I was up with the first rustlings of other pilgrims on this final day. It was 5 AM – still pitch black but I was dressed and standing on the road outside the alburgue in a matter of 15 minutes. I said a prayer of thanks for the journey and affirmed that whatever insights were wanting to come to me, that I would be fully receptive to hear them on this, the 34th day – the day of completion.
I dug my pinlight out of my pouch for in less than 10 minutes I was deep in the woods again. Thick dense darkness. I couldn’t even see whether the path was strewn with a haphazard mosaic of stones or smooth dirt so I gingerly stepped and searched with the small beam for the guiding arrows. Had to be a metaphor here regarding the darkness. For one thing we all know that it’s temporary and second, if you don’t resist it, your eyes begin to adjust so that you CAN see enough to sustain your way. My eyes did adjust enough to help me in walking and yes, as in life, the darkness did eventually lift.
There were the kilometer markers 17, then 16.5, then 16….
It would all be over in a matter of hours – the walking part anyway. The spiritual revelation aspect of this was only just beginning.
What had I learned so far?
- worrying about the future is useless; the only thing we are empowered to work with is the now.
- the physical body simply obeys what you tell it – you tell it it is inadequate then it will perform inadequately. You tell it that its potential is unlimited, then you get unlimited experiences of physical output. You tell it that it’s too old, then it performs weakly. you tell it that it keeps improving with age, then it does. Pure and simple.
- what I may lack in speed I certainly make up in stamina
- I am so much more than any labeled physical diagnosis
- I am polymorphic – no one thing at all times nor is anything ever set in stone. Some days I am an introvert, some days I am filled with extroverted tendencies. Some days certain walking styles will work, some days they won’t. Some days you feel strong, some days you don’t. None of it is right or wrong – it just is.
- Regardless of cultural heritage, people are the same all over the world. They want to be seen and heard. They want to feel safe and find their tribe of acceptance. They want to do things that expand their quest for meaning and they want to feel as if they matter.
- I am, no doubt, the reincarnated soul of an explorer – I lust for adventure and growth that only seeing the world seems to satisfy. Part gypsy, part seeker, part daredevil….I could go on for the remainder of my years combing the world and yet my needs are extraordinarily simple – a blend of seemingly incongruent traits that somehow compliment.
- Creature comforts are certainly wonderful AND sometimes they hinder the deeper experience.
- I’m now 50 years old and I feel like I have just begun to understand life, myself and the infinite possibilities before me.
- No one will give me what I am unwilling to give myself (No one CAN give me what I am unwilling to give myself)
…. and on and on and on.
Suberb type scenery began to appear over the next two hours and I walked under the flight path of the Santiago airport even though there was probably a good 10 kilometers to go.
I realized that I had walked every single step of The Camino. Even that day into Burgos when so many opted for buses through a massive industrial area, I walked it. The very thing I thought I would be tempted to do, I had averted and I’d stayed dedicated to walking every inch.
The kilometer markers started to disappear and the area known as Monte de Gozo finally appeared. There was lots of people hanging around some post modern sculpture, grabbing the first available coffee from a roadside stand and looking or waiting for others. After a quick break, I crested the road and saw Santiago – a big sprawling city down below. I could not see any spires to indicate a cathedral but I knew that it was tucked in there somewhere. So down, down, down I went towards the city, crossing into traffic and seeing the city sign announcing that you were here.
I followed the shell markers through the streets for another 30 minutes, winding my way around and waiting for that first glimpse.
And then a moment I will always remember, I turned the corner onto a descending street and saw one of the spires of the Cathedral – home. I choked up and started to softly cry.
You did it David – you did it. You hiked the Camino. Closer and closer I moved towards the direction of the massive church. A huge banner hung across a narrowed cobbled street announcing some medieval festival. The directions began to disappear and I suddenly found myself in the throws of a carnival type atmosphere with booth after booth of food, trinkets and wares. I was now a bit turned around in the midst of all this and looked up for others who might be pilgrims. I got a few nudges from locals and kept turning and turning in the midst of this sea of revelry until I suddenly saw the back of the cathedral.
I kept following it around about to turn into the plaza when I ran right into Paulo. I lost it and we hugged and hugged and told each other congratulations. He pointed me in the direction of the plaza where I could take off my backpack and do the traditional laying down on the ground. You lay down on the ground and look up at the cathedral – signifying your willingness to look at your life now from a different perspective.
It was a beautiful day and the 11’ish morning sun in the sky was directly behind one of the cathedral spires giving it an amazing back light. I laid on the stone of the plaza and breathed – deep inhales of gratitude for my safe arrival, for life, for everything – grateful for this particular spot on earth that had absorbed the gratitude and relief of countless pilgrims throughout the ages. Like the Bodhi tree, Mt. Calvary, Mecca it deserved it’s title as sacred.
I eventually checked into the pilgrim’s office next to the cathedral and received my Compostella – my document of completion – then attended the noon mass honoring all the pilgrims that arrived yesterday after the mass and this morning. I couldn’t understand a word of it but it was emotional and thrilling to be there as an honoree.
Connecting with Mark, finding a hostal right off the square and cleaning up, the rest of the day was a blur of hugs, greetings, celebration and food all while strolling among the street vendors; listening to live music and sharing stories and resisting some emotional good-byes.
This was it, the culmination of a ten year dream and I somehow knew that this particular adventure, walking the Road to Santiago, would be unparalled in scope and meaning with any thing else I might encounter in this lifetime. And how perfect, for the road of my personal legend as Paulo Cuelho often refers, is a varied and mysterious one.
“To realize one’s Personal Legend is a person’s only real obligation. All things are one. And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” Paulo Cuelho
A deep, abiding thanks to all of you who followed my journey, who wrote words of encouragement, said prayers and knew the highest and best with and for me each and every kilometer.
Blessed Be and Love, David