When asked why he would volunteer to push someone for that incredible distance, he simply replied, “Because he is my best friend and he wanted to walk the Camino de Santiago.”
Our love story has been like a fairy tale. I liken it to getting on a boat, and floating downstream, without oars to guide us. It just works. It is easy, and right, while all around us people are paddling upstream like madmen. Our Camino journey was not like our love story. It was a struggle, fraught with Achilles Tendinitis, blood sucking mosquitoes and pre-dawn departures into the night, just to get away from a room full of snores. It was not all rainbows and butterflies. It strengthened us with challenges, twists and turns.
For us it was not a romantic journey. It was nothing like a romantic comedy. It was a journey that reminds you how important love is, in all of its forms, to us all. It was a trek that reminded me that we don’t live in a world full of hate. We live in a world full of good people, all striving for, wishing for, and celebrating, love. The Camino de Santiago at its core is love. If you get the chance to trek across the north of Spain, walking with the world, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love, actually is, all around.
Gabriel Schirm is a writer based in Denver, Colorado. He has been featured on the Travel Channel, USA Today, and as a contributor to TravelChannel.com. His latest book is called Sunrises to Santiago: Searching for Purpose on the Camino de Santiago.
Gabriel’s Blog: thecuriouslifeproject.com is featured in my Favorite Camino Blogs page. See The Curious Life Project: Cultivating a Unique Life By Design.
For the month of February, I’ll feature Camino love stories on this blog. Why? Because love is in the air! I certainly respect the premise of what happens on the Camino stays on the Camino. However, love is a splendid thing that should be celebrated. Has the Camino provided you with more than just a long walk? If you have a Camino love story to share, email me or use the form below. Photos and video links welcome.
Share the Camino love! ♥