Wednesday, September 21st, I completed 1,223,969 steps arriving at the cathedral in Santiago. That’s according to my step counter which included steps into and out of towns, stores, to and from beaches, etc. — but still, that’s a ton of steps in 32 days. No wonder my feet hurt!
One of our friends from Latvia had once said: “the little finger on my foot is injured.” We had said that that finger is called “the little toe,” but that didn’t click in so we all joyfully began to reference the “fingers on our feet.” Well, that day, upon arriving, all the fingers on my feet as well as every muscle and bone in each, hurt.
My friends and I had planned to walk to a town about 20 km before Santiago, stop overnight, and enter on September 22nd. But as I neared that stopping point, I couldn’t imagine waiting there overnight to continue. The day was young. My pack felt light. My legs were energized to finish. My feet were complaining, but I promised fresh Vaseline, and a change of shoes, assuring them: “you’re gonna make it!”
Nannette felt like going on too, ‘what’s upped’ the others, saying we were continuing.
Suddenly, the 20 more kms sounded like nothing. Like a brief walk. Incredible how perspectives can change! What’s 20 km when i’d already walked around 780 km?
I stopped and ate lunch, then continued. I got to walk with Claire and Amon, a couple from Ireland for an hour, and enjoyed their lively banter. I passed a sign that said “15.9 km left to Santiago” and one that told me “you’ve got this,” and I believed it. My feet didn’t care — they were going to join me all the way.
The “4.7km to the cathedral” sign felt surreal. Suddenly I was excited and overwhelmed. I cried at the first glimpse of the city with thoughts of friends, whom I know had walked this very stretch, in addition to thousands of pilgrims every year for generations. I felt this connection to them.
As we had joined the Camino Frances, unlike so many of the past days on the Camino Del Norte, there were always pilgrims in front of and behind me. I found the sight of so many pilgrims from all over the world visibly there, strangely inspirational. There was this unique connection we shared. And to share this journey was beautiful. There were many “Buen Caminos” spoken!
The way took me down through the outskirts of Santiago, still with no glimpse of the cathedral, km after km. Many pilgrims walked with me, streaming into the old city, walking up narrow stone and cobblestone streets, that likely dated to the medieval times, upon which literally 1000s of pilgrims had walked before us. I felt a part of something much larger than me.
The plaza was nearly empty at that point, 530 pm, even with all of us new pilgrims arriving. There was no fanfare. No marching bands. And thus it felt less than satisfactory to arrive, in a way. My feelings landed somewhere between “This is it?” and “THIS IS IT!!” I walked in and Nannette, who had arrived about 30 minutes ahead of me, was watching for me, and called to me from across the plaza, “Brian, we did it!”
We had arrived! We hugged. Mutually congratulated one another. Took pictures. Found out how and where to get the compostela, the official certificate of completion, and began to make our ways into this part of the Camino.
The cathedral is under construction, and like many ancient buildings, it has been for years. But that somehow felt metaphorically accurate. It was no more “finished” than we were. All of us in process, under construction.
Several days previous, I had been writing in my journal asking for a word for that day. In response, I had glanced down at the printed verse at the bottom of the page and received it as a promise from the Lord,
“Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Christ Jesus!” (Philippians 1:6).
Wondering about that very finishing process, more recently, I wrote into my journal, “How long does it take to grow up?”
And with a sense of a smile from the heavens there was an immediate response: “An eternity. So why be in such a hurry?”
Nannette and I went for the official compostela at 8 am. The officials ask each pilgrim to share the purpose of their Camino, then complete the Latin certificate. As I stepped out of that brightly lit room and paused to look at my certificate, I began to cry. How much this piece of paper represented! So many miles. So many conversations. So many friendships. So many people watching out for one another. So much work and time and prayer and growing.
The next morning, I attended the Pilgrim’s mass in English, held in a chapel of the cathedral. The regular priest was out of the country, so this precious young priest from Venezuela, who had learned the mass in English, led.
His face shone with love for us, for Jesus and for the privilege of serving at the cathedral. He hears confessions morning, noon and night at the cathedral. That’s his regular role, to offer grace and forgiveness. Perhaps that was why person of Jesus was so manifest through him.
He began by having us each share our name and by which Way we had come to Santiago. Two of us were from Oregon, and when afterward we compared notes, we live minutes from one another, and had traveled halfway around the world to meet!!
To sit in worship for the first time in over a month pierced my heart. As the words of prayer, of scripture, of confession and absolution, and music washed over me, I began to weep and could not stop. Receiving Eucharist brought into me such a Real Presence of Jesus, the One who had walked with me to this place, and yet walked with me still.
There in front of me in the chapel sat the Irish couple with whom I had walked on that last day. Claire and I, both in tears, we embraced like old friends. Above us the statue of the Virgin Mary, weeping, an image of the words of Simeon, from Luke 2, that “many swords will pierce your heart.”
Indeed, much suffering of a kind had brought us all to that chapel, that day, to hear that priest, receive that blessed sacrament, and be united in that fellowship.
That day I moved to an Airbnb I had booked nearly 10 months previous. As I had fretted about moving out of the old city, to be “stuck” without my friends in Santiago for two more nights, again Jesus spoke saying to trust Him, which apparently I still need help in, for this was his gift for me to “slow down.”
The apartment is only just over a mile from the old city. It sits on the main bus line that takes me there and on Sunday will take me directly to the main bus station so I can catch my bus to Finisterre! Talk about an ideal location.
More than that, being out of the old city, it is a peaceful, quiet refuge with a garden terrace, and a host who continues to amaze me with immense hospitality.
After arriving at this apartment, meeting Susannah, her mom and five-year-old daughter, Stephanie, I ate lunch, cleaned up and took the bus to Praza de Galicia and walked into old town to get a haircut.
The barber had ridden his bicycle on four caminos and stopped in the cut to share pictures with me and recommend his favorite restaurant in Finisterre. Later that night as I boarded my bus practicing the name of my stop, I got on and still couldn’t find the pronunciation for the street, but the driver remembered me from 7 hours earlier, finished the street name for me, and laughing, told me to take a seat.
I sat down laughing. The woman across from me, having witnessed the exchange laughed with me. I pointed to the driver and said, “Mi Padre!” She and the driver loved that.
When I arrived, and found my apartment door I glanced across the street and saw another ATM. Twice that night I had tried to access money but two machines had refused. I had not understood the reason, but thought I would try another. I walked across the street.
Again a message came on the screen that it could not complete the transaction. “Would I like a receipt?” I said yes, thinking it might help me discern the issue, retrieved my card and the receipt, and since another man was waiting behind me, walked away, across the street, to my door.
I began a text to ask someone to check with the bank, and then was chatting with Susannah my host when the doorbell rang. It was 11 pm and Susannah said it might be a girlfriend. She buzzed someone in, and the man who had come behind me to the machine stood there at the door speaking in rapid, urgent Spanish.
After I had left, the machine had given my money, into his hand! Instead of running with it, as he could have, this honest man had seen where I had gone and sought to return it to me. I was astounded and grateful at the way Jesus has me covered by friends and strangers alike, as I take these next steps on my Camino.