Freed from the small plane, I walked determinedly through the corridors of Dublin Airport. Over the heads of milling passengers, just past security, I saw her grin beaming from yards away. Geraldine had come from three hours away to meet me.
I moved toward my friend like a drowning person to a life raft. Never have I felt so relieved to see a familiar face. We met without saying anything, just hugging each other long and hard. I don’t know who started crying first, but her warm and tender, “Ah, Jen” burst the dam.
“I am so happy to see you,” I said, weeping into her hair.
Ger is one of my best friends on the planet. Even with her porcelain skin and dark hair, she eschews all the Irish clichés. Ger is a dyed-in-the-wool original—literary, sensitive, and hilarious, with a healthy hippie streak. Over many years and thousands of miles, we’ve nurtured a friendship despite the long-distance odds.
She gets me. And I get her. We grinned at the tears in the others’ eyes as we wiped them away.
“You look amazing,” I said, sniffling. She did. In fact, she was everything I was not—well-coiffed, beautifully made up, fashionably dressed, and wonderful-smelling. For contrast, I looked and felt like the exhausted, sickly, emotionally-spent traveler I was.
As we walked toward the airport exits, she asked me, “Are you hungry? Do you want a cup of tea? What would you like?”
I hesitated. If the Camino had taught me how to speak my truth, this would be the perfect time to voice it.
“Honestly? I’m sick. I’ve been running a fever for days and my cough won’t go away. What I really need is a doctor. I know we had plans to go out to dinner, but I don’t think I can wait to deal with this.”
Without missing a beat, Ger turned to a security guard and asked for information about the nearest medical clinic.
The Camino continued to provide; we discovered with delighted surprise that a walk-in clinic was located next to our hotel. Within a half hour, I was sitting on an examination table with a kindly Indian physician pressing a cold stethoscope to my chest.
“Breathe in deeply. And again. Again. Again.” His dark brows furrowed in concentration. As I inhaled, I could feel and hear the crackle in my lungs, and tried hard not to cough.
He stood up, draped the stethoscope around his neck, and looked into my eyes. “It sounds to me like you’ve got a spot deep in your left lung. I don’t like it. We’re going to get you on antibiotics immediately.”
I was shocked. I had already been on antibiotics just three weeks earlier for an ear infection.
“We’ll need to put you on a three-week cycle of amoxicillin just to make sure we get this out of your system.”
I dared not think about what I had risked by walking for days—possibly weeks—with a brooding lung infection.
My memory of the events of that afternoon and evening are a blur. A ride to a pharmacy with its cosmetics counter and bright lights. The glossy reception desk at the hotel. Our quiet, white-and-purple room with warm evening sunlight streaming through the large windows. What I remember most is the comfort of a familiar friend and gratitude for her presence. Ger coordinated without taking over. I just leaned in and let myself be supported. It was a tremendous gift.
Since my flight home wasn’t until the next day, it had always been our plan to stay overnight in Dublin. Given the new circumstances, we decided that rest was best and stayed in for the evening. To our delight, the hotel waived its no-room-service policy. We lounged on our beds in our pajamas, eating fettucini alfredo and drinking Cokes. As the cough medicine and antibiotics kicked in, I started to feel more like myself. Tired, but more present.
As we relaxed together, Ger asked amazing questions and listened attentively like she always does. She listened to me recount the first of my Camino stories, one after the other. They just came rolling out of me, unedited: my aches and pains, the food, the insights, my guy friends, the three amigas, my attraction to Meg, our ritual at the end of the world. Ger laughed at all the right moments and listened to the parts that were not yet sorted out.
It was both surreal and amazing to be together. We were in a no man’s land between my Camino’s end and going home. But this time was also safe harbor for me—before I had to figure out what came next. We stayed up way too late talking about every possible topic from both of our lives.
What neither of us knew at the time was that Ger would walk her own Camino within a year.
Although I knew she had been hoping to attempt it for almost a decade, she hadn’t yet set a date—and didn’t know when she would.
“Someday,” she told me.
I wanted her to know that I believed in her calling. I wanted her to know how grateful I was for her support at the end of my own pilgrimage. I’d already decided how I would convey this to her; I untied the shell I wore on my pack, the symbol of Saint James’ pilgrims.
“This is for when you go,” I told her, and handed her my single most significant possession.
It’s easy to recognize a Camino angel, but you often don’t know it when you become one yourself. She didn’t say anything at first, but later shared that this unexpected gift planted a seed. It was a sign that her time would come to be transformed by this pilgrimage. Over the years we had shared many things, but the pilgrim’s journey would bind us forever in a new and deeper way.
My fever came down overnight and I slept better than I had in weeks. In the morning we had an enormous Irish breakfast then stood outside under the hotel entrance waiting for the shuttle to take me to the airport. When it arrived, I hugged Ger tightly and thanked her for being an oasis, a life raft, and, most of all, my friend. Wet-eyed, we waved goodbye to each other through the windows of the bus. And then—nourished in mind, body, and spirit—I flew home.