This picture of this group of friends at dinner in Arzúa was taken just prior to the arrival of Paulina, a petite French woman in her early 20’s. She arrived at the table in a flurry. She sat down by our Canadian friend, pictured on the left, and began to overflow in French while weeping. She was clearly distressed. I began to pray for her as she spoke not knowing what had happened but by her gestures and expressive language, knew it had been traumatic.
She had talked nonstop for what might have been 10 minutes. Finally, our friend interpreted. A Spaniard had accosted and tried to rape Paulina in a park at the last town we had come through. She had gotten away unharmed, but deeply shaken. She had gone to the police. They had gotten on it, found and arrested the man. Then drove her to Santiago to testify. They had just brought her back to Arzúa and then she had another court appearance the next day in Santiago, then they were to drive her back to the place where this had happened for she still planned to finish the Camino — walking.
What a shock. We were one unanimous place of empathy for her. She calmed much having shared her story. She did speak English, so was able to say more to us as a group. We had her order dinner and stayed with her as she ate and shared further. This was the camino — one community of people supporting, loving, being there for others.
Something of what it means to be a follower of Jesus in this world – on the same path, moving the same way, following the same signs, listening to the same Voice. However, sometimes the fellowship we share at the local church level can be sidelined by the agendas of those involved. We can forget we are all on the same level earth and instead act bigger, higher, better than others. On the Camino, there was no such comparison. It was about steps — taking one after another — and all heading toward Santiago de Compostela alongside of these fellow pilgrims.
Paulina and I bumped into one another again five days later at the “end of the world” Finisterre– out on this place where many had burned their boots and other clothing until this was outlawed. But there, I was able to hear that she had indeed finished the Camino. She was well, full of life, and joyful.
Back to that night in Arzúa — I slept well. I had had a massage in town that day which had really helped my legs. After awakening at 6:30, I gathered my things and went into the breakfast area. The albergue had a “Foot Massage” machine which cost 2E. This was wonderful help to my continuously sore feet.
I ate my breakfast, read scripture, prayed while I sat there waiting for light. I left at 7:40 am. It was still dark but light was coming. It was a strange feeling this part of the Way. There were pilgrims everywhere. Many passed me, I passed others.
I’d said “Buen Camino” some 50 times in the first hour, which felt like more than in the previous week. I could see 8 pilgrims ahead and another 10 or so behind me at any given time. This felt like a very different Camino.
I passed at least ten or more bars/restaurants during the first 16 km. So different. I stopped at one for tea and at another for a beer.
As I walked passed a third, there was Nannette sitting there, so I joined her for lunch. She had decided to continue on to Santiago. I realized how I had been on the road four hours and arrived at 16.8 km. I would have just 4 to go for my intended destination that evening. But that felt too early to stop. So with her, I decided to just continue all the way to Santiago which was about another 20 kms. Incredibly, that felt possible to me as well. We laughed, shared stories from our day thus far and our feelings to be nearing the end. We split up and agreed to meet in Santiago.
Seeing all these many, many pilgrims from around the world, I began to be inspired. On this route it was even more obvious that there are lots of people on this journey. 278,000 walked the Camino in 2016. Here along the route they had left a memorial to the “things left behind.” These pilgrims were all walking– some really slowly, some disabled to a degree, others at a much faster clip –but all walking on this way for as many different reasons as pilgrims. I began to realize how significant it was that we were on pilgrimage together.
I loved that feeling. Perhaps this was the best way to complete this journey by joining with all these other pilgrims.
I walked with an Irish couple for a bit named Armor and Claire. They were incredibly delightful. This is my general feeling for the Irish — just an incredibly delightful people. This couple stopped in a town that was just 12km from the from Santiago for the night.
But I was so excited about getting to Santiago. I overflowed with Joy. Joy. Joy. It had been over 4 weeks and I was going to arrive in Santiago that day. I was blown away by the emotion of that thought. I thought of others I knew who had walked this way. There was this sense of connection with others whom I knew had finished the way. Triumphing. I wondered if entrance into heaven will feel this way — the joining of others finished with an incredible walk.
At this monument to pilgrims above Santiago I bumped into Michaela, with whom I had walked for a day more than two weeks back. And here we connected again. She was walking with a Spaniard named Jamon so we walked together for a while and above are pictured in Santiago when we later met up.
After the incredible terrain and villages and experiences, the
walk into the city of Santiago was uneventful. The most impactful part was as I walked through the old city, on pavement that had been there for centuries. The thought that I walked in the footsteps of generations of pilgrims impacted me. What was this long arduous journey like for those first ones? Many I knew had died on the way. When I came to the plaza in front of the cathedral and felt nothing. I was astounded to have finished. But the plaza was mostly empty. At first glance I didn’t see anyone I knew. The cathedral was covered with scaffolding. And my first thought was: “All that for this? This nearly empty plaza? This cathedral covered with scaffolding?”
But actually I knew that it was for so much more. It was for drawing close to Jesus. It was for a break from work. It was for Jesus to work on me. And besides, I knew, although for a time forgot, He had brought me on this path. But in that moment, I felt a flicker of disappointment. I think I also wanted to feel more “changed.” It is like arriving at a birthday as a kid and realizing the new “age” felt the same as the previous one.
Then, I looked across the plaza and saw Nannette! She was there, and had waited a couple hours for me to arrive, so that I wouldn’t arrive with no one I recognized. She’s that kind of a special friend! She gave me this huge hug and began to cry. We got our pictures in front of the cathedral, found the compostela office but the line so long we decided to return in the morning. Instead we walked to place I had booked for the four of us to stay — for Lorenzo, Claudio, Nannette and I– the next night to see if they had any beds tonight. They had two! We checked into the room, in which were two sleeping pilgrims, then I showered, set up my stuff, and took a moment to connect to family.
Nannette and I went out for dinner. The place we went to we thought served food, but instead just had wine and appetizers. We shared a bottle of great Spanish wine. That’s when Nannette shared this most amazing thing with me. “Brian, I just want you to know, you have changed me. Not because of what you do back home, or because of anything you have said, but more so, by being who you are. I’m different having known you. I want to thank you.”
I didn’t know what to say to this. I was staggered and blessed. It was a message that aligned with every message I had received from Jesus all along the camino. Stay with your Feet. Your value is in being. Silence is a gift. I thought back to the day when I had said to Him, “But who am I, if I don’t speak?” And the response had been “Mine.” Seriously, my life had impacted hers? This dear friend whose life had so blessed and impacted mine as well.
We then went to another place and ate dinner there, balancing out the alcohol. Tony, the pilgrim I had met from England with whom I had walked a few days previously, happened upon us there and joined our table for a while before we parted, returning to our hotel.
Once back in wifi I received a What’sUp from Inese, the friend from Lativa. They were also in Santiago! So, at 1030 pm got the message of where they were staying, so we left and went to their place which was a 3-minute walk from our place. We all went out to a local bar for drinks and uproarious conversation that lasted till after midnight. Loved this connection. Greatest time laughing, sharing stories, and loving one another.
That was that night. A couple days later, after everyone had left, I sat alone at a table at a local cafe on a day “without steps,” which felt like an anomaly. I wrote: “I’m wondering how much I limit myself? How much I say I can’t when that’s not what you say. How much I really believe what is not true — not Truth. God, teach me to hear and believe truth. And write it. Shit God! How long does it take to grow up?”
And I received this response;
“An eternity. Why be in such a hurry?”
Humbled — I gave thanks that God has patience with and even enjoys my humanity.