After two years of almost-silence, Meg emails me to say she’s thinking about leaving London to relocate to the US and planning a cross-country tour of organic farms. She asks, “Do you think I could see you while I’m in Oregon?”
Meg was a Camino archangel to me. Meeting her changed the course of my life as we walked together from Santiago to Finisterre. For many reasons, I was afraid to tell her at the time what she meant to me or how instrumental her example was in making major changes in my life.
Because of this, you can imagine the excitement I feel when she parks her truck in our driveway a few months later and walks up to the house. I can hardly believe it. It’s the real Meg. Not the woman I conjured up for so many months after we walked together, nor the one I pined for and missed, but the living, breathing soul on a new adventure. She is every bit as beautiful as I remembered, but I’m more grounded now. Content. Happy.
Meg stays with us for four days, meeting Mary, our friends, and hanging out. She’s been on the road for weeks and seems grateful for the warm hospitality. To me, her visit feels like an opportunity to bring things to completion somehow. Instead of the hike I planned, we decide to take a mini road trip together to my favorite wilderness retreat center whose main attraction are its hot spring-fed soaking pools.
* * *
On the drive up, we pass scenic gorges, rivers, and thick forests and reminisce about our shared journey and talk about what we learned on the Camino.
“I discovered my best self in Spain,” I tell her. “I felt strong and confident and happy. Walking with the guys was amazing because I realized how simple life could be. How easy. It was so liberating for me, ever the control freak.”
She laughs. There’s more I want to say, but I hesitate. Can I?
“And then I met you. I had so much fun walking with you out of Atapuerca into Burgos, but didn’t think I’d ever see you again. One of the things that impressed me was your clear desire to walk alone. So, when we met again in Santiago, and you said you wanted to walk with me, I was shocked—and thrilled.”
“I’m sure,” she says, smiling.
“I was! Meg. . .” If I learned anything from my time with Meg, it was the importance of telling the truth. Keeping silent nearly destroyed me. I want her to know how much she changed my life, and this might be my only chance to say it. “Look. Here’s the whole story. . .” My mouth is dry. “I felt so attracted to you.”
From the corner of my eye, I see her look out the window. We’re driving over rutted road in the wilderness, and the truck bounces around suddenly. “Is this where you drive us off the cliff?” she asks. “Like Thelma and Louise?” We both burst out laughing.
“It’s nothing like that. It’s just. . .” How can I say this so she can hear it? “I met this woman on the Camino, and in all my life I have never been so powerfully attracted to another person—physically or energetically. I walked with her for five days and the feeling just got stronger. I was awakened by her. That woman was you.”
She doesn’t say anything for a moment, as if digesting my words. “But. . . wait. . . but you’ve been with other people.”
“I know. I know it doesn’t make sense. I can’t explain it. It’s like I woke up for the first time.” I need to slow down, so I take a breath. “What I felt for you was physical, but it was also energetic, like a soul connection. It shocked me awake. I’ve never felt anything like it in my life.”
“Yeah. And at the same time, I was also terrified. Of acting on it, of upsetting you, of hurting Mary. So I did everything I could to push it down, not let it show.”
“I had no idea.”
“You really didn’t?” I believe her, but I’m surprised.
“No.” She shakes her head earnestly.
“Wow, I guess I’m better at hiding my feelings than I thought.”
She laughs. “When I like someone, I’m always convinced they know.” I grin back. Isn’t that the way?
“When I came back home, nothing in my life felt the same. It took a long time to understand, but I had to figure out how to make myself happy. I didn’t know what was going on for you, but even if you felt the same, it isn’t fair to put the responsibility of my happiness on you. That’s not healthy or even right. I had to do the work myself. In the last year or so, I’ve gotten a lot clearer about my path . . . I learned so much from you, Meg. I’ll always be grateful.”
Now we’re parked at the retreat center office. We can check in at any time and go soak, but she’s still sitting here with me, listening intently.
“I’ve always wanted to ask you.” In for a penny, in for a pound. “I was kind of confused . . . when we were watching the sunset at Finisterre, you said ‘this is romantic,’ and I’ve always wondered . . .”
“Oh,” she interrupts. “Oh, yeah,” a grin spreads across her face. “I was just saying, you know, it was so beautiful there, and that guy came over and gave us wine. I was just thinking it would be a great thing to do on a date.”
“Well, that’s what I thought!” I laugh. “But then you started asking about whether Mary and I ever watched the sun set and how far we lived from the ocean. I was all like, ‘What does she mean? Is she saying what I think?'” At the time, I wanted to believe she was hinting we should be together.
“Oh, man.” We’re both smiling.
