I left my hotel in O Pino and walked along the main road for awhile, being passed by cars and huge, loud semi’s in the dark. I had an opportunity to veer off into a small town (only houses, no cafe’s or business as far as I could tell) so I took it. I had consulted the GPS and it seemed I could take these smaller streets and hook back up with the camino instead of walking along the busy truck route.
After awhile, the GPS wanted to take me on a straight shot to the airport, where I would reconnect with the camino. Only thing was, there wasn’t a road. Well, maybe there was at one time but it seems it had been removed, replaced by a huge trench, soon to be what I’m pretty sure was to be a freeway. On the bottom it was flat, a few football fields wide. So I scrambled down the side in the dark and walked towards Santiago.
After a few kilometers, the freeway to be abruptly ended, in fact at the busy road I had opted not to take. Only problem was, that road was about 20 feet above me now, and there didn’t seem to be a way to get to it. The walls around me were soft dirt, and to the one side it was muddy. Then, well, all I can say is that you’re going to have to believe me on this one.
As I was assessing my options and thinking I may have to backtrack, I looked over to my right and saw two shooting stars (it was still dark out), right next to each other, fall from the sky and disappear behind the trees. I figured it must be a sign (I mean, I was on a quest, wasn’t I?) so I headed in that direction and sure enough, there was a little path up the embankment, although I had to climb the last 10 feet, clawing my way up the side like a rock climber with a 20 lb. pack on his back.
Soon enough I was walking along the highway, hit a roundabout, and saw the camino just on the other side of a chain link fence, running parallel to the busy road I was on. I kept walking thinking there would be a gap in the fence, but there wasn’t, so I threw my backpack over the fence and climbed over. I was back in business.
The morning air was getting warm and I felt good, at ease. Not that I was getting too stressed before- it wasn’t like back home, where I might get frustrated, pissed off when there was an obstacle in the way. Out here, I know I’ll get to where I’m going, I may just have to take a few steps in a different direction to get there.
Soon the sun was coming out and I joined my fellow pilgrims on the last leg of our journey. After about 2k, the camino moved away from the highway and became a nice sandy, dirt path. The countryside was now somewhat rural, ferns and bushes lined the path, with deciduous trees here and there, but more and more houses appeared as we got closer to Santiago. I came to a place for breakfast, right on the camino. It was busy, but most were lining up, getting their food and sitting outside, so I found a table in the corner inside to write for a little while.
I wrote about the past. About the future. About purpose. The pilgrims of old had purpose. As I’ve mentioned before they, like me, only had/have a few concerns while they are/were walking- put one foot in front of the other, get to where you’re going for the day, find a place to get a meal and lay your head, maybe do some laundry, upload your status to Facebook.
But then, the pilgrims of the past also had a purpose- to get to Santiago de Compostella and pay homage to the dead saint they had traveled so far to check out. And to pray and give thanks. An apt metaphor, I suppose, of how life could be or should be. If only it were so simple for us. So I closed my eyes and prayed for the first time in forever.
In fact, to take it one step further (yes the pun is intended), the steps taken can be seen as the moments of our lives, and the difficulties along the way (blisters, swollen ankles, not having a decent cabernet on the menu) are the things we go through on each our own journeys, the obstacles that often are opportunities to learn something about the world, about ourselves.
And then there’s purpose. It seems to me that as time moves on and the world evolves, we have less purpose. Well, at least purpose that is noble, the purpose that gives meaning to life. But then again, perhaps that’s not necessary if in the end there is no meaning to life. I guess it goes back to how each of us chooses to perceive the universe.
My purpose is not so noble. I guess we’re in an age where the saints in our lives aren’t as important as they used to be. Is it the remnants of the me decade?
Maybe not, perhaps I’m an exception – just a self absorbed asshole who thinks others give a fuck about his inane and boorish thoughts. Because I know that I’m out here for myself. Hopefully though, to further the change in me that has already taken hold. And actually, I guess by trying to change myself, I am elevating my purpose to a more noble level. Gandhi (Indian wise guy- dot not feathers) had this to say about changing ourselves:
“You must be the change you want to see in the world. As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age – as in being able to remake ourselves.”
If you change how you think then you’ll change how you feel and what actions you take. And the world around you will change. Not only because you’re now looking at the world through new lenses of thoughts and emotions (don’t try to accomplish this by buying a new pair of Tom Ford sunglasses-it won’t work) but also because the change within can allow you to take action in ways you wouldn’t have – or maybe even have thought about – while stuck in your old ways of thinking.
