Arriving at the end and making a new friend
For all my elation at arriving in Finisterre, I woke up exhausted and grouchy. The echoing marble hallway outside my room amplified the conversations and activities of every guest entering into the wee hours of morning. At six, chipper early birds woke me, and I jumped out of bed, irritated and scowling.
Here’s what I know, though. If sleep deprivation makes me more reactive, it also makes me more open, more sensitive, and more attuned to the world around me. Not getting enough sleep breaks me down in an ultimately good way.
I still have no idea how walking backwards is going to work. I’m nervous about it. But I’m not going anywhere today. I’m staying in Finisterre to visit the old haunts.
Here’s my list:
- Get wine and snacks for sunset
- Visit the pilgrim office to get my stamp
- Send an email home to say I arrived safely
- Find a new compass
- Walk around the isthmus and visit the beach
- Watch the sun set and have a cup of wine
* * *
Yes, I’ve come all this way and somehow forgotten my compass. It was just a tiny plastic one with a dial floating in alcohol, but it reassured me that I could get back on track if I got lost. Well, it wasn’t in my pack this morning. I can’t believe I forgot it.
As I walk through the village, I notice a Chinese market. Other pilgrims have told me these eclectic stores are worth a visit.
The tightly-packed shop is full of randomly-organized imports like children’s pajamas, women’s swimsuits, oversize pool towels, pots and pans, assorted packaged food, cheap earrings, gardening supplies, mops, and toys. Squeezing my way to the back, I spy a display with hanging air fresheners, oven thermometers, and—lo and behold—a compass! I pick it up for closer inspection, and discover that instead of north-south-east-west, its directional points are Chinese characters. Dozens of them. What the..? There’s no way I can use this. Even if the arrow technically points north, this would not help me in a freaked-out moment of disorientation.
Carrying it to the lady at the counter, I ask hopefully, “Tienes otros?”
She shakes her head.
Returning the gadget to its hook, I exit the tienda compass-less—with no direction—which is coincidentally how I felt at the end of my last Camino. Despite my disappointment and anxiety, I feel a gentle resignation—or is it trust?—that this is how it’s supposed to be. I’ll find my way. Just a different way. Whatever I need will be provided.
* * *
The right people just show up. They always do.
After eating my first filling slice of Spanish tortilla and savoring a café Americano, and after receiving a stamp in my credencial at the pilgrim office, the right people just show up.
I get a warm embrace and kiss on both cheeks from the woman running my pensión (for giving her a bar of chocolate from Oregon), and she lets me use her computer to email a message to Mary.
I see the two American girls I met on the bus ride yesterday, and they give me a friendly hello.
I run into the restaurant owner where I ate this morning. When I mention I want to buy wine, he tells me to avoid the supermarket.
“Quieres un vino barato or caro?” he asks, rubbing his fingers together in midair, making the universal symbol for money.
“El medio,” I reply with a grin.
“Vale. Ven conmigo,” he instructs and waves me uphill. I follow him back to his now-closed-for-siesta restaurant and buy a nice bottle from his stock. Thoughtfully, he hands me a few plastic cups and even pops the cork, since I have no opener. Yes, he’s probably charged me twice what locals pay, and I really don’t care. The Camino provides.
Despite feeling a little ridiculous walking around with a open bottle of wine sticking out of my pack, I am now prepared to toast the sunset and share wine with whoever shows up.
Finally, I meet Ruby.
* * *
The sand couldn’t be whiter. I squint myself teary descending toward the watercolor surf of aqua, turquoise, and cobalt. The sun overhead is warm, but counterbalanced by a cool breeze from the ocean. The last time I was here, Meg was with me. When we walked the beach that time, I struggled to breathe as pneumonia set in and struggled to prevent my emotions from overflowing. Here I sang the song I had been planning for two years, reduced to tears by confusion and fear.
Let me dive into the water, leave behind all that I’ve worked for—except what I remember and believe.
And when I stand at the farthest shore, I will have all I need.
And now I’m singing it again as tears roll down my face. I knew this moment would come, but I’m still surprised by the intensity. Long-withheld sobs escape my will to contain them. Meg. Thank you for showing me how to live. I had all I needed inside of me all along.
I know have to let her go. She was so important to me then, but I have to let her go. It’s not healthy to make someone into an idol. I’m not ready yet, but realizing the time is nearing fills me with sadness and a kind of relief.
Minutes pass as I allow the waves to soak my legs, washing over me, cleansing, healing. Everything I need is already inside of me.
