About 300 of us schmoozed in a moldy grey cloister, sipping white wine. I tittered with George from William and Mary, and Mary from Vancouver. It all was international ooh-la-la.
We were in Santiago de Compostela at an international convention of people in charge of pilgrim organizations. (I am not in charge of much of anything, but they let me go anyway, because I know a lot of them. This happens if you stick around a few years.)
An important lady from South Africa stood near, and Mary introduced us. “You are Rebekah?” she said, incredulous. “Rebekah Scott?”
“The very one,” I said. The lady took my hand. She looked into my face.
“It’s an honor to meet you,” she said quietly. “An honor.”
She reads the blog, she said. She reads my comments on www.caminodesantiago.me. She said thank-you for writing what I write and saying what I say, that I am wise and inspirational. Maybe it was just the wind in her eyes, but it seemed like she started to cry.
I looked at George, and he only shrugged.
“Just another Rebekah fan. It’s the biggest fan club around,” George said. “I used to be president, but the membership was just too big for me to keep track.”
Now, George Greenia is a man with his own fan base. He’s a medieval scholar, published worldwide, head of his department in a highly respectable college, a pioneer of pilgrimage studies and camino history, and a beloved and gifted teacher. A couple of years ago he was named a Commander of the Order of Queen Isabel, one of Spain’s highest civilian honors. George is, in short, The Bomb.
And despite the flattery, George loves me, maybe as much as I love him. We go way back. We are kindred spirits. We are very good for one another. It still amazes me that someone I respect so much really likes me.
And here this South African lady really likes me, too, or so it would seem.
I was embarrassed, and flattered, and rendered somewhat speechless. This is only ME, I thought – look at the way she’s created this lofty image! I cannot be all these things. I am only myself. And myself is really nothing remarkable.
Today someone sent me a photo they took, right about that same moment.
We are privileged white people, standing in a fabulous place, in one of the world’s unique shrine cities. We are sipping superb wine, nibbling on delicacies, dressed in nice clothes. We have good haircuts, we’re smiling, laughing. We are educated, witty, tasteful, successful people from successful, powerful places. We have leisure enough to come to this faraway place and hobnob together for a few days, to meet more people like us from other faraway places.
We’re do-gooders, all of us, in one way or another. Mary trains Canadians to be volunteer hospitaleros – hosts in pilgrim shelters. She travels all over her vast country, and brings a cheerful energy to the job. She doesn’t get paid for it.
Me? I live here, in the dusty part of the camino. I put people together with other people they need to meet. I ask people to come and be hospitaleros in inhospitable places, and they say “yes.” I let people sleep in our spare rooms, and share food with them sometimes. I write stories, I clean house, I tell dogs “No.” I let priests stay in our spare rooms, and I ask the locals if we can open the churches and offer Masses in English. And they say “yes.”
I asked people to help pay for new mattresses at San Anton, the ratty little albergue in a ruined monastery. They said “yes.” I pick up trash along the trail and in the street, because I don’t like seeing it there and nobody else will pick it up. I ask other people to help me, and some of them do. Some of them fly all the way from England each December to help pick up trash. (Other people keep throwing trash on the ground anyway.)
All I really do is ask people for things, and then I put them – people and things -- to work. Because I rather enjoy work. I do lots of work, most of it unpaid. But I do not think the work I do is particularly angelic or saintly or even remarkable – maybe because I enjoy it, because I choose to do it, on my own terms.
Still, like George says, nobody else does what I do. I am the only one who does this particular mix of things.
So that is unique. It is special, because my setting is special: I live among the cloisters and pilgrim trails and ruined monasteries. They give my hard work an air of mystery and sacrifice it wouldn’t have if I was just running a non-profit do-gooder agency in Iowa.
And I have really impressive friends who love me. Not because I do things. They love me because I am me, and I inspire them to do good things.
I need to learn to love myself the same way they do. I need to learn to accept praise without feeling I somehow don’t really deserve it.
As a very wise woman called Macrina Weiderkehr wrote:
“I will believe the truth about myself
no matter how beautiful it is.”
no matter how beautiful it is.”