On a narrow, dusty path, I followed the woman who was my heart’s undoing. Meg and I had walked side-by-side since Santiago and we were finally reaching the very end together. Wispy clouds raced above us as we proceeded to the 0.0km sign, past the lighthouse, and to the rocky point of Cape Finisterre. We could walk no further.
Located on the Atlantic in northwest Spain, Finisterre means “end of the world.” Many mark the journey’s end with time-honored traditions full of symbolism. One is burning a piece of clothing in a pit reserved for that purpose. Another is watching the sun set. The very brave take a dip in the frigid water. All are rituals symbolic of closure, purification, and renewal.
To honor these ourselves, Meg and I searched for a west-facing spot from which to watch the sun set at this sacred place.
Tucked away in the wind-beaten heather, we found an enormous rock with a low seat just wide enough for two. As we settled into the sheltered nook, we felt the wind subside and the warm glow of the evening sun on our faces.
“How do you want to do this?” she asked. We’d already discussed our ritual options and rejected sock-burning in the smoky pit. Instead, we improvised a unique-to-us idea.
“Let’s write down all the things we’re leaving behind here and then burn them, as a way of letting them go.”
She nodded. Tendrils of dark hair danced around her face as she opened her journal, stared off into the distance, and began to write.
We had both been journaling daily and, unlike many pilgrims, we’d rejected carrying even a camera. I loved that we had this tech-freedom in common. I opened my own journal, feeling slightly distracted by the sensation of our arms touching and her beautiful presence beside me.
“Choosing fear over love,” I wrote. “Judging others and myself harshly. Staying small. Not trusting Divine guidance. Withholding my truth. The belief that I have to settle.” I wanted to leave so much behind; my former, smaller self no longer fit me. I had Meg to thank for awakening my authenticity.
A few moments later, we both sighed with satisfaction, and I sensed it was time to do what came next: setting them alight. But she surprised me.
“Do you want to share what we wrote?”
I felt a cool splash of fear in my belly.
Could I risk the intimacy of exposing my shame, my secrets, the dark and unacceptable parts of myself? We had already shared so much.
Her blue eyes looked into mine and I knew there was no safer place to lay bare my soul. I read my list to her with a catch in my voice, and she honored me by sharing her own. I was deeply moved by the experience of being known and so accepted.
Tearing our lists into strips, we made a tiny bonfire in a natural depression in our rock. She flicked the blue lighter over and over, setting fire to our papers. Within moments, our confessions were ash. Released forever.
As the feather-light fragments took to the air, a song came to mind from my Church-going days. I risked again and sang:
We rise again from ashes, from the good we’ve failed to do.
We rise again from ashes to create the world anew.
If all our world is ashes, then must our lives be true –
An offering of ashes, an offering to You.
My voice quavered with emotion. With her beside me and my secrets absolved, I felt like I could fly.
The wind began to whip and it got cooler, so we hunkered under my enormous rain poncho to stay warm. As we watched the sun progress toward the glittering sea, we were united with the millions of pilgrims since the ancient Celts who had done the same.
The sun lowered, dimming the lights, and turning everything pink. She surprised me again.
“This is so romantic,” she said.
Wait… It is? I was speechless. What was she saying? For days, I had only been thinking of my own feelings. Did she mean…
If this were a love story, I would have looked deeply into her eyes to read a message there, smoothed the tendrils of hair from her face, and kissed her tenderly.
But I didn’t. I couldn’t.
Instead, I sat very still, looking out at the waves, and tried to keep breathing evenly. I said nothing.
“Do you and Mary ever watch the sun set?” she asked, barely audible over the wind.
I hesitated. I tried to recall at least one time we’d done something romantic like that. “No, not that I can remember.”
A moment passed.
“How far do you live from the ocean?”
“Just an hour.”
I willed myself not to look at her. Was she really saying what I thought?
For the next year, I would replay this conversation over in my mind wondering what she meant. Wondering if I’d made the right choice. Wondering if I would have been happier giving in to this attraction. But there was no kiss. No confession. I could find no way to risk.
Eventually, after a lot of soul searching, I would come to know that Meg was a messenger, a Camino angel whose poignant question was simply, unapologetically this: Are you living the life you want? And if you aren’t, what are you going to do about it?
I swallowed my uncertainty and breathed, trying to not think about the fact that we were spending our final day together. It took every ounce of courage to believe that it would be okay somehow.
Slowly, as the sun dipped below a bank of clouds, beams of yellows and oranges radiated into the sky from the cold Atlantic.
A young German pilgrim approached us with a bottle of red wine and plastic cups.
“For to celebrate?” he asked, smiling and eyebrows raised.
We laughed gratefully as he poured each of us a cup and offered us my favorite cookies. Delighted by his generosity, we toasted him before he left – Prost! Then we toasted each other and our pilgrimage of more than 500 miles. I couldn’t believe it was really over.
We sipped in silence, both of us pensive. Looking out on the darkening water, I noticed a fishing vessel as it crossed the sea below, leaving a wake behind it.
“Where do you suppose that boat’s going?” I wondered aloud.
“That’s our ship of fears,” she said, “sailing away forever.”
I took a deep breath and felt the magic of her words. The possibility. I loved her for saying it.
Slowly, the horizon became a thin line of dark gray clouds with a halo of deep orange above. We watched until the skies were almost dark.
Then I heard an unmistakable sound far below us.
“Are those dolphins?” I asked, hushed and astonished. “Oh my God. I love dolphins!”
“I think I just heard dolphins! What a perfect ending to this day!”
I hopped up from our seat to scan down the bluff. I heard the sound again, faintly, but I couldn’t see anything in the water. The sound seemed closer somehow and then, in the thick gorse brush, I saw them.
I started laughing.
“It’s goats!” I said, barely getting out the words.
I had mistaken their high-pitched bleating for dolphin calls.
“Yes, a flock of wild goats!”
Meg and I lost all composure. We stood, doubled over and laughing until our stomachs ached. I wiped tears of mirth from my eyes. Our perfect, awkward, almost-romantic day summed up in this hilarious mistake.
Yes, life is meaningful and amazing and deep, but it is also hilarious and wily. Don’t assume anything. Dolphins, of all things!
The air felt somehow cleansed by our ringing laughter.
Under a radiant moon, we walked and laughed our way in the dark, back to our pensión with the sound of the waves in our ears.
* * *
More than a year would pass before I began living the life Meg challenged me to seek. Truthfully, it would be a whole year before I felt certain my choice that day had been the right one.
Meg’s presence was an unexpected gift on my journey. I felt profound gratitude for the many important lessons I learned from her during our last days on the Camino. I always will.
And then, the next day I let her go. That’s when my journey really started.