While walking the Camino, I received many gestures of kindness, and witnessed many gestures of kindness.
Some deeds of kindness seemed small at the time; however, they had important consequences. On the second night, I got to meet a young Canadian. At 6’4” and 240 pounds, he had quite a goal. He wanted to walk the Camino in 30 days since that was all the vacation time he had. As he was draining a blister with a needle, I mentioned that I forgot to bring a needle. He quickly said; “No problem. I’ve got two. Take this extra one.” As any hiker knows, that needle got used several times in the course of the next month.
Strangers performed some of the acts of kindness. Since I sometimes got in my own zone while walking, I occasionally missed a turn. Usually, I’d realized that I missed a turn within a hundred yards. Still, a young Italian from Tuscany shouted to me: “Aqui es Camino.” He saved me quite a few extra steps.
Another stranger persisted in showing kindness. After a long and hot Saturday, I entered Logrono especially tired. As I passed the Pilgrim’s Tourist Office, I stepped inside to sit down. While I was there, I realized that I would treat myself to a hotel rather than an albergue. A fellow behind the counter offered to find a room for me so he began calling. At least ten calls later, he still had not found a room. He said: “I’ve never had this much trouble.” The very next phone call, he found a hotel with a room. Somebody had just canceled. When I reached the hotel, I asked the clerk why so much difficulty finding a room. She explained; “This weekend is a special Fiesta weekend with a Family Fun Run. People from all over are here.” I’m grateful for the stranger at the Pilgrim’s Tourist Office!
Of course, my favorite stranger generated act of kindness were the owners of Bodegas Irache, a winery which had a faucet for a free cup of wine! The strangers who provided music were also a wonderful gift.
Sometimes the deeds of kindness consisted of helpful words. Entering Leon, I met three policemen. Having set up a table with shade, they were offering suggestions for lodging as well as a map of Leon. “There are several allerques on this street in the old part of the city. Here are some that are less expensive but close to the cathedral.” I also made sure that I heard them say “Help yourself to some candy.” A fellow peregrine, who had hiked the stretch before and after O’Cebreiro, simply said: “Savor this day and tomorrow; they are special.”
Sarah, an Australian volunteer at an Rabanal albergue, also offered her calm spirit and wise words. While talking with two young Americans who had competed their freshman year of college, she said: “ Whatever you do, be kind and gentle with yourself.” Having walked the Camino five times, she spoke with that sense of experiential wisdom which makes a person want to listen. She continued: “Allow the Camino to change you. Allow yourself to get in touch with something else.” Commenting about the beautiful nighttime stars of the Milky Way that can be seen on cloudless nights, she said: “One Camino tradition is that the stars are the dust of pilgrims’ feet.” What a wonderful image!
On the Camino, there were all sorts of attitudes and actions. Some persons would act in ways that irritated others, keeping a light on too long while in a dorm room. Some persons would seem to shout so loudly to their table companions that we, diners at the next table, couldn’t hear our own conversation. Of course, I had to check to see if my irritation was due to different acceptably social behavior of if my irritation was directed toward somebody who was simply a jerk. Fortunately, though, I met few individuals who were jerks or who were in anyway cruel. The people on the Camino are no different than other people elsewhere.
Despite many sorts of attitudes and actions, many individuals did act with kindness. Most importantly, that kindness was not simply an abstraction or lofty ideal. Strangers, and strangers-to-be-friends, performed deeds of kindness in many ways. Granted, the deeds that I witnessed were not actions of great self-sacrifice nor were they actions of painful forgiveness. The deeds did not appear to me to be coldly calculated, nor done with an ulterior purpose in order to accomplish some self-serving end. Usually, the deeds were much more simple.The kindness seemed to be natural, an effortless spirit moving into action. The deeds of kindness were undramatic deeds that sought to help another person, whatever form that help took.