A SCALLOP SHELL OF QUIET REFLECTIONS ON


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SPIRIT OF ST. BART’S, vol.1, September 2012

A SCALLOP SHELL OF QUIET REFLECTIONS ON PILGRIMAGE by Margaret McGhee

To do:  Get up and walk. Over the centuries, hundreds of thousands have traveled the ancient pilgrim road to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain: true believers, merchants, thieves; the lonely, the guilty, the bored; faithful supplicants and skeptics. All came seeking something, if only adventure amidst a dull life. One late July day not too many years ago, I joined them, beginning a fivehundred-mile walk back into the Middle Ages. For thirty-six days, I left modern life behind. My To Do list consisted of one item: Get up and walk. I spent most nights on bunk beds in crowded dormitories full of snoring pilgrims, and I learned several practical things: • • • •

Earplugs are more valuable than gold. Blisters can develop blisters. Eat what you’re given, and say thank you. Travel light. Very, very light. Everything you really need can fit in a tenpound bag.

The stories and faces of those I met stay with me. The skinny self-described Catalonian separatist and sometime terrorist who was willing to speak Spanish to Americans, but would speak only Catalan to Spaniards. The teenaged lesbian from Austria who wrote Harry Potter fan fiction and decided at the end of her pilgrimage that her path of greatest integrity was to leave the church. The young Belgian theology student who carried a pack four times the weight of my own, announced that God would punish him if he left anything behind, and whom I last saw kneeling in the center aisle of the cathedral in Santiago, tears in his eyes, his pack no longer on his back. The stout Eastern European woman who had walked from home and said, “The first month was hard, but now… I am machine.” The retiree with uncontrolled diabetes, who spoke not a word of Spanish and collapsed several times, to be rescued on each occasion by a stranger offering a piece of fruit or a ride to the next town. I noticed that almost every traveler had two stories. There was the superficial, rational story of why they were there. And then there was the true story – a story often too true to be told. I’m too close to my own journey to sum it up with the  

ST. BART’S • 325 PARK AVENUE AT 51ST STREET, NEW YORK, NY 10022 • 212–378–0222, STBARTS.ORG

SPIRIT OF ST. BART’S, vol.1, September 2012

broad strokes with which I describe those I met, but I can tell you what I learned. I learned that pilgrimage is a metaphor for life. In each moment, you need to take the next step, but only the next step. I learned that each human being is splendidly unique. I learned that God’s love is without limitation, qualification, or demand. Above all, I learned that if you open your eyes and your heart, in a chance encounter you may see the face of God. My To Do list has grown since my return to the world of schedules, appointments, and double-fisted smart phones, but I still wear the scallop shell that marks the pilgrim to Santiago, and for as long as I live, the first item on my agenda will be this:  Get up and walk. ______________________________________________________________________ Margaret McGhee is a lawyer and computer programmer who works as a technology consultant to a Wall Street law firm. She has been a member of St. Bart's since 2008.

 

ST. BART’S • 325 PARK AVENUE AT 51ST STREET, NEW YORK, NY 10022 • 212–378–0222, STBARTS.ORG