There is a sort of famous spot along the Camino called the Cruz de Ferro. It’s located about 2/3 of the way into the Camino Francés; pilgrims reach it after walking for about three weeks. This huge ‘Iron Cross’- a wooden pole with a cross at the top- marks the approach of the highest point on the Camino.
I’ve read about several legends associated with the cross: how and when and why it originated, and maybe I’ll write more about it when I actually start my Camino and learn about it from other pilgrims. But what I do know, and what I’m a bit fascinated by, is the tradition of the rocks. At the base of the pole is a growing mound of rocks, placed there for centuries by pilgrims walking the Camino. Pilgrims are supposed to bring a rock along with them on their Camino, ideally choosing one from their place of origin. It seems as though this rock can represent a lot. Often, pilgrims carry a rock in honor of someone: someone who has passed away, someone they have lost, someone whose memory they hold onto.
But I’ve also heard the rock referred to as ‘a stone of burdens’: the rock represents all that you want to leave behind. Or, all that you want to forgive, or be forgiven for.
Pretty heavy stuff.
I’m not sure where I’m going to find my rock, but I still have several months to search for it. And I’ve only just started to think about what my rock will mean to me. I have a few ideas already, but I’m sure that when I place it on top of the thousands of other rocks from pilgrims before me, it’s going to hold more meaning that I could ever imagine.
I’ve been thinking about loss recently. I’ve been struck by how much loss I’ve experienced in the last 3-4 years, and I wonder: was I just lucky for the first 30 years of my life? Or, did I learn how to open my heart, to love more fully, and to risk losing/being left? Or, is this a natural consequence of getting older? Maybe it’s a combination of all three.
Last week my best friend’s dog died, and I’m heartbroken. It’s brought up loss all over again. Everyone, for good reason, thinks that their dog is the greatest. Molly wasn’t even my dog and I thought she was the greatest. Because she was the greatest. The death of a pet is different than the death of a friend or a parent or a partner, but that doesn’t change this fact: losing someone you love is hard. It is always going to be so hard.
I guess the only way to counter death, if it’s even possible, is to carry the people we lose within us. So I’m thinking about the rock that I will take with me on my Camino, and how I will carry it for over 300 miles before I place it at the base of a cross at the highest point on my pilgrimage.
And within that rock, I’m going to carry with me all of the people I’ve loved and lost in my life. I know that I’ll carry them for my whole life- it won’t end when I place that rock at the Cruz de Ferro. But I love the idea of this act: to carry something as you walk across a country, something that represents your love and your loss. I like the act of placing it down: not to leave it behind, but to be able to place it somewhere. That I can carry a rock for hundreds of miles and hold it in my palm and before climbing over the mound of stones to the base of the cross, I can look down into my hand and say, “This is for you.”