Sue Gunningham was part of our March 2021 Aussie Camino Pilgrimage. So moved was she by the experience, she penned this and shared it on our final night.
First day I tried to catch your names as they drifted in the air above us,
– we nervous group of pilgrims, unable to remember them I floundered.
Days in, I watched and listened. Some strode with confidence,
while others stepped with courage and hope, unsure they’d be able to keep up.
More days on, and we’d split into ‘striders’ and map-readers,
nature-lovers, caretakers and comedians – a motley, yet somewhat cohesive mob.
I learnt of your careers, your families, your origins and past travels.
Some strove to shine, while others hid in the shadows.
Loose community roles were secretly assigned; experts in weather, map-reading, walking times
and the amazing knowledge of shortcuts guaranteed to reduce walk distances.
Also identified were those who made us laugh, and those more prone to silence.
We had tellers and listeners, thinkers and observers.
Then, night seven, sitting outside in a circle, silhouetted in semi-darkness,
I listened in awe as some exposed the heavy loads they carry.
Frightened to breathe for fear of increasing your pain,
I heard the anguish of death and sadness, loss of self and loss of innocence.
I was once told of pilgrims who carry a heavy cross on their pilgrimage,
as a way of understanding the burden Jesus was forced to bear.
Yet here, in the darkness at a place eerily named Dismal Swamp,
I heard the depth and breadth of your sadness and suffering.
I was humbled by your courage and grace and the generosity of your spirit,
in spite of the heavy unseen loads you bear daily.
Walking a pilgrim’s trail is relatively easy if one is fit and just puts one foot in front of the other.
Inevitably you will arrive at the destination, fitter, yet probably unchanged.
But to walk seeking solace for a heavy heart to listen rather than talk,
to laugh when tears come more easily, to speak when you long for silence,
and support others in their struggles makes a genuine pilgrimage.
Outside the Mary McKillop schoolhouse in Penola a sign declares In all things, LOVE.
On Camino de Santiago the words Love Wins appear repeatedly.
I hope you feel the power of these simple messages, for in my mind,
they describe the true path of the pilgrim.
I wish you Beun Camino!