Well my fellow travelers, this is where our adventure ends.
In this last post of Mapless Pilgrim 2.0 I'd like to do three things:
1. Fill you in on the final few days of my trip
2. Attempt to summarize my take-aways
3. Offer a closing note to those who have shared in this journey with me
So please do settle in with me for this final post.
We left off the night before I was to walk into Santiago. The Dane and I would set off the next morning a bit later than planned but hitting the trail by 9am left us plenty of time to complete the final 20k of the Camino.
We agreed that we would walk the first 15k to Monte de Gozo together and then part ways so that we could each complete our journey how we began: alone.
The mood was noticeably different than other days. Although we had missed the morning crowds there were still plenty of people making the day's trek, all of whom were friendly and visibly excited. We met Jasper from Amsterdam who came upon us quickly given that he was more than 6'6". Dressed in orange from head to toe he was eager to move beyond the pleasantries and the stats about where we had started and how many days each of us had been walking. He wanted to know about what we had learned and why I would make this trek a second time. He told us that after only a few days of his 10 day trek, he had booked another walk. At age 29 and as a young entrepreneur he has decided that hiking would be his new way of finding more balance in his life. And as quickly as he appeared he passed us, though we would both see him later in the day once we had arrived in Santiago.
We would meet a 73 year old German man who had stopped to take a photo of one of the original way markers which he informed us was more than 100 years old. This was his second Camino. After biking from his home to St. Jean Pied de Port (the traditional "starting point" in France) and then walking to Finisterre, on this Camino he still biked but not quite as far and would complete his journey from St. Jean in Santiago. He asked us where we were both from and our ages and went on to say that he felt "religion and sport are the keys to happiness. They both bring out something 'more' in us". He took a picture of me and The Dane and told me he had never met someone named Jill. I will never forget the warmth of his smile and the happiness in his eyes. They are burned into my memory.
Over the course of the first few hours of the day we took to complete that 15k, The Dane would see several people he met along the way. I on the other hand did not as I was at least 2 days ahead of the people I met early on since I jumped over O'Cebriero. I was a little bummed by this but I needed to focus on my feet. And perhaps no more so than when we reached Mote de Gozo.
Just 5k or so before the Cathedral in Santiago is the last real climb of the Camino. It is the point from which pilgrims get their first glimpse of Santiago and so this mountaintop bears the name Monte de Gozo, of "Mount of Joy". For many it is an emotional place. Each day on the Camino there is a certain amount of relief that comes from spying your destination. Sometimes you see it up on a hill, sometimes down in a valley, and sometimes it suddenly appears in the woods; but there is a rush of satisfaction, of pride, of...comfort.
My first arrival at Monte de Gozo was done in the rain and in such fog that I was unable to see the physical Cathedral. There was however a rainbow that appeared for a fleeting moment. This time there wasn't a cloud in the sky but I'd be lying if I said that I could pinpoint the Cathedral. Santiago is a sprawling city.
At Monte de Gozo there is a large monument erected to commemorate St. (Pope) John Paul II's visit to this place when he came Santiago de Compostela. Three years prior when I arrived that didn't mean too much to me, but this time it meant more given that Lino had just spent two+ weeks in Poland and had taken listeners on pilgrimage in the footsteps of JPII.
While I was there I wanted to recreate a photo I had taken on my first Camino of me jumping (for joy) at Monte de Gozo. I asked The Dane to take the picture and said a prayer that my ankles and feet would survive the jump. If not, The Dane would have to drag me the rest of the way.
My ankles survived (thank God) and The Dane and I proceeded down the hill together but it wasn't long before we decided that it was time to part ways. We would make plans to see each other in the square in Santiago the next day and although we did meet up briefly, the Square was crowded and I needed to get to confession before Mass and so this was really where we said goodbye.
And so I began that final handful of kilometers. A lot of different things ran through my head. Chiefly how grateful I was to God and my husband for getting to come back. For the people I had met both in person on the trail and for you who have traveled with me in my pocket.
That final 5k would go quickly it seemed. Perhaps too quickly. My body eager to press on, to be finished, to begin healing. My heart wanting to stay in this rich place of contemplation.
And just as that thought crossed my mind it hit me. You see, the Camino is a very special place and trying to explain to someone why you'd want to go back is to try to explain what makes it so very special. My husband kept saying to me before I left that he hoped I would "find what [I'm] looking for". I kept insisting that I wasn't in search of anything. Yes there were plenty of things in my life that have changed since my last Camino and plenty of questions I have for God about his plans for me and us, but I wasn't setting out yearning to come back with answers.
So I'm not sure I'll ever forget the moment that it hit me. What I happened to be looking at was my foot stepping up onto a sidewalk. But just like the old man's smile it is seared into my mind.
The Camino is so special to me because it is the place where I become acutely aware of God's presence and power, not just in terms of my salvation but in my every day trials.
