The Cammino di Assisi is a 200 mile hike that winds its way along mountain tops and sliding shale valleys from Dovadola to Assisi, Italy. It follows the path of St. Francis, and the official purpose of the pilgrim embarking on the journey is to walk into Assisi. By the time I was staring in joyful wonder at the Basilica of Saint Francis, however, I learned that it was so much more. On Cammino I wrestled with myself, both physically and mentally pushing limits I didn’t know I had laid in place. The Cammino changed the way I looked at myself, at others, and at the world; a place which is waiting to teach me more lessons than the classroom ever could.
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It’s hard to know why we do difficult things. Is pushing your body to the limits of its capabilities really enjoyable enough for you to do it repetitively? I don’t think so. Deep within ourselves, if we look hard enough, we’ll find that we do strenuous tasks repeatedly because we know that we’ll grow into something stronger and wiser than ever before. Just the very knowledge that we are capable of doing something impossibly challenging is enough to make us want to continue! Things I didn’t realize I had learned at home thrust themselves to the forefront of my mind on this journey, claiming their place by sheer necessity. I had to practice putting one foot in front of the other, even when it was 100°F and we’d been walking for hours already. I learned to rise early, at 4:15 am, to start before the sun was ready to begin. I learned that the top of the hill doesn’t mean the end, doesn’t mean you can quit. I learned the true meaning of endurance, and of quiet strength. I learned to sing joyfully for the last six miles on the hardest day, because it kept both me and my companions walking. So why do people, just like me and you, do such hard, difficult, challenging things? Because of what we learn from those experiences.
On Cammino, I also discovered the beauty of a person’s character. The first two people we met, Christine and Elena, are Italian cousins who are both English teachers. We promptly nicknamed them our Angels and proceeded to walk all the way to Assisi with them! They were instrumental in helping us navigate the Italian world we were in. Another fellow walker with whom we hiked for four days, Davide, left us a pile of wild strawberries on the side of the trail one day. A couple whose farm house we were staying at for the evening, Davide and Lili, rose early to be able to make and eat breakfast with us the next day. These are just a couple examples of the wonderful, beautiful people that we met along the trail and who helped teach us lessons of kindness, generosity, and hospitality. If such small acts can make such an impact on me, what more should I be doing? In the end, I can say I walked 200 miles to Assisi. Yet it was so much more than that. An extremely challenging thing, the knowledge that I completed it gives me determination for life’s next climb. I know that the characters I met, talked, laughed, and hiked with will forever be with me because the lessons we learned together are things I will always remember.
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