“I have to tell you, Meg, it took every ounce of effort I had not to kiss you just then. I forced myself to stare straight out at the ocean and not look at you. I couldn’t. If I had—I mean, I wasn’t sure how you felt, but I also didn’t want to hurt Mary.”
She looks at me. “Does she know about all this?”
“God, she must hate me.”
“No. She doesn’t, actually. You didn’t do anything.” She laughs. “In fact, Mary and I had some good talks when you said you might be coming to visit. She said, ‘What kind of relationship would this be if I kept you from spending time with someone? Meg was a really important person on your Camino. I won’t interfere with that.’”
“I wonder what I would have done if you had kissed me.”
Her idle musing makes me pause, but I know with all my heart that things happened as they were meant to. “I didn’t really know what was happening for you. I couldn’t risk it. I guess the dolphins were a good distraction.”
“Oh, my God! The goats!” Meg lets out a joyous laugh, remembering how I had heard a sound I mistook for dolphins in the ocean. They were actually bleating wild goats on the cliff below us. “That was so crazy!”
I’m grinning from the memory, but also with the pure and utter relief of having told the truth and requesting hers. I’m at peace. Now I know.
“So, I’ve shared a lot,” I say. “I can’t tell you how thankful I am for you listening. I’m curious how you feel about what I’ve said.”
Something about her demeanor changes, becomes softer. Is she touched that I ask her this? “I just had no idea that was going on for you. No idea. You hid it well!”
“That’s not necessarily a good thing.” I smile. That was part of the lesson too. I can’t hide anymore. I have to be myself.
“So, now you’re over it.” I can’t tell if her words are a question or a statement.
“Well. . .” It won’t help anything to tell her how I thought about her every day for more than a year. It won’t change anything to tell her how I forced myself to stop playing the “what if” game because I might literally have gone crazy. A soul mate shows up to wake you up; use the lessons and you’ll transform, but try to trap the lesson-giver, and you’ll both be miserable. “I will always think you’re amazing,” I say from the heart. These aren’t the right words, but they’re enough. “Wanna go check in?”
“Sure,” she says. So we do.
* * *
After six weeks of walking the Camino, my heart broke wide open. Only then, when Meg showed up, was I ready for the unflinching message she brought me: Are you living the life you want? And if not, what are you going to do about it?
Meg was a smart, curious, and witty messenger. The lessons she transmitted were powerful: speak your truth, be who you are without apology, be adventurous, and listen deeply. So deep was my need to hear these that I confused the message with messenger. I couldn’t see a way to live the lessons without her in my life. I was very lost for a long time before I came to understand this: Meg showed up on my path to awaken me, but she was not the awakening itself.
The attraction I felt for Meg almost destroyed my marriage. Keeping it a secret made it worse. In the year that followed my Camino, I discovered my wife is made of far stronger stuff than I ever imagined. Mary’s love for me and her belief in our relationship carried us through many painful, distant days. She waited me out as I unearthed the Camino’s insights and finally found the courage to live daily what I learned from Meg: speak the truth, laugh, be passionate, and most of all, live!
Through that difficult process, we didn’t just save our marriage, I reclaimed my life.
* * *
Seeing Meg again somehow brings everything full circle.
It’s early autumn and a perfect blue-sky day. We spend it eating delicious meals, soaking in natural hot springs, and talking about Meg’s current adventures. Later, we sit in silence under scented cedars and breathe the cool air by the river. As the day of laughter and conversation draws to a close, I ask her if she wants me to make good on the back rub offer I’d mentioned a few days before.
“Yeah!” she says, almost scoffing.
“I just want to assure you my intention is totally clean.” This is true.
I crouch behind her, resting my hands above her scapulas when I learn her secret. Though she doesn’t say a word, her body tells me: it’s been years since someone has touched her lovingly. Her shoulders feel like a tortoise shell, impenetrable.
“Do you tend to carry your tension in your shoulders?” I ask.
She exhales abruptly, “Yeah.”
“It feels like you’re carrying a lot.”
We barely talk, but for those fifteen minutes I get to give her something she’s actually willing to receive. Her body gradually loosens, but this tension seems at odds with the openness, playfulness, and spontaneity I see in her.
And it makes me wonder: do we ever really know anything about a person beyond what we project onto them? For all the time Meg and I spent together in Spain, and the countless hours I’ve thought about her since we were last together, I don’t really know who she is. I feel sad for her unspoken struggle. And more so because I’m not the one who can heal her. Maybe only she can.
When I’m done, her muscles are softer, though not fully released. As I rest my palms on her back behind her heart, a prayer comes to me so forcefully, tears spring to my eyes:
Bless this magnificent woman.
Bless her on her journey into the world.
Help her know how precious she is.
In the silence, we both take a deep breath. For the first time since I met Meg, I am finally letting her go.