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Bill Trudell

Bon Camino: finding community far away from mine

Life in law seems never to stop. Court deadlines, new files, new rules, complex trials, changing legislation, clients needs, family time outs . . . the old adage “the defence never rests” really applies to most of us in this profession. But if not a rest, perhaps a change might work. Enter the Camino.

I had heard about some pilgrimage that people were doing from Spain or France or Portugal to Santiago de Compostela, to a historic church that welcomes the pilgrims who have made their way along one of the routes. Made familiar by the movie The Way with Martin Sheen, the journeys were creeping into popular culture as more and more people from around the world have walked the Camino.

Actually, it isn't new at all. Based on the historical walks of Saint James on his mission to spread Christianity and blanketed by changes in European history, the walk has been conducted for centuries.

The point of this? I am writing this two days away from reaching that historical destination in Spain.

I had not planned this trip. I actually think I mentioned I would like a Camaro for my birthday, but as it has turned out, I surprisingly have not quite run out of gas as the trip comes to an end.

It is an amazing journey. We chose the Portugal route from Porto, some 240 kilometres.

Walking beside the ocean, passing quaint, colourful fishing huts, the sweeping aroma of fresh catch in the air soon gave way to quiet, lush, walled lanes enclosing farmers’ fields, stone houses with orange tiled roofs and clusters of grapes forming canopies over paths.

We journeyed through eucalyptus forests and climbed endless hills that eventually would reward us with vistas almost too beautiful to be real.

Then, as your aching feet resist the steep climbs down, there tucked behind a small stone bridge, beside a quietly bubbling brook, is Snow White’s cottage that surely at any moment would feature the seven little workers strolling out the door to head off singing down the road.

At several locations, as we follow the ever-present yellow arrows that mark the way, little churches or roadside cafés offer spiritual and energy renewal as the journey continues. Occasionally, we join villagers as they fill their water jugs from cool mountain streams.  

Soon we are in Valença, Portugal and then cross a beautiful bridge into Spain after walking through old fortresses on the river’s edge and entering another such ruin in Tui, Spain. You could very easily close your eyes and picture the historical skirmishes between these nations facing each other that gave rise to these immense structures, now only passageways for pilgrims.

What seems so memorable about such a diversion from our workplaces is the sense of community.

The greetings each day are the same from fellow trekkers that you passed ages ago, from new ones along the road, from the farmers and villagers. Spanish and Portuguese is the familiar sound of a version of “Bon Camino” that has various spellings.

I suppose it means bon voyage, safe journey, good luck and perhaps something more. It is a connection, recognition of a difficult journey that each “pilgrim” has undertaken for their his or her own reasons. It is a step out of everyday life and a step into a different one . . . the one we all know we need but take little time to embrace.

Our small team, one riding a bike, supports and encourages each other and our mutual respect and love grows with each day. You realize here how beautiful and full of grace life really is. You recognize the importance of collegiality and caring that is in all of us, yet it seems we often must escape to realize it.

Before I left Toronto, I witnessed an event not unlike the connections I see here. A young man, perhaps in his mid-twenties, approached a section of a crowded subway car. He was thin, very pale and just a bit disconcerting as, although in a quiet voice, he said, “I am sorry to beg, but I only have two dollars and I need to find a little more . . . could anyone help?”

It was astounding. Everyone froze for a few seconds and then another young man with a musical instrument case around his shoulder handed him some money. He then gave him his water thermos for a sip. The pale young man eagerly drank from it and began to thank his generous benefactor who then said, ”Keep it.” Then almost in unison, others began to hand the young “pilgrim” money. At the next stop, I exited with the generous musician. I approached him and said, ”You are a good man.”  He thanked me but then said, “I didn’t know whether he really needed the money, but you can’t take chances with things like that.”

I am thousands of kilometres away and, I have heard bits of news of the genuine collegiality and caring of my profession for a fellow defence lawyer who was the victim of a shooting in Toronto. I watched this summer as young people, some very close to me, openly and bravely gathered to express their love and support and latent, but real, spirituality for friends in need, in sickness and even death.

The practice of law, indeed especially criminal law, is in many ways an institutional embrace of our fellow human beings in crisis. It seems, however, that we do not take enough time to rest and really embrace what we do, what we have, who we love and what we share in our own everyday Caminos.