I finally made it to Santiago yesterday morning.
How in the world did you do that?, you may ask..as my last blog entry had me taking it slow and easy….
Well, I can´t say what came over me..perhaps it was getting tiring to go to refuge after refuge; perhaps it was that Santiago was so close; perhpas it was insanity. I can´t say-it probably was a combination of all three things!
Last off I was in Arzua, having only managed a measly 3 kilometers before pooping out.
That night in Arzua, I ran into the Englishman and Australian woman I had started out with on my very first day. We shared an interesting meal of squid cooked in it´s own ink. Remember awhile back when I was offered wasp larvae in Panama? Well, I´m beginning to realize people all over the world eat gross looking stuff. Actually it was pretty tasty. Better than the wasp larvae..
Anyway, it was great to see them, hear about their camino, and just enjoy their delightful company.
I drank so much wine and ate so much food I slept peacefully-plus, for once, no snorers near me-and I awoke in the morning bright and early feeling positive and energetic. I started out that morning at a good pace, and covered 20 kilometer by noon. I could have stopped..but, something kept me going.
That something was named Marco-a Brazilian man who encouraged me to keep going. I decided I could do it-I would walk to Mount Joy. That would be a 40 kilometer day, but I would be able to see Santiago for the first time(ergo the name of the place, Mount Joy).
So, I kept going…and going..and going. Most of the other people along the camino had stopped for the day by one or two o´clock, but I kept pushing onwards, fueled on by insanity. At about 30 kilometers, I thought I was done for-the sun was burning bright and it was blazing hot, for once-and it was exhausting. I was sitting by the side of the road (or maybe I was actually lying by the side of the road) when a German cyclist stopped and talked with me for awhile. Somehow he said the words I needed to hear , and I kept going all the way to Mount Joy. It ended up being a forty kilometer day-the most I´ve ever walked.
I walked-or rather limped-into Mount Joy. A boisterous Italian man came up to me and congratulated me on making it, and I burst into tears and hugged him. I could not stop crying for over an hour. Even when I was in line to get a bed at the refuge, I was in tears. Part of this was from pain, but part of it was just to have made it.
Once I got a bed, I got into it and stayed there for about 10 hours. My legs did not want to follow any commands whatsoever. They were exhausted. My mind, too, was overwhelmed, at all I had been thru in the last month and at being able to finally be so close to Santiago. You don´t really realize how much it is going to affect you until you are close to it. It seems to take everyone by surprise, and people are all very emotional.
The next morning, I got up early and walked the 7 kilometers into Santiago. I arrived there in the square by the Cathedral just as a group of horsemen from Portugal were arriving-they had riden their horse from Portugal to Santiago. The square was foggy, the horses were white, the men dressed in folkloric costumes from Portugal. It looked like a scene from a fairy tale. There were only a few other pilgrims milling about and the tourist stalls were just starting to set everything up.
Climbing the stairs to go into the awesome Cathedral was overwhelming-physically painful but also just so emotional for me. I have gone thru so much on this walk and feel drastically different than when I began. I feel like I left myself behind on the camino and I was walking into the Cathedral as a brand new human being, changed.
Once in the Cathedral I sank to my knees. Not only is it spectacular(language doesn´t do the place justice, so no words suffice) but the energy in the place is intense-it is full of pilgrims from all over the world, who have traveled long distance to be there. There are reunions happening right and left, people are joyful and people are crying and one has the sense that yopu are taking a part in an enormous miracle. I felt like I stopped breathing and everything was in slow motion, I was just on my knees in the pew and just overwhelmed with everything but peaceful at the same time.
A nun began to sing the most beautiful music I have ever heard. People were still and just listened.
The priest went thru the mass, and when it was time to take communion, I went up and took it. It was the most intense communion I have ever had, one is just so grateful and happy and joyful all at once. You are just everything all at once.
I´ve been here in Santiago for a few days now, letting my ankles heal and taking it easy. I went to go get my Compostella and was overwhelmed by the experience-once you´ve stopped walking day in and day out, you begin to realize what you have been thru in the last month and it begins to sink in.
It´s like a miracle, a miraculous undertaking, something you realize when you are finished that you could have never done alone.
This realization in itself is miraculous enough, but then it just keeps coming, one miracle after another, and you realize your camino has only just begun.
I feel so changed, so drastically different from having walked the camino. I feel as though I know myself so much better, and know God better, and know humanity better.
It changes you. The camino changes everything, turns everything you thought you knew upsidedown and when you are done, you see everything differently.
Travel changes you, too. Just the act of travel changes you.
When I went home briefly after being in Central America (just before coming to Spain) I was telling someone in my life how I really had changed so much from the experience of being in Central America for months working with the very poor.
¨No, you haven´t changed.¨, they said. ¨You´re the same.¨
I marvelled that someone would tell me that I was no different when they were not me. But one thing I realize from being on the camino is that changing is a part of traveling-it is impossible not to change (albiet, somewhat drastically) when confronting the best and worst of oneself-not to mention the best and worst of humanity, day after day.
And I am changed. I am changed just by walking.
I invite you to consider changing your own life-changing some part of yourself you thought was impossible, or changing something about yourself simply by being merciful to yourself.
Practice mercy with yourself.
Walk your way into love and well being and being the person you actually are-and walk away from other´s expectations, other´s interpretations, and so on. We live in a culture of others-where others decide for us how we are to be, what our dreams are, and so on.
Once you´ve started doing this, start inviting those others back into your life. Hear their struggles and help move them as well, to a life which they have only dreamed of and where they learn to be merciful towards themselves.
If I take anything away from the camino, it is that I will from this point onward, I will have the life that I dreamt of when I was small, a life entirely focused on being a humanitarian, focused on a life of service.
I invite you to walk towards whatever dreams you may have had long ago. They are possible-everything is within reach.
¨Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Everyday I walk myself into a state of wellbeing and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. ¨ -Soren Kierkegaard
And buen camino, to those of you out there who are about to undertake what will no doubt be one of the most intense and astonishing periods of personal and spiritual growth in your life.