On the Way

When I discovered (in Spring 2019) that Marie-Hélène Cossé had set out by herself on the Pilgrimage Way and devoured the 1,568 km between Le Puy-en-Velay and Santiago de Compostela, I couldn’t get over it ! A friend had introduced me to Marie-Hélène five years earlier. It was in Paris, and I had been impressed by this woman—tall, elegant, Parisian—and by the story of her magazine Mid&Plus, started the previous year.  What could have led this busy woman to set out alone on such an adventure?

What are you looking for on the Camino ?

Marie-Hélène had announced the plan to her family, her friends, her butcher… In short, everyone knew she was leaving, which made any backtracking absolutely impossible.  “And still, I was so afraid I might get lost, or not hold up physically, or not get there.”  But why go alone?  and the whole route at once?  without even a little help to carry your pack?  (when I leave every year to spend one week on the Way, I bless the luggage service La Malle Postale which carries my pack !)  What was she looking for in April 2019?  “Often, the people who set out on the Way don’t really know why they’re doing it,” she says.

“I don’t know what I was looking for, but what was certain is that I had to do it.  I was aware, deep down, that I needed this time, and that it had to be long.  I needed all the silence too.”

Reborn in her truth

What do you find when you walk alone for more than 70 days, as a real pilgrim, without your wardrobe and your bathroom ?  “At the beginning, I didn’t find very much. It took me 32 days before I really understood what was happening to me. It was in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port that I began to let go, to stop answering the telephone, to forget my family, my friends, my webzine. That had never happened before !  What do you find on the Way ?  It’s a kind of treasure you have deep inside you.”  So that’s it !  The Marie-Hélène who started the trip had put in her 8-kg backpack her boring life as a little girl, her business career, her husbands, her four children, Mid&Plus. She carried all this little world—then let herself put it down by the Way. There she found herself : just her. So it takes all these days of walking, of physical suffering, of loneliness, but also of meetings and sharing—with strangers who are also walking to be reborn in their own truth.

And for two-and-a-half months, it was also complete freedom : no refrigerator to fill, no meals to prepare.  Two-and-a-half months of vacation and the ease of only looking after oneself.  A good plan for us, Ladies !

What do you bring back ?

“What I got to Compostela, I understood that in fact everything was starting there, because it was the real Marie-Hélène who had arrived. I had become calm, super cool. I had let go.”  Listening to Marie-Hélène, I learned that life had tried hard to set her back on her former path, after she got back, before she realized that her real path was on the Way. Two years later, on May 3, 2021, Marie-Hélène welcomed her first pilgrims at Maison Donamaria¹, a guest house she bought at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port (see you there !) after having left everything behind.

Meanwhile, the Mid&Plus adventure continues—it celebrates its 7th birthday today—shining its light each Thursday on true stories, real places, and good-sense ideas, wherever you might like to find some truth.  A bit like the Way, in fact.

Virginie Beuve-Méry
A Mid&Plus reader
Translated by Pr Andrew Kull

¹Maison DonamariaFBInstagram maison_donamaria

For further reading : « 71 jours la tête dans les étoiles » by Marie-Hélène Cossé (self-published). Proceeds benefit Le Filon, a charity dedicated to helping women at risk.