Together We Are #PilgrimStronger

At the Memphis airport last December 3 as I arrived home from pilgrimage after 45 days. Little did we know at that moment we'd head back to the Camino together in 10 months.

At the Memphis airport last December 3 as I arrived home from pilgrimage after 45 days. Little did we know at that moment we’d head back to the Camino together in 10 months.

Managing my propensity to occasional depression has pretty much been the same for more than 40 years. I’m just more aware of the management process now, and have become more proactive than reactive about it. Today it’s no longer a subconscious coping tool, but a need of which I’m aware that’s become as much a part of my life as opening the pool for the season, or the annual termite inspection.

The best prescription I’ve found is pursuing something difficult that requires long, disciplined preparation – something intense enough that it brings a focused distraction to the hopelessness many of us privately know in depression. I’m one of the lucky ones who’s found a way to turn sadness into gladness.

I wasn’t a natural athlete as a kid, but found myself working obsessively harder than average to become a decent high school ball player. Spent most of my 20s laying the career groundwork for landing my political communication dream job at 32. Just a few years later invested 36 months completely dedicated to marathon training and made the distance three times. The cycle never ends, and reflecting on those efforts is exhausting. Not to have pursued them might have been deadly.

Early in our marriage and as the recession wrecked our livelihood I experienced a depression that took me so far into myself that I wasn’t sure I’d come back. Dana may have wondered the same. Part of the healing process involved watching late night adventure shows about far-away places. They were shows that kept us dreaming.  However you do it, and wherever you must search, depression requires that you cling to hope. My hope has always been in Christ Jesus, but depression will sometimes trick and rob you of that hope. Another topic, another time. One night, a part of my worldly hope was found in a movie called The Way.

***

In October 2015, I set out for a 500-mile walk across Spain on the ancient pilgrimage of the Camino de Santiago as both preventive depression therapy, and a celebration for overcoming that hard time years earlier. I would’ve never made it through that time, or to the Camino, without Dana. Though 5,000 miles across an ocean, she was with me every step. A man can find no adequate measurement for the value of a supportive, committed, loving wife. There is no standard to which I can point. I value it above all things, save my identity in Christ.

It took four days and about 60 miles of walking last year to realize one of the most valuable lessons I’d learn on the Camino. Pilgrimage was best experienced and more profoundly understood when I approached it as a story. When I became free to experience the Camino in such a familiar way, everything changed. I’d found “my Camino.”

Unconventionally, and to the dismay of pilgrimage purists, I conveyed the stories in real time, up and over the Pyrenees, through the Meseta, eight hours through a Galician blizzard, and to the end of the world. Mostly through meeting new friends along the way there were stories about relationships, hardship, loss, determination, and hope. I found the stories refreshingly rich and real, and the experience of telling them helped me reclaim things I didn’t even know I’d lost. I hate the cliché, but yes, the Camino provided exactly what I needed.

I came home, wrote a book about it, and wondered what would come next, because I knew the story wasn’t finished. A wise French companion once told me “a pilgrim never stops walking the path.”

***

“An excellent wife who can find?  She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.” ~ Proverbs 31:10-12

When the unexpected opportunity presented itself last week for Dana and I both to return to the Camino this fall, we booked the tickets without much thought to all the things one should think about when it comes to getting off the grid for a month. I’ve lost enough friends during the last two years to know that when you’re 70 percent sure about something that may seem far-fetched at the moment, you try your best to say “yes,” and figure the rest out as you go. After a flurried exchange of text messages about the chance to go as a couple, we said “yes.”

Not only am I excited to walk again, meet new friends, and see new places, I’m excitedScreen Shot 2016-07-27 at 6.29.04 AM to tell a new story. And I think I’m as eager as anything to watch the experience unfold for Dana. That’s the story I want to tell you. This time I want to share the experience through her eyes.

For 31 days I’ll be Dana’s walking documentary journalist, sharing a few of my perspectives about her pilgrimage, but mostly telling it as she sees things through photos, text and video.

This wasn’t her idea. She’s not even comfortable with it yet.

