-Where did you walk from?- watching at Marios’ destroyed feet in flip flops, old man approached us on the square in front of Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. He asked in Spanish and started laughing when we said from Porto.
-and your feet are so destroyed? – he continued.-I thought you were walking for months when I saw your feet with all the blisters- Mario asked him where he was walking from. He had a new looking blue jacket and new equipment, like he got just ready to start the walk not like he has just finished.
-From Krakow- my ears didn’t hear well and I all of us in the group shocked their heads thinking they heard wrongly.
-From Krakow? You mean Poland? – we asked all together with eyes popping out
-Yes.- he answered like it was not big of a deal with a big smile on his face.
I have been in shock, still imagining and looking on maps how many kilometres walking are there from Krakow till Santiago. All kind of thoughts were passing through my mind, but main was why someone would walk that much? And why he stumbled upon us in this moment?
His eyes seemed very tired, but somehow, very gentle and soft, like he had seen it all, but still he was able to see through my soul. He opened his phone and showed me the latest article in the newspapers about his walks. I was reading in disbelief. We thought it couldn’t be, must be some scam, and as he was reading this in our eyes he asked us where are we from. We were in three from three different countries, he took a file of articles from his bag pack, and gave each of us a printed version of article about him in our own languages. As I was reading in in Bosnian, tears filled my eyes and some big, I am not sure if joy or sadness filled my whole being.
This man was the only one who survived a ship wreck in 1999 in cold northern Norwegian seas. None of his crew made it alive and he spent 10 hours in the cold water holding himself for dead colleagues to float before he was found. He prayed all the time to Saint Virgin Mary to save him, he promised that if she would save him he would walk to all the saint places in the world. After he was rescued by SAR Ireland he stayed around 8 months in hyberbaric chambers to treat the hyperthermia he suffered from staying in cold water for so long. Next three years he was using wheelchair and doctors told him that he would never ever walk again. His mind was so focused and so deep in prayer. He was the only one who survived. He survived a ship wreck so why it wouldn’t be possible to walk again, there was a promise he had to make. He told us that he walked more than 110 000 kilometres in total, he went to Jerusalem, Iraq, Nepal, all the Europe walking and that today, when he met us, he finished his last pilgrimage and it’s time to go back home.
We asked him to join us for breakfast, he accepted gladly saying that he slept outside because he’s out of money and that he will accept only the coffee as he has to walk whole day. We chose first coffee shop for breakfast to warm him up as he was apparently freezing from sleeping outside. It was December, and even though it was Spain, nights are chilly and sleeping outside is not comfortable. We ordered our sweets and coffees and I was asking him twice if he would like to eat something, he denied, saying that it’s not good for him to eat too much in the morning. He just had a small cookie he got with the coffee.
-so where is your home Jose- we asked.
-south of Spain, in Cadiz- he answered, my head still in shock, his eyes starring into mine. He told us about his family and his grandchildren he didn’t see yet.
-how will you go back?-
-walking-he didn’t stop smiling while warming his hand with a cup of coffee- i just need to pass to Portugal as soon as possible, I don’t like Spanish!-
I was trying to comprehend everything he was saying and to understand how feasible is for a normal human what he was saying.
-why?- together with tears I asked
Apparently the Spanish were liking to profit from Camino and they were not giving nothing free so easily.
-in Portugal they are more welcoming and trust more into God, I don’t like Spanish church.-
-but if you said that you finished how come you still have more than 1000 km to go back home?-
-i need to go back home, I finished-
-how old are you Jose?-
-71 años- it left us startled. This man here, drinking coffee with us, just finished his pilgrimage from Krakow Poland to Santiago in Spain, walking 3000 km, is so old and still has almost 1000 km to come back home. At his age. How much determination and faith he had into what he was doing? How many things and people did he see and met? He must have seen the worst of people, I read that in Italy he was on his bike which got stolen. He told us that kindest countries were the poor ones and the muslim ones, but all were in general good to him.
I kept reading the article in my language and kept looking online to find out what they wrote more. I found one page in Spanish published in May that year saying that his next walk would be Krakow, Czestochowa.
He was sitting across me, finishing his coffee and smiling, without being proud about it.
I always believed that every single person that goes through our life is some small puzzle of big, unpredictable piece called life. It brings us some big piece that we have to put in the whole puzzle.
Sometimes we definitely wish we didn’t meet some people in our life and we don’t like to remember them. But they too had their role in teaching us something about this life, whether they intended or not, it is us who take the lesson. And my mom thought me never to hate, always to learn the lesson and to forgive not because of the other that did you harm, but because your soul will be easier to carry. You can’t live peacefully with the hate in your heart. People I wish I never met I almost forgot, because that’s how our brain works, it forgets the bad, it buries down the trauma and it retains only the valuable. I kept the lessons learned, and that’s only what’s left of all those who hurt me.
Life is also full of boring, useless and people who are seemingly bringing nothing to our lives. They are like million shades of gray, barely distinguishable. They live their lives but have no special impact to ours.
Then there are these extremes of colours that we need to recognise and grab and hold. Just when you meet your color you realise that all before shades were mixing up to bring you exactly this color at exactly this time. This is what happens with love. ❤️
However, there are also people that stay so shortly, several minutes, hours, days, but their eyes remain forever engraved in your soul. Their life impacts yours like thousands and thousands of shades you met before. They are like rainbows, mixed of colors, that appear after rain, amaze you with their beauty, saying it will not rain anymore and they disappear quickly. Why on our end of walking the Camino, we met this strong soul, no one of us knows. Why he approached us in the square full of pilgrams? Could he recognise what we felt inside? Did he came to tell us some special lesson?
He passed part of his determination and his gentleness towards the life on us, even though we just finished. He gave us a gentle push into our hope that everything will be fine.
We went hurrying to bus station to buy him a bus ticket to the city on the border with Portugal. That was the least we could do. He waited for us on the square. We gave him the ticket and saw him never again. His home is on the south of Spain, Cadiz, around 900km from Santiago.
Esperamos que hayas llegado a salvo Jose!