Mending My Shirt

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Mending My Shirt

by Irene Calvo | Seattle, WA

Mending my Shirt Irene Calvo.

My pilgrimage was one of immeasurable extremes, and yet also of whole cloth. It brought me both deep despair and euphoric highs, and the two somehow became one—as if I had mended a rip in my shirt. With my threaded needle, I took stitches in my despair and stitches in my euphoria and, over time, brought the two together into a line, albeit a jagged one. The tear was me. The mending was my Camino.

Oh, the despair! 

My plan was to walk the full Camino Francés. Unfortunately, a mysterious condition caused bleeding under my toenails, which gradually became severe and extremely painful. This started on just Day 3, after Roncesvalles. I was determined to continue walking. And I did, as far as I could, supplementing with bus and taxi. I made it as far as Astorga, visiting several medical clinics along the way, none of which could help me. Except for steps toward Santiago de Compostela, I had to stay off my feet. Because of this, I missed a lot. Days when I did not walk at all, I felt lonely and sad, massively frustrated and disappointed. 

But, oh, the euphoria!

So intense and physical, I experienced a cosmic gladness of heart that had an energy and buoyancy beyond compare. I felt like a spiritual being soaring without exertion through the Universe. I knew this euphoria when I chose to walk despite my pain. But it was also there at times when I couldn’t and didn’t walk. I felt it most keenly when I was, and had been, able to connect deeply with other pilgrims—the unique companionship of the Camino. 

This euphoria didn’t fix my despair, it didn’t touch it at all. Yet, these two extremes coexisting, each in their own sphere, was transformative. It seemed to make effortless truly seeing and being seen at heart level. Had I not spent so much time in sadness, fear, and loneliness, would I have been able to find a common thread with others? I’ve heard it said that the purpose of suffering is to release love. I think so. This is the lesson I discovered as I literally lost my pilgrim footing. The shirt of impossible extremes that I wore was torn, but became mended as I walked. The invisible fibers that weave us together as pilgrims—as humans—had become as real as anything existing in the tangible world.

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