Sitting in the soft, hot sand, I lose track of time. I still can’t believe I’m back. Sifting through the glittering grains, I see myriad tiny shells that have washed up with each wave. I hear heavy breathing and look up to see two huge dogs racing toward me, barking and snarling. I leap from the ground and yell at them NO! Their owners, a distance off, call to them. One runs back, but the other holds his ground, hackles up and growling. NO!! I yell again. NO!! The owners whistle, and the dog leaves, glaring back at me as he goes.
My legs feel like rubber. I sit down on the sand again, shaking. Jesus! I usually like dogs and get along with them. Why did I seem so threatening to that one? Minutes pass before I feel settled again.
My only plan now is to watch the sunset, but I’m really hoping for emotional closure before I start walking tomorrow. There are hours before I head over to the lighthouse.
As I look absently at the beach, I notice a tiny orange scallop no bigger than my thumbnail. Then a second one. Symbols of baptism and rebirth. I gather up some sand and put them in a plastic baggie for safekeeping. I’m going to carry these home with me as evidence, just like ancient pilgrims once did, that I walked to the end of the earth and survived the return journey.
As I scoop up sand, a woman wanders along the shoreline and then comes up the beach in my direction. I’m not feeling chatty, but she looks at me with a beautiful smile and says hello in English.
“I saw you sitting there looking for shells, and decided to come talk to you. Shell collectors are my favorite people.”
I smile. “Hi. I’m Jen from Oregon.”
“I’m Ruby from all over. Mind if I sit?”
Instead of the superficial conversation I feared, we dive into topics that really matter to the heart and soul. She is just finishing seven weeks of walking and has had a truly profound experience. Ruby is actually from three different countries—a true citizen of the world—and is healing old wounds in this walk. She shares that she met someone special on the Camino, but it is over now and is wondering what it all means.
“I can relate,” I tell her.
“I met someone special too.” And take my time telling her the story of my three-years-ago Camino, about meeting Meg and the profound awakening that followed. “My life fell apart afterwards. It was a slow and painful journey, but eventually I learned how to open my heart and live that joy.” As I recount this tale, she remarks how my story parallels her own journey’s insights. She really understands.
“The Camino changed your life,” she says.
I sigh with relief. “It really did. I’m not sure why you showed up, Ruby. But I really needed to share this story, and feel so grateful for your listening.”
Smiling, she says, “I’m so glad I walked up to you. I just had a feeling.”
Instead of parting ways, Ruby proposes we go back into town, get some dinner, and then go to the lighthouse for the sunset. “I also really want to pick up some prosecco to celebrate,” she adds.
I’m torn. On one hand, I really wanted to do this alone—or at least I thought I did. And I tell her so.
“Spend a minute reflecting,” she says encouragingly. “You’ll know what you need.”
In a flash, the realization hits me: I don’t want to be alone. All my life, I’m keeping myself just out of reach of everyone who loves me. Isn’t this what I learned from Meg? If I want connection, I need to live it.
“Let’s do it,” I say. She grins.
On our way up the beach, the dogs leave us alone.
* * *
We eat, and laugh, and walk up to the highest peak to look down on the lighthouse. We descend to watch the sunset as we talk about all we’ve learned. We share my wine and her prosecco with the people around us. Hearts from all over the world are here tonight in the fading light to celebrate the end.
And in the silence of the fading day, I realize that’s all it was. That day three years ago was just a day with Meg at the end of a very, very long walk. It was not unique because sunset-watching happens here daily. It wasn’t Meg, or the place, or something ephemeral and out of my control—what was different was me. I chose to let my self-protective shield fall away for the first time in my life. I allowed my receptive, joyful, radiant heart to blossom open in the presence of another person. It was never outside of me. It was always within me.
Yet we all make choices to dim our light. The threat of alienating my loved ones with my newfound joy and aliveness seemed too risky at the time. With titanic effort, I masked my authentic self for months—with predictable consequences on my marriage, my livelihood, and my sanity. It seemed like a safe trade-off then, but time has made me wiser.
Ruby and I laugh together, enjoy the ocean sounds and stars, and say goodnight to the pilgrims around us. Under a waning moon, we walk back arm in arm to our respective abodes for sleep. I repeat to her how grateful I am, and we agree that we’ve been Camino angels for each other today.
The right people always show up.
I feel whole. I feel grateful for everything. To the very core of my being, I know this joy is mine to carry with me on the path ahead, just like the scallop shells in my pocket.