A few days ago I spotted a headline in one of our local newspapers. It read: 'Men of Steel...'. That really got me thinking.
Can you imagine something colder, more horrible, more unappealing to have to strive towards, if you are a man.
To be a man of steel. I can't imagine something sadder than that.
Let's see what comes to mind when the word 'steel' is mentioned. Cold, hard, unbending, potentially sharp, therefore dangerous, could even be double edged if a sword - actually that is enough! All of these attributes, if identified in a man, is enough to make me run for the hills!
How I wish I could erase all the labels that society has hung around our necks, especially those given to our men! Instead of wishing for a man of steel to swoop me up and take care of me for the rest of my life, I would ask for a 'Man of Love', a 'Man of Kindness', 'A Man of Gentleness' - to name just a few.
I started wondering if anything is ever compared to steel in the Bible. That same evening the following words jumped out at me from the pages of a book that I was reading: 'The Bible says: Iron sharpens iron; so a man sharpens the countenance of another.'
Proverbs 27:17. What a message. And brought to me in no uncertain terms. Steel, iron - the message is loud and clear!
I knew I wanted to write a piece here that I could connect to the Camino. This topic was just perfect as it got me thinking of why men, in particular, undertake this incredible journey. I'm sure not one of the men who have ever walked the Camino did so in the hope to be called a 'Man of Steel' once he arrived in Santiago!
I turned to Ermanno Aiello's book 'Forever a Pilgrim' to see what his encounters with fellow men on the Camino revealed.
On page 119 he talks about arriving at the Albergue Parroquia, a parish hostel in Santibanez de Valdeiglesia. Here he met Ercole, the hostalero.
' Ercole - the hostalero - turned out to be a middle aged, handsome, well built, flamboyant Italian from Rome. On hearing that I was also from Rome (or had been 59 years earlier) he gave me my very own private upstairs 4 bunk room. (doesn't sound like a 'Man of Steel' to me...)
He goes on to explain how Ercole prepared wonderful tasty meals for them (with the help of an elderly Spanish lady :) and tended the blisters of young pilgrims who had arrived at the albergue.
'The young couple I had passed on the camino had eventually arrived and Ercole was tending to her blistered feet in such a tender way. He continually spoke to her softly, almost caressingly, telling her that she would be all right by the next day. She was obviously very nervous and afraid but the gentle touch of his hands on her feet, the compassion and love in his voice, the encouraging words - he soon had her smiling - albeit nervously - while he drained and sterilized her blisters.'
Later that evening, after sharing a grappa or two the two men were in deep discussion and Ercole shared his story.
'Ermanno,' he said, 'Seven years ago, in Rome, I was diagnosed with incurable bone marrow cancer in my right leg. I then decided to walk the camino in this condition and I made this promise to the Holy Trinity. "Let me live long enough to walk the camino and I will give you the next five years of my life" I walked the camino - the last five kilometers barefoot - and my cancer was gone. I left Rome and came here seven years ago and I hope to die here one day.'
A man of steel? I don't think so!
In conclusion then - the lesson I learnt from the journey I took in my head since reading the heading in the newspaper is this. Just like iron sharpens iron - we sharpen the countenance of those we come in contact with. In layman's terms - people should grow from interaction with one another.
Just as even a hard rock can be shaped into a heart as the one I spotted on one of my hikes, the reference to steel need not always refer to something hard and unfeeling. I for one hope that the only 'Man of Steel' that I am going to encounter on my Camino is my trusted friend in the picture below!