Tag Archives: Camino de Santiago

The Hill of Joy

Walking the Camino toward Santiago resembles ordinary life in many ways. We follow a path, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends or strangers. We experience good days and bad, stormy weather and brilliant sunshine, energy sapping heat and unexpected cold. The real difference is how we treat strangers along the way because it is almost a universal custom to acknowledge other pilgrims with a friendly “Buen Camino.” We connect through the common purpose of reaching Santiago.

My own journey had begun on a Sunday and now, five days later, I was approaching Santiago, the city where James, the Apostle of Jesus, rests. Around 10:30 in the morning, I arrived at an open high point called Monte Do Gozo (Hill of Joy). Unfortunately, an oversized metal monument had been placed on the spot where pilgrims could see for the first time the city they had traveled so long and hard to reach.

IMG_2327A small chapel has been built at a short distance from the monument. In contrast to the rusted block of metal, it is a simple structure. I looked inside, but it was empty and so after putting my pack down and grabbing my camera, I headed up toward the monument where I might steal a glance of Santiago just as centuries of fellow pilgrims before me had done.

I confess I felt little joy at that moment; the monument itself looked to me like a relic from World War ll. It was out of place and marred what should have been a spirit of lightness and joyful expectation.

I took a few pictures of far off Santiago and then walked back toward the chapel and my unattended pack. When I got there, I unexpectedly decided to detour back to the little chapel one last time before leaving. As I approached the open door, I heard a beautiful voice singing the words of John Newton’s Amazing Grace:

Amazing Grace how sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

At first, I thought I was listening to a recording, but then I saw the back of a woman kneeling. From the slight movement of her head and shoulders, I could see she was the source of the words and music. She never looked up, but her voice filled the room with a sound of music that brought joy back to my own spirit. She sang with a soft passion that made me believe she was living the words she was singing:

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,

And grace my fear relieved.

How precious did that grace appear

The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares

I have already come,

‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far

And grace will lead me home.

Somehow the words of the song, the singer herself and the simplicity of the chapel combined to create a moment of genuine grace. The small chapel was filled with the fragrance of beauty, goodness and truth and the Hill of Joy became for me what it has been for thousands upon thousands of Christian pilgrims who now at last could feel that the purpose of their journey had finally come into full view:

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,

And mortal life shall cease,

I shall possess within the veil,

A life of joy and peace.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years

Bright shining as the sun,

We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise

Than when we’ve first begun.

Who is Steve Cohen?

A while back I did a preparation walk in the Stanwich neighborhood of Greenwich for a spring trip to Spain. We were to walk a hundred-mile section of the Camino de Santiago, which required a certain amount of training before we departed. It was on that five-mile preparation walk that Steve Cohen’s name came up.

Our group of eight wandered up and down backcountry roads. At one high point, we could see Long Island Sound off in the distance, a surprise to me, as I did not fully realize the elevation of the countryside surrounding Stanwich Church.

On we walked, passing new mansions built near old farms. The land had responded speedily to unusually warm weather over a two-week stretch. On this day, winter winds had returned to remind us that spring had merely made a beachhead with much of the battle for milder days still ahead.

As our group began to double back toward Stanwich Church, we ended up walking down one road that had several exceedingly large mansions on both sides of the street. My friend Stephen pointed to one large house and said, “I think that is where Steve Cohen lives.” I knew the name: Cohen is a self-made Hedge Fund billionaire, perhaps the wealthiest citizen of Greenwich Connecticut.

Stephen was wrong about the house, the mansion he pointed to had no wall. It was vulnerable to potential trouble. But next-door things were different: a high stone wall shielded much of the very large mansion that lay behind it. As we came to the driveway, we saw a guardhouse and gate; no one was going to gain access unless Steve Cohen invited them to visit. I am sure Steve Cohen would not trade his life for anything. He has money and power; he has everything that has been promised to a striving generation of Americans. I couldn’t help but wonder if he yearned for a different kind of freedom.

As I reflected on the house that Mr. Cohen built, I was struck by the juxtaposition between money and freedom. Money is advertised as the great liberator. Once you have enough money, you are freed of the normal constraints that bind many of us. And yet, here was a walled fortress that resembled a beautifully appointed prison. It seemed so incongruous, and yet, so necessary. Steve Cohen’s billions bought him all kinds of benefits that have come to be emblems of the American Dream. But with unimaginable wealth comes unimaginable constraints that require walls of obligations, fears and worries.