Many of you know that I went on Camino Santiago in the fall. It has been difficult to write about my experiences there. Why? I am not sure! Maybe it is because of the extraordinary nature of such a trip, a journey traveled in the world and also in the soul. Words do not come easily! In any case, I will start sharing some Camino Stories. Today I begin with one about coincidences occurring on the beginning and the end of the trip.
My camino compañera Sue and I flew from Montreal to Paris to begin our journey. As she had never been to Paris, we made a plan to stay overnight and have a one day whirlwind around this remarkable city. God was good and I found us a cheap hotel in a great location. It was a LOVELY hotel. We arrived at the crack o’ dawn and they let us check into our room. We changed and washed up, took off, and spent the day sightseeing.
Late in the afternoon found us near the Eiffel Tower at last. Sue was thrilled to be there. Honestly, having done it before, I was not so interested in going up, but once we got there, Sue’s excitement was contagious. Like all the other tourists, we waited in a long line and finally got to the elevator, which brings you to the first viewing level.
It was super crowded – crazy crowded. Sue and I were circling around, taking snapshots of Paris, hazy and rainy as it was, all around us. At one point we were standing there taking yet more photos, and I heard my name. Now Fran is not the most unusual name, so I did not really take note. Then I heard it again. As I turned, who do I see, but a woman I know from Immaculate Conception, the parish where I work in Glenville, NY! She and her husband had just finished a river cruise and were spending the weekend in Paris!
She and I talked about this the other day, the powerful feeling of God’s presence in our random meeting. In that big crowd, we could have been a little further apart and she would not have noticed me. Yet – there we were together – in this same faraway place at the same moment. It felt very powerful, and it was so very joyful. Here we are!
The very next day Sue and I flew from Biarritz (cheaper than the train!) and found out that our alleged reservation for a minibus to St Jean Pied du Port was just that – alleged. It was not “a thing.” Something had gone wrong and our names were not on the list. Now what? We were told to look for other pilgrims to share a taxi with. Marching outside I spied a couple who were just standing there looking very pilgrim-y. I asked them if they were going to St Jean, and they said yes. Then I asked if they wanted to share a taxi and they very happily said yes again! Thus Sue and I met Bernie (Bernadette) and Francis, from Northern Ireland.
The ride was hair-raising to say the least. The driver, a lovely man, brought distracted driving to new heights as we skidded around the narrow roads heading into the Pyrenees mountains. At one point, the driver spilled his water bottle and started sorting through the console between the front seats, not looking at the road at all. Bernie was up there, I thought she was going to explode from anxiety. Despite him weaving all over, we did make it to St Jean eventually. We said our good byes and maybe see you soons to our Irish friends. They had a place to stay; we were going to try to figure that bit out by visiting the tourist office. In the end we found ourselves at the same place as Francis and Bernie! (This is also where we met other compañeros Juan and Jane, but more about them in future stories! And if you are in St Jean, I do recommend it!)
The next morning Sue and I went to mass and then we took our first steps on the actual Camino. We knew that Bernie and Francis did not have reservations at Orisson like we did, but we figured we would run into them. We did not. We knew that they were a day ahead of us after that, but we really did think we might encounter them. Their names came up all the time, but never again did we see Francis and Bernie… Until!
It is now late October and we are in Finisterre, basically what was the end of the known world for a long time. We are taking a couple of days here post-Santiago, which is what many pilgrims do. It was beautiful to just relax by Atlantic in this small town. There is a beautiful lighthouse; people trek out there to see the sunset each night. We went out the first night and it was lovely.
On the second night, our friend Jen was with us and since she had not yet seen it, off we went. Upon arriving, Sue went to a souvenir stand, Jen was wandering somewhere, and I headed toward the lighthouse. As I passed a small bar I noticed a man sitting in a chair, he looked familiar. Then I realized – it was Francis! Finally – at last! I ran to get Sue, he ran to get Bernie, and the four of us had a truly lovely reunion. All that time on the Camino together, and we never ran into one another! Yet, when our final chance to do so came along – we were placed together. Another coincidence, full of God’s rich presence.
No, maybe not the most exciting stories of the Camino, but certainly ones that illustrate God’s hand in it all. There is a mystical element to being a pilgrim on The Way, and these chance encounters were like bookmarks for the trip. Stay tuned, more Camino stories will follow. Thanks to all who supported me on my journey, either materially, prayerfully, or both. I could not have done it without you, you were with me daily.