I swung my legs off the top bunk, but as soon as I put weight on my left foot to climb down the ladder, a pain shot up my heel into the back of my leg. Holy crap. What was that? I got down another rung and there is was again. Oh, this is not good.
It was my fifth day on the Camino de Santiago — a 500-mile pilgrimage trail through Spain. What if I can’t walk? I’ll have to stay in this tiny town all day. What will I do? How am I going to get help in a country whose language I don’t speak?
I completed my descent and looked around the room. Fourteen people slept there last night. Now, only Antoine and I were left.
“J’ai une probleme,” I told the young Frenchman I’d met just three days earlier. I searched the drawers of memory for the French word for “pain,” and was thankful when Antoine responded to my statement in English.
After explaining my ailment, Antoine suggested we get some breakfast in town and see how I feel after that.
We met a few other pilgrims and headed to the nearest café. Rémy gave me a natural muscle spray. I popped a couple Ibuprofen and paced around while the others ate, hoping it was just a tight muscle that needed to warm up. The other possibility was that I tore something, in which case my pacing would make it worse, and then I would know I needed to stay.
By the time we finished breakfast, I declared myself well enough to walk, but told my fellow pilgrims it would be a slow day and not to wait up. Antoine offered to walk the first few kilometers with me, to be sure I was okay. I turned him down. Why? Because he had been walking the Camino for 30 days already. He could walk twice as far in one day as I could. I didn’t want to slow him down.
As the others took off ahead of me, I wondered, What was I thinking? I was injured, in Spain, thousands of miles from home, and just told the only people that knew of my injury to go ahead without me.
Why is it we do this? We turn down help assuming that the person who offered it really didn’t mean it. I would have loved someone to walk with me that morning. Someone I knew — albeit for just three days. Someone who could get help if I needed it. Or just listen to me complain.
I walked alone for that first hour, trying to adjust to my new role as the pilgrim everyone passed. Then, up ahead, I saw someone walking toward me. This was odd because most people on the Camino go just one direction: toward Santiago. Upon reaching their destination, they hop on a plane or train or bus home. So why was this guy walking toward me?
As he got closer, I saw it was Antoine. He was happy to see I was doing well. He explained he forgot his hiking sticks in the café and was going back to get them. A short while later he came up behind me, hiking sticks in hand, and again checked in to see how I was doing.
I recalled the story about the guy who was on the roof of his house in a flood and turned down offers of help from a person in a boat and another in a helicopter saying, “God will save me.” When he dies, he gets to heaven and asks God why he didn’t save him and God says, “I tried. I sent you a boat and a helicopter.”
So this week I’ll make every attempt to apply that Camino lesson. I will listen to offers of help, and will graciously accept them.
Keep an eye out for offers of help this week. Say “yes” to them.