By Eun Joo Angela Ryo
One of the life-changing experiences I had last year was to walk the Camino from Portugal to Spain to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. I was part of a group of sixteen women from church, ages ranging anywhere from mid 70s to early 40s. We walked over hundred miles in two weeks and became sisters for life.
The interesting thing about walking everyday in a group of sixteen people is that everyone sort of settles into her own pace and place. Fast walkers are always fast and slow walkers are always slow — that is, until a fast walker gets a blister in her feet. So where was I in the long line of sixteen women? I was almost always dead last despite the fact that I was the youngest one in the group. How much I tried to walk fast, I found myself always drawn to the last one in the group, whoever that happened to be.
I have to admit that in the beginning, I struggled with this. I didn’t want to be last ALL the time. I wanted to prove that I could walk fast if I really wanted to — that I wasn’t THAT out of shape (which I really was). But as our days of walking continued, I came to accept my place in the group. I realized that I actually enjoyed waiting up for the last one to catch up and join me; I liked the feeling of not having anyone behind me. To know that everyone has made it safely before me gave me a sense of great relief and satisfaction.
On one of the last days of our journey, I had a chance to talk to one of my sisters as we walked together. I was sharing with her how I’ve found my place in this Camino and how I didn’t mind being with the last ones in the group anymore; in fact, I enjoyed waiting up for them. She graciously listened to me, nodded, and gently asked me a question I had not anticipated: “Do you think you wait for others because you’d like someone to wait for you and not leave you behind?”
The question pierced right through my heart. I paused. I opened my mouth only to say nothing. A quivering sob rose in my chest and traveled up to throat so that when I blurted out my answer, I broke into uncontrollable and quite unexpected tears. Amidst my sobs, I heard myself say, “No! It’s because I want ME to wait for myself!”
Surely, I sounded like a crazy woman. Why did I say that? Only then did it hit me that too many times in my life, I’ve left myself behind because I was too eager to get ahead. I shoved my back and pulled my hands so that I could keep up with others; I forced myself not to pay so much attention to my feelings because they slowed me down from getting ahead; I was always too impatient with the part of myself that wanted to go deeper and slower. By doing so, how many times did I mistake productivity and efficiency for meaning and fulfillment? Finding my place in the Camino helped me to see where and I had left myself behind. As the Psalmist says, “Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD”…and yourself.
Eun Joo Angela Ryo immigrated to America from Korea when she was nine. Having graduated with an MDiv from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, she was ordained as a Teacher Elder in the PCUSA this past July and started serving in her first call at The First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor as a Resident Minister.