Well here we are – at the end of the road for this pilgrim. Two years ago I watched a stupid movie and the next thing you know I’m telling folks I’m going to walk across Spain just like Martin Sheen did in “The Way.”
His way was nothing like my way, but that’s Hollywood for you.
I woke up this morning a jumble of nerves – not knowing if I was excited, resigned, or proud. I really couldn’t define my feelings.
And then I got on the road – The Way of St James – for the last 22 kilometers to Santiago de Compostela.
And I gotta tell you it was like a carnival and I loved it!
The path was packed – at times three and four people across. Seems the tour buses were letting people out so they could experience being a pilgrim! Yep, a five euro bus fare, a quick stroll, no blisters, and you too can waltz into town all high and mighty….. But you know me – I’m not one to judge!
I savored every step, pinching myself that this was it – at long last my fucking Spanish Schlep was coming to an end.
The walk to the end of all ends – the Cathedral in Santiago- is anything but spectacular.
I’ve walked across this entire country and there’s not a bronze shell or yellow arrow to mark the way that I could have missed. There’s no way Stevie Wonder could have missed the markings up to this point. But the minute we get to the Santiago- sorry pilgrim, you’re on your own. I guess it was the final bitch slap we get for thinking we’ve got this thing down.
And then I saw them – the spirals reaching high and higher – up, up, up into this picture perfect blue sky – and I knew I was close.
Snaking my way through the old town, I had to ask several people where was the Cathedral, they all pointed “that way” and so I went until I got there. And there to greet us – bagpipes and scaffolding!!!
Ok not what I imagined, but I was overwhelmed with emotion, I started balling, that heaving, ugly “break up” girl cry – yep bubbling snot and all – just like in the movies.
And I didn’t care one shit. As I looked around, everyone else was having their own ugly cries too – even those who just caught the bus and schlepped 10 kms.
I sat my skinnier ass down and ordered me a Kalimotxo and toasted myself. I must have radiated pride because I heard a woman say in that classic Irish brogue, “So, did you just finish the walk yourself?”
“Ahhh, and there’s no one here to hug you….
“Not yet, my husband is driving, but he’s lost”
“Ahhh dearie, that won’t do, let me give you a hug right now!”
And so while my husband was desperately trying to drive his way into the old town, my surrogate cheerleader, Mary from Mayo County, gave me a congratulations hug.
And I cried again.
Shortly thereafter my husband arrived and we celebrated with more wine and lunch.
A couple of hours later, I was standing in line for two hours at the pilgrim office to get my Compostela aka the “Well Done” certificate.
Yeah only on the Camino do they make you stand in line for hours to get a certificate to certify that you walked the walk.
But here it is – all in Latin, so hopefully it says I’m an official pilgrim.
I splurged the whole two extra Euros to get another fancy piece of paper – something in Spanish that hopefully says I walked from France to Santiago.
Certificates in hand I ran to the cathedral for the 7:30pm pilgrims’ mass to witness the swinging of the Botafumerio.
The Botafumeiro, or as I like to call it, the Joey Buttafucco, is suspended from a pulley mechanism in the dome of the ancient church and about eight priests pull on ropes to make this giant burning incensed-filled urn swing back and forth over the heads of all us sinners.
They announce multiple times – in multiple languages – not to take photos or videos during the service, but I think the photo will prove, no one listens to anyone anymore.
And so what …. It truly was awe-inspiring and a tad humbling…. even for me!
The mass was in Spanish so I had plenty of time to reflect on my purpose for doing this Camino – besides, you know, Martin Sheen made it look so easy and so fun.
I didn’t know it at the beginning, but now I know why I’ve marched across Spain – It’s for my girls – the loves of my life.
They’re now off to college, their worlds are getting bigger, and more exciting, and further away from me. And that is as it should be.
I was there when they each took their first steps, but I won’t be an eyewitness to their next big steps. The ones that will take them into adulthood.
There will be their first real jobs, their first true romances, marriages and possibly children.
There will be happy times, hardships and heartaches, and hopefully I will be there to give them comfort and support, but who knows.
I was 40 when they were delivered, so chances are I’ll be slowing down as their lives ramp up.
I have this awful movie that plays out in my mind way too often – it’s of their childhood, and it’s set on fast forward. I so wish I could press pause or even the rewind button and go back, relive each and every one of those days – they were the best days of my life and they’re gone.
I’m not a moron I know there are many great days – hell, great years to come – but they’ll be different.
Now I have to share them – with their lovers, their school, their work, their friends, and their busy lives – and I’ve never been good at sharing.
It seems funny that I feel so close to them here in Spain thousands of miles away from them, but I do.
I listen to their favorite songs and I remember the concerts, car rides, or just the background music playing in our kitchen when we were all living at home together.
I now know why this Spanish Schlep was important for me to complete.
I will not always be there for my girls but I want them to know that no matter what life hands them – they can move forward, move ahead, and get to where they want to be, get to be where they need to be – by just taking one step at a time. And I know no matter where their lives take them – I will always be with them – in person or in their hearts – encouraging them every fucking step of the way.
13 Miles walked today
(Arca/O Pedrozo – Santiago de Compostela)
505.8 Miles traveled
Countless Miles to go on my next adventure
505.8 Miles between St Jean Pied de Port, France and Santiago de Compostela, Spain
(Note: 3 “Stages” Skipped – Over the entire course, I’m guessing I didn’t walk about 35-40 miles)
1 Bus ride
1 Taxi ride
1 Emergency Ride with my darling husband