There is a better version of our world
And I just returned from there
For five weeks I lived in a better version of our world. And now I arrived in Santiago de Compostela.
Following a thousand-year-old tradition, and following in the footsteps of millions of pilgrims, I arrived in Santiago de Compostela. In nearly five weeks, I walked some 700 kilometers from the French side of the Pyrenees to the Cathedral where, according to tradition, the remains of Saint James are held.
I have seen beautiful mountains, rivers, and the vast plains of the dry and hot Meseta. I watched colorful butterflies and strange birds I had never seen before. Every day, I passed wildflowers in never ending combinations of shapes and colors.
I have enjoyed wonderful and lively Spanish cities, like Pamplona, Burgos, León, and Santiago. And I passed countless small villages, so charming that I would love to live there some day.
I saw the changes in the landscape, architecture, food, language, and culture, while I walked further toward the west every day.
I visited spectacular cathedrals but was most charmed by tiny churches, sometimes off the main Camino route, and hardly visited. A Last Supper replica printed on canvas in a cheap frame, and a sadly looking Maria pinned up on the wall. But even a plastic Jesus on the cross in a tiny church got preserved with the same devotion as León’s magnificent treasures.
I got to learn a lot about my own body, that hadn’t been seriously tested and challenged since my days in the navy in a long forgotten past.
I enjoyed the warm support and welcome of the Spanish people along the way. A day after a pilgrim had died of heatstroke (and thus likely a victim of the lack of effective climate action) a Spanish woman handed out free ice creams in front of her modest house to cool us down.
Above all, I will remember the talks with other pilgrims, and their solidarity. They came from all over the world, and included Christians, Muslims, Jews and atheists, and we learned from each other’s perspectives. They shared their life stories, worries and hopes, while still inspiring and motivating others. I will remember the summer-camp atmosphere of late-evening singing and guitar play, while trying to remember the lyrics of Let it Be or Brown-eyed Girl.
I have met people that the world will never know, but who are so much better and braver than any of our world leaders. I will never forget them.
Leaders who have inspired me in the past, often managed to disappoint me later. But I found inspiration in the joy and motivation of those who were in far worse condition than I ever was, and who walked all the way to Santiago de Compostela. Age, severe physical handicaps, mental health challenges, or advanced stages of cancer couldn’t stop them from walking, nor did it steal their sense of humor.
And now, in footsteps of millions, I walked on the huge square to see the Cathedral in all its baroque glory. The pilgrims sit further to the back, away from the tourist circus, and there they chat with other pilgrims. They have met some of them along the way, but others followed a different camino and they have never met before.
I join them, sit on the ground and stare at the cathedral. We all know that we are still this one tribe, we will briefly hold on to this family. But we all realize that we will soon go back to normality. That’s the world where you don’t talk to the person next to you in the bus. The world where you take your own table when you walk into a cafe, so you leave when you still don’t know anyone. Normality is where you think first before helping another person. We will all return to the world where someone else’s challenges are none of your business.
We will return to the world where millions secretly dream at night of planning their first or their next Camino.
Perhaps you are one of them.
Let me end by sharing some photos, but first: your support makes this newsletter possible.
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This is also Santiago de Compostela:
Maria in one of the small local churches I mentioned: