Angels in Disguise (Day 17)

Monsterio Santa Clara Courtyard
I’m staying at the Monasterio Santa Clara tonight, a quiet monastery made of massive rocks with a large courtyard. The best part about it is that with just a couple dozen beds, it really is very quiet. As I bring my sore feet and aching body through the door, I’m greeted by a friendly smiling face with the purest blue eyes I have ever seen, “do you want a biscuit, you like some hot tea?” I first saw Reny when I was lying sick on a bench waiting for the Refugio to open along with others. A medium-built man walked in pulling a wagon. Everyone carries a backpack and I remember thinking to myself, “gosh he needs a lot of stuff,” as people cheered his arrival. Everybody seemed to know him. Twenty minutes later a large woman came in without a backpack who I later learned was his wife Bette, pronounced Bet-T unlike the American Betty White – Betty.

Meeting Reny and Bette
The first time I chatted with them was a few days later while I was sitting at a café across from a Refugio, trying to stay warm. A few others walked in like T who joined me. Seeing that there were no other tables available, Reny and Bette came over to our table. (It’s all a big family of pilgrims when you’re walking.) They claimed that their English wasn’t very good so I was lucky to be sitting with T who translated back and forth. T spoke German and that was a language Bette and Reny spoke well. Their story was one of the most touching of all the people I met on the Camino.

Reny on the road
Reny and Betty have two daughters, one of who got into a major car crash and is now bound to a wheelchair. Both of the daughters have been trying to have children for some time and neither has been successful. They’re walking for the health of one of their daughters and praying that they both get pregnant soon. They know a couple whose daughter couldn't have children and after they walked the Camino, she got pregnant and eventually had four kids. Reny joked that they probably needed to do the Camino again to make them stop having kids. Unlike most of the pilgrims, they started from their home in Holland two and a half months ago and have already walked more than two thousand kilometers. Reny explains that they have had no problems so far, except for the first wagon breaking down and needing a replacement. Both of them had so much love in their eyes when talking about their daughters, who don’t even know that they’re doing this for them.

Reny with another pilgrim
After the Café I’d often see them walking, Reny upfront with the wagon and Bette a little while behind. Every day that it rained, I would wonder how Reny was doing with his wagon. And one day as I was struggling through miles and miles of sticky mud I saw him pulling up behind me wheeling his wagon in the mud. “Doing OK, how is the blisters” he called with a big smile and thumbs up sign. I asked him how he was doing, “SUPPPPER,” he yelled flashing his pearly whites again. “Want to put your pack on the wagon”. I declined realizing that that man’s heart and strength had no limits. I could never figure out how he was carrying all that weight with a big smile for such a small guy. He was always going around helping everyone. I later learned that he even has a metal knee because of past knee issues.

Bette was no less of a sweetheart than he. One day, at the end of a long walk I was sitting on the rooftop of a Refugio trying to drain a blister the size of Montana. Betty who happens to be a nurse gently explained the easiest way of doing it. She gave me a triangular metal piece that nurses sometimes use to draw blood. It’s painless and takes a minute (as opposed to using a needle as most people do which always required a lot of time and patience). She said the best thing after draining it is to leave it alone, keep it clean, don’t put anything on it (except hand sanitizer) – and that advice helped me throughout the trip.

Bette on the rooftop
Those two made an amazing couple, you could always find them laughing and talking. The only time I saw them a little worried is when Bette got sick. I happened to be at the same Refugio. The owner of the small (and only) Refugio in town didn’t allow her to spend a second day. She was so sick that there was no way she could walk. Their friends suggested taking a cab to the Refugio 25km away. Bette was so disheartened because she wanted to walk every step, all the way for her daughters. Everyone convinced her to take a cab and rest at the next place while Reny walked and continue from there tomorrow. He still took both of their backpacks on his little wagon.

I was deeply touched by both of them, to be doing this at this age and their over-the-top generosity to everyone around them and their love for their children. As I walked that day I silently prayed to Bette’s God that today I was walking on her behalf, her walk should not be any less because she couldn’t walk today – because of all that she has done and all that she is. This was the only way to try to keep her circle of giving alive. They’ll never know how much they bring to the people around them.

Even as I think back to them today, I think when I grow up I want to be like Reny and Betty. They’re the toughest most compassionate fifty-something-years-old-couple I have ever met. They totally kick butt and I get the feeling that they’re just getting started.

(From the Camino Journals May 16th)

1 comment:

  1. What a learning to read about Reny and Betty. I remembered my parents and wanted to do so much more for them and my loved ones.