When I think back on the last 12 days on the El Camino de Santago, one of the stories that immediately comes to mind is an act of kindness that I did not relay at the time it occurred.
It was the first night. If you will recall, the first day was brutal. (Reread “what a baptism”)
When I reached Roncesvalles, I stood in line to check in to the Albergues to get a bed, a shower and some food. I, along with many others, had just finished the first 15 mile leg in less than perfect shape. I was wet, cold, and tired. The last thing I wanted to do was stand in line to process some paperwork. I am sure I was not alone.
One young man was attempting to process each person. The number of peregrinos in line had to be at least a constant 40. I and others waited in line for over an hour to get in front of this individual.
When I finally had my turn he asked for my passport and my money to pay for the bed, dinner and breakfast. I handed him my passport and my credit card. He looked straight at me, and wagged his finger to say no credit card allowed. Cash only.
Ok, I then pulled out my US dollars, and again he wagged his finger at me, letting me know that that won’t work either. He only would take Euros. I had none.
He told me to go get Euros. He said there was no cash/ATM machine in the tiny settlement, but that I should be able to get Euros at either the hotel, restaurant or museum.
So, off I go, searching for someone to convert US dollars to Euros. Walking through the rain to each of these spots in bike shoes, wearing the clothes that I have been in all day attempting to cross the Pyrenees. I go to each establishment and in each case the answer is the same. Sorry, can’t do it. Won’t change US dollars and will not take a credit card for payment in Euros.
I return to the young man empty handed. He still has a line of almost 40 people he is processing.
He motions to me to wait.
I wait, and wait. I wait until he has processed everyone in line. Another hour…
Finally, it is just him and me. He looks at me and leans over so that no one can hear him, even though there is nobody in the room at this point. He hands me the meal tickets and the number of my bed (#342), and says don’t tell anybody.
My first night on the pilgrimage.
Yes, I had to wait a very long time. And, yes, I was spent. And, yes, I did not lose my cool which I easily could have.
Nevertheless, this young man did not forget me. He did his job, while he was under enormous pressure. Yet, in the end of a long day for him too, he did an act of kindness that I will never forget.