I’m pretty sure Gandhi didn’t even know about the recent studies in physiology about neural pathways, etc. This is where things like intention, gratitude, creative thinking come in. But this is what he’s talking about. Modern science is prescribing ways to convert our understanding of ourselves and the universe, and make us happier humans. Apparently science is finally catching up with Mahatma.
I finished up and walked out into the warm sunshine streaming into my eyes, the warm breath of summer running it’s hands through my hair. I couldn’t help but think about the night Amanda and I had met on another warm summer night that now seemed so far away and long ago, and how beautiful she looked in her blue and white summer dress on our subsequent first date when galaxies collided under a canopy of stars as we walked down a sandy path not unlike the one I’m walking on now.
And lying in bed in each others arms, the conversations we’d have, about life, each other, the wars we had fought, the wounds we had suffered, both of us just throwing shit out there for the other to take inside and hold, to care for. We were letting each other into each others’ hearts, and I missed the comfort I’d found there.
After awhile, I came to sort of the last outpost, if you will. The path had been traveling through trees and fields and some houses, but for the most part it was still somewhat rural, but I would soon cross a little footbridge that would deposit me into the streets of Santiago.
There was a cafe, and a lot of people were stopping before the last hump to the cathedral at Santiago. It was sort of a pilgrim support center. There were a few vans with volunteers handing out simple sandwiches and drinks to pilgrims on the last leg of their journey. A lot of people were lingering perhaps not wanting their journey to end. There was a card table set up to get one of the last stamps for your pilgrims passport.
I stopped for a moment, and ran into Katia, and Jacomo who I had crossed paths with on a few different legs of my journey. We spoke for a few moments, hugged and I moved on without even grabbing a bite, although I did get handed a sandwich from one of the support people who were there for us, kind of like the folks at the water stations at 10k’s who hand you a cup of water.
I looked around for any other of those I had travelled with, but wasn’t too optimistic. Cormac was back home, Clive and Jarique were taking it easy, a few days behind, as was Aviva. But you never know when Polish writer Michael and his wife Micaij, or The Smiling Belgian might show up…
I left the way station and and walked through the “suburbs” of Santiago de Compostela. There were a lot of us pilgrims now, so it was easy to know the way, besides the fact that the camino was pretty well marked at this point. I walked through the streets, houses where people lived and were waking up to their day. Then I crossed a small wooden bridge, walked a few blocks, and was in the city. I found a little place to get a cafe con leche and check with Brierley, even though I knew I just needed to follow the throngs.
Which is what I did after I left the cafe. It was a straight shot for awhile, walking along a main drag that led into the city. But then I entered the old town, with thin winding streets and lots of people headin in all different directions. Not just pilgrims with backpacks, but many others too.
I walked along, just sort of following the general flow of people. It’s not like there were big signs or anything, but by this point, well, there probably didn’t have to be a sign or anything. My instincts were enough to guide me to the end of my journey.
After walking through several different squares with people outside eating and milling about, I walked down into a short tunnel where a guy was playing bagpipes. I passed him, came out of the tunnel, and was suddenly, unceremoniously in the square of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. It took a minute to realize that this was it, these were the final steps in my trek, my terminus, the end.
I walked to the back of the square, sat my pack down and laid down against it, watching all the other pilgrims walk through the tunnel and greet friends, cheering and howling, celebrating the end of their trek. I watched the festivities and it finally dawned on me that this was the end of my journey, but also the beginning of another one, a much more difficult one. I gave thanks, knowing how lucky I was to even be here, to be able to take this journey, to even have the time to do it, to have the love and support of others to do it. To be healthy enough to do it.
I rested my head against my backpack and closed my eyes, and found myself trying to figure out how to dress the wounds I’ve conjured up and inflicted on myself. Hopefully I’ve passed on a few things I’ve learned from writing this blog. At the very least, I hope I’ve become a better writer for the practice, having been given the opportunity to think about, reflect on, and write about the things in my life that brought me here: a lost boy challenged to grow up by a failed marriage, a daughter who’s growing up too fast, and a beautiful soul who wandered into his heart on a warm summer night when he least expected it.
