As I left Negreira bound for Olveiroa my walking notes said “prepare for a long day”. OK, so what’s different with that and most days? What they should have said is ‘ this is a RIDICULOUSLY long day…25 miles of walking through open farmland, up & down severe grades, and with no cafes or places to sit and rest your weary feet and bones in between. Lord have mercy, this was my definition of agony. You see, it wasn’t just my blisters and bruised toenails from the previous 17 days of walking long distances; it wasn’t just my sore back and aching meniscus repaired knees; and it wasn’t just the bacterial crud on my chest I’ve been living with for 2 weeks. Now there was a new bedfellow, one I hadn’t encountered before. I had a notion of his visit the previous day before arriving Santiago as I started to feel an odd sharp pain in the front of my left ankle. I had brushed it off as yet another ache or pain associated with the miles on the odometer. I suppose the day off walking in Santiago allowed this visitor to lurk in the shadows, waiting to pop out on the longest walking day of my life. And pop out it did…literally & figuratively…on the last 6-8 miles of that walk.
It was when I encountered the sole cafe for a midday cafe con leche and a pastry, and removed my rain pants to inspect this now throbbing ankle pain, that I discovered that someone had surgically implanted a golf ball into my ankle. There was this pronounced bump with redness and swelling around it that underscored the pain. Another pilgrim, watching this discovery unfold, said ‘oh yay…you’ve ruptured a tendon’. You didn’t need a medical license to see something was very wrong. What were my options out in the middle of nowhere? Proceed. With caution. The last 6-8 miles took me literally 3 hours to traverse as I would step with my right foot and slide my left. Not pretty, but pretty damn painful. I finally arrived at my hotel, showered, took Aleve and placed inflammation pads on the ankle. It’s still very sore this morning but there is no walking for me today. This is a day-to-day observation…disappointing as the finish line was so close. Life happens.
So as I crested this agonizingly steep hill, a revelation hit me as I turned to take in the glorious view behind me. What did I know of adversity when others go days without food or clean water? What did I know of pain when friends of mine have lost spouses and children; when my own brother has lost a son? Our discipleship group back home reads devotionals from Streams in the Desert and My Utmost for His Highest, and a repeating theme is how the Lord teaches us ecstasy from agony. How else would we know His love when that ecstasy arrives? The pain only serves to prepare us, to sharpen our rough exteriors, to break us down from the pride and hubris that disrupts our ability to love.
Today has started gray and wet. It can’t always be paradise. Life gives you the spectrum of good and bad. I’ll take today as the gift it’s intended to be. Rest, quietness…stillness. Thank you Lord for guiding my way. Buen Camino.