I walked into Santiago on Monday, July 1, at a little after 10 in the morning. The square in front of the cathedral was surprisingly empty. I scanned the faces of the groups of pilgrims looking for the familiar before I raised my arms in triumph and posed for a few pictures with two previously unknown Brits I’d walked in with. I felt accomplished. Tired. Joyful and sad. Elated and overwhelmed. There were so many things going though my head and heart in that moment. I caught a glimpse of Alex, a friend from Hamburg I’d walked with in the early days. I’d heard he was leaving at 11, headed back to Germany to meet his wife and family to head off on a family vacation. I’d worried that I would not get the chance to say goodbye, and yet, there he was. We hugged and congratulated each other and said goodbye all in a matter of just a few moments. Moments later it happened again. Another familiar face I hadn’t seen in a while. Another hug. A congratulations and another goodbye. That’s the way things go on the Camino. You turn the corner and there it is, the person or thing you needed, sometimes even before you realized you’d needed it. You let go of control. You learn to trust. Things happen.
I am still trying to grapple with what just happened these past 32 days. It passed in an instant, and yet so much happened I often could not remember the moments of each day. The days ran into one another. I lost track of time and place. I could not remember where I slept the night before and yet, when I walked the final kilometers into the square, it wasn’t the places I’d slept or the churches I’d seen or the vast panorama of Spain that had become my compass, it was the faces that I thought of, the people I met along the way, those that had become my Camino family, that I have shared this most remarkable experience with. The people who wished me ¨Buen Camino¨ as we passed in the small country villages and the long mountain climbs. The people I shared a table with, a glass of cerveza con limón, a bandage or knee brace, or sometimes just a smile. The ones who shared their dreams with me, their struggles and fears.
On the second to the last day, I walked alone, as I had chosen often to do, the sound of the birds filling my consciousness. Tears stung my eyes as I felt the fullness of this journey that was soon to end. I walked into a cafe. Inside, a South African, an Italian and a Dutch woman sat, savoring an early morning cafe con leche and a slice of empanada. Strangers every one. It was clear I’d been crying, my face red and tear stained. Without hesitation, the big burly man from South Africa wrapped his arms around me and hugged me tight. ¨It’s going to be OK,¨ he said. Ït’s going to be OK.¨
But was it? I wasn’t so sure. How do I bring the Camino home with me, I wonder? How do each of us take what we’ve learned from this journey and carry it on? At the end of the Camino I have more.questions than answers but I am sure of one thing. The answers will come. If I trust the journey, when I least expect it, the answers will come.
An ending and a beginning.