But the world needs more stories about good people. Not the ones who pretend to be good, or those who shout from the mountaintops that they’re good, but rather the ones who are good.

I’ve never known a better, more selfless, more compassionate, humble person than my wife.  I thank God that I get to walk with her every single day.

Dana made me #PilgrimStrong.

But together we are #PilgrimStronger.

I can’t wait to tell you her story.

PS: We’re going to need a trail name for her. If you have ideas, please leave a comment.

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9 thoughts on “Together We Are #PilgrimStronger

  1. I’m so excited that Dana is going! Even though you will be documenting her Camino,  we’ll be learning more about you…just as we learned about Dana through your Camino last year.  I appreciate your sharing about depression and your tools to combat it…usually it is such a secret path that confirms we all need to keep it secret and drown in silence. My best friend and I walked the Frances April to June, taking it slowly, arriving in Santiago eight weeks to the day from when we left SJPDP. We both followed Pilgrim Strong and I found your honesty and reflections fit me perfectly.  I, too, shared my Camino in real time via daily Facebook videos and I, too, found purists didn’t understand. God teaches me through pictures and I learn through talking/sharing, so I’m glad I did it ‘my’ way. With my arrival home just 6 weeks ago, I am continuing to process my walk and I’m really grateful for those videos now. I’ll be praying for you two. Having been married forever I didn’t realize I had never been completely with someone 24/7 for eight weeks…since I couldn’t ‘leave’, God surely used the time to show me things that I have obviously sidestepped for sixty years. Didn’t mean to write a tome, but have wanted you to know your blog has ministered to my soul. Blessings!

    Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone

  2. A lot of things to ponder in your post. My wife and I also watched the movie ‘ The Way’. Prior to seeing the movie, the Camino or any long distance hiking was not remotely on the radar.
    We were both active with cycling and walking, but the idea of walking 500 miles with a back pack was not on the ‘bucket list’ at all.
    Due to holiday constraints, we had to knock the Camino Frances route off in pieces. In fact we did the segments in reverse order. In April 2014 we did Ponferrada to Santiago. Part of the reason for doing the end first is that we wanting to get to Santiago in year 1, but we’re not sure we would ever be back ( little did we know).
    In April 2015 we did Burgos to Ponferrada. This year in April we did St.Jean to Burgos, and then bussed to Sarria and did the final 115 kilometers into Santiago with different stops than we did in 2014.
    An annual Camino is now part of our life.
    We are doing the Portuguese Camino route next year and will walk to Finistere and Muxia next year as well.
    Likely we will do another route in 2018 and will keep going as long as our bodies can handle it. We are both in our late 50’s, so we have some good hiking years left, God willing.
    Knowing we have a Camino to look forward to each year gives our daily exercise routines purpose.
    This really has been the most interesting and satisfying travel we have ever done. The idea of a typical cruise or resort type of holiday really has no appeal to either of us any more and we had done a lot of that type of travel.
    Friends and relatives are puzzled by our love of Camino life. When they hear about some of our challenges…they look puzzled and say…’And this is fun?’ I reply, ‘You don’t have to be comfortable to be having fun.’
    I really enjoy your posts Steve and your sharing of your struggles and how you have overcome your challenges.

  3. Steve, This brought tears to my eyes. It brought understanding about the depth of your depression. Also, we’ve always loved how you love Dana. That blesses Gary & I so very much to know you will be with her when Gary & I have passed on someday.
    May The Lord bless you & keep you; may The Lord make His face shine upon you & be gracious to you; May The Lord lift up His countenance upon you & give you peace.
    Numbers 6:24-26.
    Love you both.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  4. so enjoy reading your writings. I walked the camino in 2014 and want to go again…

    On Wed, Jul 27, 2016 at 8:38 AM, Pilgrim Strong wrote:

    > stevenwwatkins posted: ” Managing my propensity to occasional depression > has pretty much been the same for more than 40 years. I’m just more aware > of the management process now, and have become more proactive than reactive > about it. Today it’s no longer a subconscious coping ” >

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