Karen Booker: November 2015
Camino de Santiago
Last month I was in Devon; not, alas, for a seaside jolly, but to attend a funeral.
Roger was the husband of a close friend. He was a healthy fit man, who had, at the age of 67, recently retired from his chosen profession of chiropody, and wanted to fulfil a long held ambition to walk The Camino de Santiago, the pilgrimage route to the shrine of the apostle St James in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in North Western Spain. Already keen on walking, Roger carried out additional training for this arduous 600 mile route, which is often referred to as The Way, because it is viewed by many, as a deeply spiritual path, often undertaken alone, as an inner journey, as well as a covering of kilometres.
Sadly, 3 weeks into his six week walk, Roger was found dead. No medical condition contributed to his death, it is thought just a combination of altitude, heat and above all dehydration — litres of water are heavy to carry along with food, sleeping bag and clothes — perhaps that day he just ran out.
Thousands undertake such a pilgrimage every year: some for religious reasons; others for sport or simply the challenge. Many consider the experience a spiritual adventure, removing oneself from the bustle of everyday life, and so this walk becomes a modern-day retreat.
Here in Alton, we live on the Pilgrims' Way: part of the route from Winchester to Canterbury, and the symbol for it is the same as for The Camino: the scallop shell. It is carved into the wall outside St Lawrence Church.
A few months after my Mum died of cancer, my Dad having died just the year before, I was reaching a significant birthday. I chose to mark it with a walk: St Cuthbert's Way, 100 kilometres from Melrose in the Scottish Borders to Holy Island in Northumberland. My route was marked by the scallop shell. I too chose to walk alone, with time to grieve, reassess my life, and to pray about the future.
Roger's funeral was not a sad affair, but a wonderfully uplifting celebration of his life. His widow believes he died fulfilling a long held dream, on a sacred route, and has in fact just reached his ultimate destination a little ahead of the rest of us. We are in reality all pilgrims.
One of the chosen readings was "Success" by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
When we each take time this Advent to reassess our own lifetime at the start of the Christian year, and as we mark God's gift to us in Jesus, let us consider its words:
To laugh often and love much,
to win the respect of intelligent persons
and the affection of children;
to earn approbation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty;
to find the best in others;
to give of one's self;
to leave the world a little better,
whether by a healthy child,
or a garden patch,
or a redeemed social condition;
to have played and laughed with enthusiasm
and sung with exaltation;
to know that even one life has breathed easier
because you have lived,
this is to have succeeded.
Karen L Booker ( AMC Pastoral Assistant)
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