It is over two months since we returned from our Pilgrimage from Orviedo to Santiago, and beyond to Muxia, and I have been reflecting on the role of story-telling. My medical training advises on the importance of eye contact during consultation- I wonder now if this should be challenged. Talking to other people on a Camino comes very naturally: perhaps the exercise of walking is disinhibiting and the common goal of the Pilgrim becomes a bond. During the walk from Santiago to Muxia I found myself talking to strangers about their lives and my own, places, politics, pretty much anything. Yet while there is real intimacy there is no eye contact. Each walker needs to look where they are going and will look almost anywhere except into the eyes of the person they are talking to. Despite the advice of textbooks this seems to give a freedom to talk about things honestly and with a stream of consciousness not usually possible in most social settings. I would argue that lack of eye contact is key to this process.
The last day to Muxia was a long one- about 32km. My husband, who had our food supplies, stayed back to help a fellow pilgrim. The day was hot. I started talking with a woman from Slovenia, who keep me going for sometime with tales about her family and her life.
After we parted I caught up with another member of our pilgrim group: a retired inspector of police. He asked me if I knew any Old Testament stories to pass the time. He told me all he knew of the story of Joseph in a steady rhythm as we walked along: many sons, a loving father, ornate robes, sheaves of wheat, spices, twenty pieces of silver, betrayal, blood: the story went on and on as we trudged along, in an out of Egypt a few times and meandering into side alleys, it regained its thread in another land. There was famine; there was deception, and at last reconciliation, feasting, forgiveness. Reading this now (Genesis Ch 37-50) the story could have been stretched even further with elaborations on the many descendants and Joseph’s great age (110y) when he finally died. However, the story-telling did the trick and I had been transported. By the time we came to a reasonable end many miles had passed.
Sitting down in the evenings after a long day’s walk was another opportunity to share stories. The evenings got merry with wine and a mixed crowd not so unlike Chaucer’s group in Canterbury Tales. There was no competition to encourage us, but the companionship (with-bread) drew us together with a mutual sense of achievement and sharing of the experience.