I've just returned from working as a relieving Family Doctor in a Rural General Practice - and boy was it busy. The downside was that I didn't get any time to do any writing for my new book on Captain John Scully (mind you I did spend a few moments doing some online research, but don't tell anyone!) The upside was that I met some great people - and hopefully was able to help some of them.
Today I was preparing the second edition of the book I've written for the Camino Salvado as we approach the official launch of our Pilgrim Trail, and was reminded of some of the those one-off meetings with people that can stay in your mind long after you've left them.
Here's what I wrote:
....... when preparing for this book, I took out my Camino de Santiago journal and read again about two people who had a deep impact on me at the time, and yet I only met them for a few minutes and will never see them again.
“We stopped for lunch at a tiny pub in a side street off the main highway. There we met the owner, a neat and spry septuagenarian, who was outside cleaning the little round tables that sit outside many such establishments. Sitting at one of these tables was a youthful pilgrim who was rewarding himself with an unhealthy cigarette and a glass of beer! The owner went inside where I followed him with the intention of placing my order. Two regulars were supporting the bar, but apart from them the place was empty. The owner eventually reappeared and provided our young colleague outside with his rural roll and mug of coffee.
I quickly came to the conclusion that life has its own pace here, and that pace was an extremely slow one ! I waited and waited to gain the owners attention.
An older lady shuffled in to the bar. The owner immediately turned his attention to her and began to listen to her needs. Being very put out by having been overlooked in the natural pecking order of service, I stood there exuding impatience from every pore of my being.
But then on closer inspection it seemed that all was not well the the lady. She had a bloated face and was blind. When I thought about it, my little old man who kept a clean house and served nourishing food, who spoke little but served well, had taught me that we don’t need to be fast and first. We don’t need to be sexy and glitzy. We just have to do our best wherever and whenever the moment arises”.
The second person I refer to as my Mary Magdalene experience!
“Journey means new experience and maybe new relationships. We hope these will be positive and yet we’re frequently disappointed. But the unexpected often gives us great joy - an old door painted blue; a flower growing out of a rocky wall or an unlooked for act of kindness.
We had walked several kilometres in the rain and thought we might be lost. Which, as it turned out, we were! Eventually we connected with the right path and decided to celebrate with a cup of coffee. The only establishment we could fine was a seedy looking bar down a side street, so we went in. It was one of those smoke filled places where you don’t just think that everyone’s looking at you, you KNOW that everyone’s looking at you! Our coffee was strong and hurriedly drunk. The barmaid - bar lady - looked harried and had a creased - or was it scarred - face. Once she had been a good looking lady, but her bloom had faded. She served the several locals their beer, returning their banter with easy repartee and with earthy, knowing looks.
But when I asked for the bill, she came over, and with great grace and gave us some sweet cake to eat and refused to charge for our coffees. We were both moved by that simple act of kindness. I followed her over to the bar and being me - I kissed her hand in thanks.
I think - no, I am certain - that for a brief moment there was a flushed look of gentle innocence on that tired and wounded face of hers.
She has a good heart and I thank God for having crossed her path”.
These two people performed simple acts of kindness to ordinary people who passed through their lives. I only saw them because my pilgrimage allowed me to slow down and see them. Too often we are in such a hurry to get onto the next “thing” that we miss the wonderful experience of life that is happening right in front of our eyes.
Slowing down, simplifying, and simple acts of kindness are all things we can take home from our Camino experiences. One suggestion would be to being really sincere when you say “Thank you” to the person at the checkout counter. It might even be stopping to say “Hi” to the person selling the ‘Big Issue’ in our city streets; I know they need your money, but they need to be acknowledged as fellow pilgrims too - just as we all are.