It is where I am forced to actually do what I wish I did in the comfort of my every day life: I walk by faith. I take nothing for granted. I am grateful for the good. I am drawn even closer to Him in the bad. I am tested and I am taught. I am cared for and I care for others.
I have said many times that the Camino is a microcosm of life. Here are just a few reasons why I think so:
* We are all spiritual beings having an acutely human experience. Your value, your experience is not synonymous with that of your physical body or the things you possess. Limitations and challenges are not always visible to the naked eye and they are always changing for each one of us. You know little about the journey the person in front of or behind of you is having. Make no assumptions about the decisions you see others making.
*Humanity is a universal language. Fatigue, pain, exhaustion, frustration, compassion, joy, and laughter -- they look the same on everyone and words are not required to empathize. I will hold certain people and memories in my heart forever and they were often of people with whom I shared a language. But I'll never forget the Spaniard with whom I could not communicate verbally but for days on end we saw each other on the trail (sometimes him passing me, and sometimes me passing him), at rest stops, and at the end of the day. I saw him suffering with back pain and offered him my poles. He saw me limping and tending to my wounds and he offered me his supplies. I saw him with the smile of satisfaction when completing his day's journey, and we shared laughter when he stumbled upon me with my feet propped up on a table and a huge smile eating an ice cream in the shade. I yelled for him when he missed a turn and was going down the wrong track. And a few days later he did the same for me. Kindness is universal, too.
*The power of encouragement is truly undeniable. It can numb the pain, lift the fallen, summon strength in the weak, and make time speed by. A few words can go so very far. We need to offer more of it one another and not just when it seems necessary.
*More can be learned by listening than by talking and sometimes slowing down to walk at someone else's pace is the greatest decision you can make, or the highest compliment you can give.
*Too much anticipation is pointless. I freely admit that this is a lesson with which I struggle. I am a type-A worry wart. But perhaps in a way that hasn't resonated with me until this walk, I realized that thinking too much about what is around the bend will only rob you of the here and now. Sometimes you'll be pleased by what you find and sometimes you'll be disappointed, but either way you must continue on. To steal from Baz Luhrmann (again) "Don't worry about the future, or worry. But know that worrying is about as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday."
These and so many other reminders of how to live life and how to be a better contributor in the lives of others are learned in a unique way on the Camino. So as I walked down the steps into the Cathedral's square and turned to face that grand facade and home to the bones of the Apostle James, I wept. I cried happy tears, and grateful tears. I cried for the memories I had made and the pain I had endured. I cried sad tears for the journey being over and I cried happy tears because it had happened. And as I tried to take a selfie a stranger took this picture for me.
I took off my socks and shoes and hobbled to the pillars of an adjacent building in the back of the square where I dropped my pack, sat down, and took this one which I think tells a much better story:
After sitting there for some time I went to the pilgrim's office and collected my Compostela before I checked myself in at the nearby hotel that I stayed in last time. Its a simple but beautiful place. It is the monastery that St. Francis of Assisi founded when he did his Camino and the convent and adjoining Church still exist, although they had to sell some of the older residential buildings which have been converted to a 4-star hotel. I highly recommend it.
I ordered some room service and went to bed. The next day I would do a little shopping, go to confession and attend the 12pm Pilgrim's Mass, even though the botafumeiro would not make an appearance. (If your not familiar with it you can google it or see it in action in the movie The Way).
I didn't do all of the traditional things for a pilgrim. I didn't visit the crypt of St. James or hug the statue of him above the altar. I didn't take another tour of the Cathedral or the museum, and I didn't do another roof top tour like I did last time. Although I recommend all of these things (I did do them on my first Camino), this time around it felt like enough to just be there, to attend Mass, and to give thanks.
So before I close, please let me attempt to convey my sincere thanks to you for traveling with me. This blog was intended to keep my family aware of my physical health and to share some photos with them. It has turned out to be so much more. I simply do not have words adequate enough to express my gratitude for the love and support which you have shown me. You will never know how deeply your encouragement touched me. Not just in terms of processing the experience or grappling with the physical stresses, but also in a much longer lasting way. You have increased my faith in my fellow man and reassured me of the power of prayer. Please know that I have prayed for you and will continue to do so. I have so enjoyed traveling with you and a piece of you will always travel with me.
I leave you with the following paragraph from the Cathedral's website and the photo I took of what it references.
When you have finished, exit the Cathedral through the south door, the Platerías door.
Look at the facade.
On the mullion, between the two door arches, there is a Chi Rho, symbol of Christ.
But the letters are backwards: the Alpha has become Omega, and vice-versa.
The end becomes beginning.
The destination of The Way is now the beginning of another journey.
P.S. If you have any questions that you would like me to answer, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below and I will be happy to do so.