Long before I left Oregon to walk across Spain, even before I had purchased airfare, I had decided I would sing a song called Farthest Shore when at last I stood at end of the world – Finisterre – the literal (or at least historical) western-most beach in Europe.
I’ve referenced David Wilcox’s music on my blog before, but if you haven’t listened to this song, consider it my Camino anthem. For me it carries a potent message about what’s essential in life and what can be safely (if sometimes painfully) left behind.
I would play the song at top volume in my car going to work, picturing myself standing on the farthest shore, looking out at the ocean, and singing this song to acknowledge the changes in me and commemorate my journey’s end. I hoped by then, after seven weeks of walking, that I’d be stripped bare of the unnecessary and find solace within me at last.
What I didn’t expect all those months before my pilgrimage began was Meg.
I would have been content to laze around our pensión or sit out on the waterfront plaza sipping coffee, but now that we had finally arrived in Finisterre, Meg had other ideas. Ever the adventurer, she expressed a desire to explore the peninsula during the day and then in the evening, as I had hoped, we’d watch the sun set by the lighthouse in the time-honored tradition of pilgrims.
Even though I wasn’t feeling great and would have benefited from some rest, I wanted to spend every minute possible with Meg. Without a second thought, I took more cough medicine, laced on my walking shoes, and headed down the spiraling steps of our hostel.
Our first stop of the day was the pilgrim office to get our special Finisterre certificates. After standing in line, our credenciales were carefully inspected for the proper stamps and then we were each awarded a colorful certificate of completion.
From there, we set out across town to find the unmarked paths that connect scenic points all over the peninsula. Unlike the Camino, these were narrow and often hard to follow (even with a map). Just when we got really turned around (okay, lost), we came out of the brush and face-to-face with a tiny market enshrouded in trees. Directions were delivered at the doorway by a robust man with curly black hair. His Spanish was difficult to understand, but we thanked him and set out with only slightly more clarity than before.
Finally, we found our way and the narrow footpath proceeded between two towering walls of mossy stone from which sprang small ferns and leafy plants. It looked like something out of Alice in Wonderland. When the trail opened up to the right, we walked into a vast garden surrounded by trees. But something wasn’t right.
“Is this the trail?” I asked Meg uncertainly. It seemed a bit too manicured and open.
As we got our bearings, we heard distant woofs from far side of the field and then saw two large dogs running toward us, barking aggressively.
“I don’t think this is the trail!”
“Let’s get out of here!”
There is probably a rule about not running from a dog that is chasing you, but I didn’t care to try it. We booked out of the field and a considerable way down the narrow alley path.
I glanced behind me to discover that the dogs had stopped pursuing us. As soon as we’d left their farm, those two scruffy canines just stood on the property line and watched us, cute as you please.
“Whew! That was close.”
“Oh my God.” Adrenaline washed over my body.
“Guess we need to stick to the path!” We laughed with relief now that the danger was over.
I had never encountered loose, aggressive dogs in my seven weeks of walking and it took a few moments for the shock to wear off. On the official Camino, dogs are restrained on leads or behind fences in order to increase the safety of pilgrims. On these small footpaths around the peninsula, tying up loose pets might not be as important a consideration.
Now sticking safely to the path, we found our way to the top of a wild and windswept hill overlooking scrub pine forest with an empty, scenic beach beyond. For several minutes, our footsteps echoed on the elaborate wood walkway that allowed us to descend to the shore without disturbing the grassy dunes. Like walking a labyrinth, we were returning to the water – a symbol of the unconscious, baptism, and renewal.
Meg and I walked silently onto the sand, down to the water’s edge, and eventually walked apart, each of us lost in our own thoughts.
I gazed at the distant horizon and took a deep breath of the cool, salt air. I started to walk along the water’s edge when I noticed a tiny iridescent spiral shell at my feet. I bent to pick it up and, as I looked closely at its features, it reminded me of the path of my journey. Although I had walked a 500-mile line in one direction, the pilgrimage was about spiraling deeper into my heart and the healing embrace of the Divine.
Like the shell, my outer crust had worn away and revealed a luminous inner core. I was changing just as I had hoped.
Later, a time would come when I would spiral out again and bring my new-found self to the world, but for that moment, I simply witnessed the beauty and symbolic connection between me and this gift from the sea.
And then it hit me: I was standing on the beach where I would sing my song. After more than a year of imagining it, the moment had arrived.
But I’m not ready!
I felt afraid. Singing it would mean I was really at the end, so close to saying goodbye to Meg. So close to returning to my old life. While one part of me celebrated, the other part grieved. This moment of arrival was nothing at all like the confident, enlightened experience I had imagined.
Looking out on the waves, I took a breath and found the courage to sing anyway.
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
All our memories, knowledge, and our dreams
I couldn’t help but think of Meg with these words. Her presence on my journey had helped me leave so much behind and reveal my deepest self.
And 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
I began to cry, the words and notes squeaking out between ragged breaths. Despite what the song implied, I knew I would not leave Finisterre with Meg. No matter how treasured, I would let her go without expressing what she meant to me. The loss was palpable.
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 on the farthest shore
I will have all I need.
How could this be true? Did I really have all I needed?
Here I was on the actual farthest shore of my imaginings. Every step of the walk behind me, all my possessions left at the pensión, and a spiral seashell in my hand. Although I wanted more, perhaps I really did have everything I needed in that moment – my soul, my body, and my open, radiant heart.
Slowly, Meg and I reunited on the sand and she noticed my tear-stained face.
“I’m so… sad.” I tried to explain.
“C’mere,” she said. And I walked into her open arms.
After days of laughter, song, and shared footsteps, after all our talks and silences, I stopped fighting my inner battle for a moment and just let her hold me.
On that beach at the end of the world, I was bereft and beloved, empty and whole, both a shell and a luminous soul.
It wasn’t a picture-perfect moment, but it was a sacred one. Maybe the song was prophetic after all.