One pilgrim I passed today on my way through the town of Arzúa had a small gourd tied to his pack with a green shoelace. Another pilgrim had a ribbon with seven silver beads wrapped around the neck of a water bottle, and still another carried a tiny pair of baby shoes swinging from a zipper.
Most people carry the familiar scallop shell painted with the red sword of Saint James that identifies them as a pilgrim. On the Camino, the scallop shell has become a symbol that breaks down every barrier we put between ourselves and others. We are not men, women, rich, poor, black, white, tall, short, fat, or thin. We are not privileged, and we are not impoverished, we are simply pilgrims. To me, it is one of the most powerful and accepting symbols in our modern world.
Many pilgrims carry small hidden mementos. I spoke with one woman who carried her husband’s wedding ring, and another who carried special stones for each of her grandchildren. I am certain each woman has a story to share, and I know that their loved ones are never far from their mind.
I’m carrying a stuffed chicken.
Although only the head pokes out the pocket of my backpack, inside the pocket, the little bird wears a shiny red superhero cape that reads: FRIGHTFUL. As ridiculous as it may seem, it’s a powerful symbol for me. It represents hope that came to our family in the middle of a hopeless situation, and it reminds me that we were always cared for—even when I felt desperately alone. Most of all, it reminds me that laughter is powerful medicine.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my son’s beloved hen, Frightful, each day as I walk the Camino. I’m so grateful she was a part of our family. When I reach Santiago, this funny little stuffed animal I carry may need to be passed along to another pilgrim in need of hope, healing, and more laughter in their life.
I still have 25 kilometers to think about it.
P.S. I’m still planning to leave the 2 walnuts from the Galician farmer at the top of the hill when we get our first glimpse of Santiago. Stay tuned!
Kristin Jarvis Adams is a public speaker and advocate for children with special needs, helping to bridge the gap between the outside world and the inner world of autism. Her speaking engagements have included: Seattle Festival of Trees Gala, a benefit for Seattle Children’s Hospital and The Seattle Children’s Autism Clinic. Learn More>>