How does one find inner strength? My husband and I have been enjoying a thoughtful book The Day was Made for Walking: An Aussie’s Search for Meaning on the Camino de Santiago. It’s the true story of Noel Braun, a 77-year-old Australian, shattered by the death of his wife of 42 years who committed suicide following years of struggling with depression. Six years later, still suffering from anguish, Braun decided to walk the ancient pilgrim’s route as a means of facing his suffering head on.
Since Jim and I visited there (no, not walking!) with our daughter Krista, our rich memories are intertwining with his adventures. In fact, we still hang the symbolic scallop sea shells given to Krista, Jim and me in our home. They include personal messages written to us when we met Jacque, a deeply spiritual host, whose family’s hostel has been feeding and housing pilgrims for three generations! Tragically, this historic hostel had recently burned down, but with the help of others they had begun rebuilding.
Some of you may be familiar with this popular European pilgrimage if you saw The Way. This film stars Martin Sheen as the doctor father who chooses to walk ‘The Way of St. James’ to cope with the death of his son (Emelio Estevez) and honor his son’s desire to finish the journey.
This 1521 kilometer rugged trail that begins in France and ends at the St. James Cathedral in Galicia, Spain offers a daunting challenge to anyone, let alone a grieving husband almost 80-years-old.
DRAWING FROM HIS QUIET POOL OF STRENGTH
After failing to carefully observe route markers on his first day, he becomes lost and needs to walk an extra 14 kilometers before he arrives exhausted, sore, and discouraged to the ‘gite’, the pilgrim’s equivalent of hostels along the trail. He writes,”Inside, I was racing. Yesterday’s failure had stirred something deep. Within us there’s a quiet clear pool of strength, often hidden in the tangle of day-to-day activity, that we’re not aware of it until we’re challenged. I drank from the pool.”
He muses about why on earth was he involved in such a caper, trekking across the French countryside with an overweight backpack? “Why didn’t I act my age and go on cruises and pass the time shuffling deck chairs?” But he was determined to keep going and to learn the lessons that the Camino has been teaching pilgrims for a thousand years.
Then he elaborates in his chapter “I Advance Slowly but Surely.” Determined that no setback was going to stop him, he muses, “Hadn’t I drawn on the same pool of strength and coped with the greatest of catastrophes when I lost Maris? Nothing worse could happen to me. I was vulnerable, at the mercy of the Camino and my own foolishness, but on my side, I had tenacity, Maris’s spirit and an undefinable presence which I like to call God. I felt stirrings in my internal journey.”
His book is a moving love story and a tale of resilience as he discovers the pilgrimage adds meaning to his life and breathes a “new vitality into my body and spirit.” Rather than closing off to life in the midst of his pain, devastation, and guilt that suicide survivors often experience, he keeps his heart and soul…and definitely his aging body…open to growth. With the warmth of healing companionship he experiences while on his pilgrimage and his strong interest in social justice, he especially likes the words from “The Servant Song” by Richard Gillard.
We are pilgrims on the journey
We are brothers on the road
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load.
OUR OWN QUIET POOL OF STRENGTH
When we lose someone we love dearly, it inevitably means we have to draw on internal strength to embrace life again with hope. Most of us don’t have the time or energy for a 1500 kilometer journey, but need to find our own quiet ways to heal. For me, the garden often gives this gift; for Jim, it’s often been music or poetry. What has been helpful for you?