Nina and Claudia at the end of a long day's hike.

Nina and Claudia at the end of a long day's hike.

By Nina Swanson, Guest Blogger


What would you guess happens when you mix together a group ranging from 26 to 70, gay, straight, black, white, lifetime UU’s, secular Jews and Missouri synod Lutherans, avid hikers, and then throw in someone who tires after walking for just two blocks?  Ufta.

            A week ago, the sixteen of us came together in Tui, Spain, most of us virtual strangers.  We all knew somebody; nobody knew everybody.  Leading up to this trip, I had a nervous energy.  There was no one I obviously clicked with, all were older than me (by at least a decade), and – c’mon – someone tired after walking for only two blocks??

            But it’s been a delightful surprise.  No real drama, lots of hugs, some tears, tons of laughter, and a wealth of encouragement.  I am going to miss these folks when I leave tomorrow morning.  This movement from strangers to family happened in stages, through blisters, sweat, and narrative.  It’s easy to love somebody whose story you know.

            Of course, we covered all the basics: where are you from, what do you do, do you have any kids.  But we were also pushed to go deeper than just the surface, through the daily reflections coming from Shana, and through the six to eight hours of walking that fill every day.  What brought you to the church?  Have you thought about your calling, tell me about your sister/mother/father/children, when have you experienced grace, and – perhaps most telling – how are you?  When you have way more time than you’d have in an elevator ride to answer that question, that’s a big one.

            And the answer to that question – how are you – has been all over the place.  But the amazing part of sharing this time with people so different from myself has been, as one fellow pilgrim put it, the “mingling of what you know with what I know.”  I walked with a woman who, nearly four decades my senior, had a wealth of insight on personal relationships I am struggling with.  Another inspired me to think of my career in a different light. Still another challenged me to love myself more.  You don’t get that in a superficial relationship, and you don’t get it unless you’ve got a pool of knowledge and experiencecs that makes the “mingling” interesting.

            I’m not sure what they all learned from me, the youngest.  Maybe that ice cream is a great way of finishing a walk (or interrupting one), that the Camino is a perfectly fine location for a dance floor, or that it’s worth trying a 0.78E bottle of wine.  I’ll leave it to them to blog about that.  But, tonight, I walked arm in arm back to the hotel with a woman whose name I didn’t know until last week, and there’s no doubt in my mind that she’ll be part of my All Souls family from now on.

            If you just look at us from the outside, we’re a pretty ragtag bunch.  But if you look deeper – and we have – there’s a whole lot of mingling goin’ on.