For a few moments anyway, I’ve thrown out the vestiges of the past and have done something that, I guess, to some, seems a little extraordinary. I realized that the reason I never thought what i was doing is a big deal is because, well, when you see yourself as worthless, you figure anything you do is, well…not of any consequence, that anyone could do it.
Maybe the lesson is to recognize that when magic gets thrown your way, you need to grab it and accept it, as though you deserve it, to embrace it with all your heart. I hadn’t been doing that with my life, although therapy, and Amanda had planted the seed for that thought to grow. I know though that when I return, I will have to go back and revisit the ghosts that haunt me. Hopefully this journey will give me the strength to accept those ghosts, learn to live with them, and move on. Otherwise, I know I’ll be lost forever.
As I rested against my backpack, the sun came out from behind one of the steeples of the cathedral and shone in my eyes. By this time hordes of people were emerging from the tunnel, many large groups finishing their one or two day trek. Others were greeting friends, hugging and high-fiving. I guess it was that, and walking the last 15 days more or less alone that got me thinking about all the people I had met. It seems like I was the only one here by myself. Even though I enjoyed walking these last days by myself, I realized, kind of like life, in the end its not quite as rich an experience if you don’t have someone to share it with.
Well my ship’s been split to splinters and it’s sinkin’ fast
I’m drownin’ in the poison, got no future, got no past
But my heart is not weary, it’s light and it’s free
I’ve got nothin’ but affection for all those who’ve sailed with me
After about an hour, I threw my backpack on and headed to the train station, stopping to listen to a quartet play “Yesterday” in front of the cathedral. I knew that in this moment, my troubles were far away, but soon I would be traveling back to California, and they would be there to greet me. They’d be hiding in the shadows, ready to creep in and remind me of the man I’d left behind with them.
I threw a few euros into the guitar case in front of the quartet, along with a wish: that this experience would live in my heart, and continue to guide me and color my life with the things I’d seen, the people I’ve met, and the wishes and dreams I’d thought about along the way for myself, and for those that I love.
When all the dark clouds roll away
And the sun begins to shine
I see my freedom from across the way
And it comes right in on time
Well it shines so bright and it gives so much light
And it comes from the sky above
Makes me feel so free makes me feel like me
And lights my life with love
And it seems like and it feels like
And it seems like yes it feels like
A brand new day, yeah
A brand new day oh
I was lost and double crossed
With my hands behind my back
I was longtime hurt and thrown in the dirt
Shoved out on the railroad track
I’ve been used, abused and so confused
And I had nowhere to run
But I stood and looked
And my eyes got hooked
On that beautiful morning sun
And it seems like and it feels like
And it seems like yes it feels like
A brand new day, yeah
A brand new day. -Van Morrison
I walked across the desert and found a starfish in the sand where once, there had been an ocean. An ocean that leapt and breathed and beat with a heart bigger than the stars. I knelt to pick up the starfish but it fell apart in my hands, damaged from the days, years, centuries of neglect.
The ocean had receded through no intent of it’s own. It’s beatific, unruly waves and whitecaps (like the long trusses of a damsel) once ruled this place, and moved and shimmied with the wind and the tides. But like everything else, it changed. It was taken, moved, rescinded by some force, some random caustic piece of the Universe that is taken for granted.
In it’s time, it was bigger and bolder and so much more than we can ever fathom. The fools think it can damage us. The dreamers know it can teach us by standing close and listening, and feeling the spray of the wind blown water on our face and tasting it’s salt on our lips.
I imagined standing on the edge of that ocean. The warmth of the late summer water licked my toes like a dogs warm tongue. And I wanted to scream and yell with the abandon of the angels, the rage of the ocean, and the sweat of the dying summer. These things breathe, they cry, they howl with ragged laughter. And yet, we don’t seek the voices of the wind, or the secrets of the rocks and trees. We trundle on, ignoring them, trying to make some sense, trying to reach some sort of conclusion as to the timbre of it all. Still we feel that something isn’t right, so we rail, we punch, we scream at the top of our lungs, not realizing that we could just turn around, laugh, and be a part of it all.
We have to learn to lay down in the waters, let the stream carry us away. We should try and let the day fill us with light and wisdom, and face the cold, shrill wind that makes us shudder and hide in our coats. For they are offerings from the Universe. And they are you. For you are the Universe. Physicists have found that our participation in an event (like looking at an object) causes a change in the very molecular structure that makes up that object. We are integral. Life is not an object, a thing, a rock. It is an experience. The experience of a lifetime. Plan well.