My body felt achy. I noticed it as soon as I woke up. As I pulled my green hiking shirt over my head, the fabric slipping over the skin on my back caused mild pain, which usually happens when I’m running a fever. My cheeks were a little flushed and warm. In the days previous, I’d had hints that something was amiss. Over dinner the previous night, I was barely hungry and noticed a cough-inducing tickle in my chest and a mild sore throat. Anyone could connect the dots.
But I couldn’t imagine not walking with Meg. I wouldn’t dream of missing it.
So, after breakfast and a teary farewell to the guys, Meg and I headed out into Santiago’s streets to find the Camino once again, this time toward Finisterre. If the Church is attempting to prevent pilgrims from discovering the Camino’s pagan roots, the signage getting out of town was remarkably effective. We wandered, hopeful, connecting the sporadic arrows and tiny blue signs along streets, through parks, and eventually into the countryside.
Pausing on a hilltop to look back over Santiago, we were treated to a soft pastel landscape of hills and the glorious cathedral back lit by the rising sun. I was thrilled to be on the Camino again, walking again. So delighted that she’d chosen me to be in her company.
On a sloping wet road in the forested suburbs, we encountered an older American man named Jerry who had gotten even more lost than we had getting out of the city; he was just stepping out of a local’s car. Jerry couldn’t have looked more sheepish discovering fellow pilgrims at that moment. He stammered an explanation of why he’d accepted the ride, and although I had no judgment, he seemed to think he’d broken some unwritten rule.
After a brief chat, Jerry asked if he could walk with us for a while to get his bearings. This is one of those areas I struggled with on the Camino. I didn’t really want his company. If I was going to walk to Finisterre with a fever, I only wanted Meg’s company and none other. But he seemed disoriented, ill at ease, and a little lonely, so despite my resistance, I looked at Meg, who nodded almost imperceptibly and said yes. I figured he’d go his own way eventually.
In the presence of this new person, especially an American, I directed the conversation toward superficial topics about where he started, how long he’d walked, and where he was from. Except for Scott and Gary, my reluctance to spend time with Americans had been well-founded thus far for they seemed unnecessarily loud and overbearing. Behind us, I could hear a rowdy group of pilgrims coming up, laughing raucously and shouting, and could only assume that they too were American.
Imagine my surprise when this group of tall, athletic, young men enveloped us and shouted practically in unison, “JERRY!!!” The older man’s demeanor changed instantly into a beaming smile as his long-lost friends gave him back slaps and laughed. With a small nod of thanks, Jerry and his entourage headed off at a clip down the road, never to be seen again. Meg and I blinked in astonished amusement.
Good job, Camino angels!
Later, in the thick of the shady eucalyptus forest, Meg pointed excitedly at a good omen – a hole in the dirt on the side of the path.
It was a hive of bumblebees! The fuzzy creatures had carved a cozy sanctuary into the thick dirt of a vertical hillside. I had never seen a bumblebee hive before, only honeybees or yellow jackets, and we stood there marveling at the sight of them coming and going industriously. This discovery would become prescient for both of us as, a year later, Meg and I would have new relationships with bees.
As the morning progressed, my coughing increased and I started looking out for the farmacias’ green neon plus sign, when one conveniently appeared at the edge of a tiny town. I stocked up on ibuprofen for the fever and the same cough-suppressant drops I’d gotten back in Hospital de Orbigo. Both started to work almost immediately and I started feeling a little better. Meg was very understanding about the extra stop and I felt grateful for her support.
Because of my zombie-like state, I hardly remember the scenery, but what stands out most was the ongoing and soul-revealing conversation between us. Meg and I swapped stories and listened empathically about our families and some of the struggles we experienced as daughters and sisters. We talked about past romantic relationships and the challenges of loving another person. I felt like I could tell her anything.
We touched on music and I mentioned a song I planned to sing at the end of my journey, when I finally released my rough and craggy rock heart into the Atlantic. Coincidentally, I had picked up this rock heart on the afternoon Meg and I had walked together to Leon, but I had carried the song with me from home.
“Do you want to hear it?” I asked, tentatively.
I bravely sang from my heart this song by David Wilcox.
We were there in the woods by the water
Left our packs up against that willow tree
We dove right in, wearing just what we were born with
And our memories, knowledge, and our dreams
As I swam away from our possessions
I imagined they were gone forever more
And for once I was glad that all I treasured
would still be with me as I reached the other shore
So let me dive into the water
Leave behind all that I’ve worked for
Except what I remember and believe
And when I stand at the farthest shore
I will have all I need.
Meg made thoughtful noises as I sang, taking in the meaning of the lyrics. I didn’t feel a trace of my usual self-consciousness or fear that I might be imposing on her. She seemed genuinely open to whatever I had to share. I felt seen and accepted and giddy as I finished singing.
“Wow,” Meg said. “All you’d have to do is change the name of the tree from willow to pine.”
My heart fluttered. “Isn’t it perfect?”
The song could have been about Meg, I thought. Did she know? And then I heard that voice saying again, No no no. You can’t feel this. Don’t even wonder.
That heart rock, the fist-sized chunk of granite I carried in my backpack, the one I envisioned throwing into the waves? It was a symbol of my refusal to let love in. Something had to break open in me before I could be transformed from the inside and, considering the risks, I wasn’t going there willingly.
For now, as hard as I was trying to manage my physical maladies, I would fight harder still to keep up appearances that all was well in my heart.