Last night Andy and I met at a little pizza place. Their main business seemed to be take-out so there was a steady stream of customers coming in to pick up warm cardboard boxes. The busy staff were in perpetual motion taking orders and making pizzas. We pushed two tables together and rearranged the chairs so we would have enough room for our group of eight. A blast of cold air and there were Paul & Jasmine and our three grandchildren. Then another blast and in walked our friend, John.
We usually make pizza at home on January 7th, but tonight we opted to gather at Bella Rome. Same intent, though. It was Adoption Day and we were still celebrating twenty five years later, undeterred by the fact that the guest of honor was not physically present. We still wanted to honor this family anniversary and think about Tim.
When I told the kids that we were having a special guest join us for dinner, the girls thought I meant Tim. Sweet ones! “No, just Tim’s friend, John”, I explained.
We talked about this and that while we waited for the pizza to be assembled and baked. We asked about the school day, about how the cars were running, and when John sat down, we asked him to tell us about his Camino adventure. As if on cue, John pulled out a stack of pictures from his walk to St. James Compostelo in Spain last year. He gave us a little travelogue, explaining the pictures, the terrain, the customs and the greetings of fellow pilgrims along “The Way”. Happily for us, a retired college professor is never without his historical details and background!
John told us about the yellow arrows showing the way, the common greetings of the pilgrims, but also about the two Latin greetings that resonated the most with him.
“It’s like this with the yellow arrows
on the Camino. Generally they are a
ready guidance system, all along the
way. Painted on the sides of buildings
and fence posts, they indicate changes
in direction. Turn left. Turn right. Go straight
ahead. Pretty simple. But the occasional
vertical arrow, which means go straight
ahead, reminded me of the old pilgrim
If you pass someone walking on the
path today, you might smile and wave,
and shout ‘bien camino,’ or have a
good walk. But in the middle ages,
the two latin words were much more
common than now. The first greeting
to a fellow pilgrim, might be ‘Ultreya’
meaning, good luck on your way to
Santiago, hope you make it to the end
(and don’t get robbed or run out of
food, or become injured, etc).
The reply might be ‘Suseya’ which
more literally means, after you get to
Santiago, hope you make it home again.
But the ultimate spiritual meaning is
hope you make it to your final home,
after the last camino! This digs deep.
It means a lot, and is the perfect
encouragement, especially for a physically
exhausted pilgrim, who doesn’t know
if he’ll ever make it home. “
We are all still pilgrims on the road of life, occasionally exhausted and sometimes discouraged; footsore and sunburned.
Tim, though, and countless others have made it through the gates and sit around the heavenly table. Someday we will look back over the road and sigh with contentment that we, too, have indeed run and not grown weary. May God help us all.