5 At the Crossroads . . . Again

Wally Gutierrez

A signpost with a shell and an arrow pointing the way on the Camino.

Eight years ago, I was at a crossroads where I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I had just quit my job in October and was walking by myself on El Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James) a famous pilgrimage route where, since the medieval ages, multitudes of people would walk 500 miles across Spain to reach the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela. Nowadays people walk the Camino for many different reasons. I was inspired by this movie called “The Way” which is about a man’s transformational journey on the Camino. I had lost my way and was hoping that taking this journey would provide me with some direction in my life.

As I hiked along a country road, I saw a small herd of cows slowly rambling towards me. I stepped aside and watched them pass by when I saw a dog that seemed to be herding the cows. I took a closer look at the hairy black dog who reminded me of my dog Wesley. Suddenly, these emotions welled up in my chest and tears began flowing down my face. I felt regret for not being able to take Wesley with us when we moved away and had to give him up.

Then all the hurt and sorrows from the past year came flooding through: My wife and I were separating after 8 years of marriage, and she had moved back down to LA with our son. The shame of telling my family that I was getting a divorce despite being raised Catholic by parents who are still married after 60 years. Feeling like a failure because I couldn’t save my marriage, having to move back in with my parents, and having no job. What hurt the most was not being able to be with my son every day. All these feelings came gushing through in uncontrollable sobs. After a long while, the tears subsided and I realized that I had better get going and get to my next destination before it became dark.

So, I got up and slowly started walking, step by step, looking for the signs of seashells to guide my way. It started to rain, but I put on my poncho and kept walking. It did get dark and there was no light at all on the dirt road, but I put on my headlight and kept walking. I finally made it to the town where I checked into a place for the night, had dinner with other pilgrims and drank red wine with ibuprofen before I put my aching body to sleep. I was still tired when I woke up early the next morning, but I knew I had to get going and walk to the next town. So I got up, ate breakfast, walked all day, checked into a place for the night, ate with other people, and slept until the next day.

For the next several days, I repeated this simple routine which prevented me from drowning in my feelings and kept me moving forward. It was the custom to greet strangers with “Buen Camino!” (Have a good walk!), and sometimes I would walk with people I had met along the way. Before long, I finally made it to the end of my journey, and entered the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela. I knelt down and prayed, feeling exhausted but relieved and grateful for the experience.

So here I am at the crossroads again, staring at two department managers who appeared devoid of emotions on my laptop screen when they told me that I was being laid-off. My reaction to the news somewhat surprised me. Instead of freaking out or being sad about it, I felt a sense of relief and a little excitement. Even though I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do, I am no longer afraid of what will happen next.

I know that I will be OK because I had gone through this before and my journey on the Camino had shown me the way: Keep getting up and moving forward one step at a time, and eventually I’ll get to where I’m supposed to be.

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CE Student Voices--the Best of Short Memoir Spring 2023 Copyright © 2023 by Wally Gutierrez. All Rights Reserved.

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