The victorious man before you is my friend Paul, who I met my first week on the Camino de Santiago. He was hard to miss in his kilt, thick socks bunched up around his ankles, bare-chested, with a Palestinian checkered keffiyeh wrapped around his head. In lieu of the metal walking sticks most of us were using, Paul leaned on a full-on wooden staff that “called to him.” I triple dare you to find one person that walked the Camino last July that doesn’t have a photo of this man.
“I have a Master’s in witch-hunting,” Paul would say in his quiet Scotish brogue whenever anyone asked him what he did. What Paul has is a Master’s degree in the history of witch-hunting in Scotland but it was a great pleasure to watch strangers search their brains for the right thing to say to a university-certified insane person. They believed Paul for that first milisecond because Paul had already stepped outside of the box we call realistic. If a man in his forties could walk 500 miles across northern Spain in what appeared to be a pleated wool skirt, why couldn’t he also have an MFA in the art of chasing broomstick-riding women who dance naked in the Glasgow moonlight?
I think anyone who met Paul would agree that the Camino would not have been the same without him. And yet this was a man whose vital signs made him an improbable candidate for the pilgrimage. A heavy smoker and a drinker who suffers from dizzy spells, Paul would get most people’s blessing to just stay home, at least until he became a kale juice-drinking, bicep-curling health fanatic. Luckily, Paul couldn’t give a crap about most people’s opinions and his determination to walk to Santiago taught me two lessons.
1. We Are Infinitely More Capable Than We Allow Ourselves To Be
I had some hesitations about my endurance when I started the pilgrimage but I discovered that not only could I walk the Camino with ease but the overwhelming joy I felt doing it meant I needed less sleep, less food and less maintenance work on my blistered feet. By the end I was eating a salad a day and sleeping for five hours a night and I had the strength and energy of a gladiator. Well, a gladiator before taking on a lion anyway. Paul walked slower than me, he had a harder time with the heat and the upward climbs but he got as much out of the experience as I did. We both felt the same relief, the same bittersweet joy when we collapsed at the steps of the cathedral in Santiago and judging from the photo above, when he got to the top of a mountain he felt like a gladiator too.
2. You Deserve Your Happy Now
How often do we put off doing the things we dream about because we don’t feel like we deserve them? “I’ll do it when I lose ten pounds, when I quit smoking, when I sort out my family drama, when I get a good job…” The truth is you may never do any of those things, life is like that. But you are perfect just as you are right now, with your extra weight and your extra toe and all the other extras that you’d like to shed. Keep trying, keep working but don’t punish yourself when you don’t succeed by putting off happiness. Paul may never quit smoking, but he got to do something that changed him, something that fulfilled him and made him a more complete person. We all should be doing those things because ultimately, once you treat yourself like a person who has the right to be happy, you’ll find the world agreeing with you.