When I’m on the ground in a foreign country, I’m fine, but I get pretty stressed out when it comes to the actual travel. At dinner on my final night in Santiago, I shared my nervousness with Don.
“I’m not sure I can find the bus stop that goes to the airport.” I felt silly. I’d walked across Spain by now, but itineraries with hard-and-fast schedules give me hives.
“It’s easy to find,” Don said in his soothing Scottish-Kiwi accent. “It’s just a few blocks from where you’re staying,”
“Right. You sure?”
“Yep.” He explained reassuringly how to find it.
“Okay. I just worry I’ll miss my flight if I don’t get to it in time. But I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
“I’d be happy to take you there if you want.”
“Oh, wow. If it’s no trouble, I would be so grateful.” What a gentleman. We chose a time to meet that would give me spaciousness to get my flight and a chance to truly say goodbye to the Camino.
The end of my trip had come. Ready or not, I would leave Spain by the end of the day.
* * *
In the morning, I dawdled over coffee in the albergue‘s modern kitchen, helping myself to my third slice of pan tostada with jam. I felt lazy, even reluctant, to get the show on the road.
The cathedral still beckoned and I could ignore it no longer. I hadn’t yet visited Saint James’ tomb and I wanted to fulfill my promise to pray for loved ones and my Camino angels there.
Across the spacious plaza, I walked past new pilgrims arriving, hugging, and wiping away tears—just the way I had done a week previous.
As I entered the grand cathedral, I crossed myself with holy water from the large font. My footsteps echoed as I walked between the wooden pews to the front. Then, behind the central altar, I descended a short staircase into a narrow corridor. To one side was a glass panel; I kneeled before it on the long, red velvet cushion, facing the remains of the saint.
Despite looking reverent with head bowed and hands clasped, my mind chattered. It murmured skeptically about whether Saint James’ actual relics were contained in the silver reliquary before me. My mind turned to chafing about Santiago’s role as a violent patron and the brutal death of thousands of innocents. I wanted to get up and leave.
But wait. Stay here. I took a breath.
Even if you don’t believe in killing people wantonly the way he’s portrayed, perhaps the Moorslayer is an aspect of the Divine, like the goddess, Kali. Even if the Reconquista was a horrifying reality, James can be a symbol of ruthless choices, of cleansing, and purification. These are divine qualities worth meditating on.
After resisting this saint for more than a year, I had found a way at last to relate to him. His gifts of purification and clarity could be very useful after these last trying days.
So I stayed. Quiet at first, I addressed James, the man, the brother of John. It’s amazing how much help I’ve received on this journey. I’ve made so many pilgrim friends who taught me. I’ve been touched by so many generous Spanish people along the way. Unexpected angels have given me support, guidance, and encouragement. All the while, I’ve had the love and prayers of supporters at home. Grateful tears began flowing. I covered my face with my hands. I can’t believe how generous the Divine is. How much I’ve received.
I sensed the presence of an enormous, strong spirit with me, silently bearing witness to my gratitude. Was it him? James, I promised to pray for them, these generous souls. Here are their names…Will you intercede for them? Please bring them blessings the way they’ve blessed me. Let my life be a gift to them when I return.
My journey is ending. I’m afraid of the things I need to let go of when I return home. I pray for myself too, for your inspiration and clarity to help me make important choices.
I kneeled a while longer in silence, wiping away my tears. Then, feeling restored and deeply grateful, I bowed in the direction of the remains and rose from the kneeler. I made the sign of the cross over my body and ascended the steps into the hushed reverence of the cathedral.
* * *
With my pack fully loaded, I sat in the albergue gathering area waiting for Don to show up.
I stared absently at the guest book on the coffee table. It was open to the page where I’d inscribed my manifesto with intricate illustrations in the hopes that Meg might see my words.
A shadow moved across me. I looked up and saw her face: Meg!
I was less than an hour from leaving, and here she was—an unexpected reunion. We hugged and suddenly, all the words tumbled out at once, overlapping.
“How was your day in Finisterre?”
“Weird. How was MuxÍa?” I countered, grinning. “Were the people ugly, like Moses said?”
She laughed. “I saw Katrin at the albergue and she told me you were with an old man?”
“Yeah!” I laughed. “Moses and I went to find you, but we never saw you. He wanted to give you una sorpresa.”
“It’s no wonder you didn’t find me! It took me like eight hours to get there. I stopped on a beach for hours to journal. Then I danced. I felt so happy.”
I grinned. “He took me to the church and the sacred stones. He’s a crazy driver. It was hilarious.” We laughed like old times and then I started coughing.
“You’re sick,” she said, concerned. “You have to take care of yourself.”
“I know. I’m leaving soon. I’m going to a doctor as soon as I can.”
My eyes drifted to the guest book that lay open on the coffee table between us.
“Did you draw that?” she asked in her lilting accent, pointing at the book.
I nodded, heart thumping. She picked it up and looked closely.
“Showoff!” she teased. “So fancy!”
I grinned and then asked, “Did you read it?”
“I saw it earlier today. I thought it was you who’d done it.”
She paused to look again at my words. After a moment, she looked up at me and said, “It makes me happy to read this.”
Her sincere smile and kind eyes made me believe her.
I’d written it to thank her, but the words described a life I hadn’t invited her to share. If the attraction I felt had been mutual, she was taking my words in stride. If it hadn’t, she was being the encouraging friend I had come to cherish. Either way, I was grateful that my sharing had been received by the one I had intended—the most important person I’d met on my Camino.
Soon after, Don appeared, ready to accompany me to the airport shuttle bus. Meg and I exchanged quick hugs and a final buen Camino. I put on my pack for the last time, and I opened the door to exit my last albergue. Now my journey home would begin. My first leg: Dublin.
* * *
After take-off, I looked out the plane window. From the air I recognized Santiago’s historic center and Galicia’s coastline in the distance. How small it all looked from the air. How long it had taken me to walk all that way. I had changed so much. How on earth would I make sense of everything that had taken place over this life-changing seven weeks?
Soon enough, I would find out how my prayers to Saint James would be answered. As the jet climbed higher, I got one last glance at the world I’d known for forty–nine days—and then it disappeared behind the clouds.