(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

March 27, 2005
Day 28: Santiago

Easter Sunday in Santiago. I was surprised to awaken early after a sleep that was neither hard nor long. I would have expected my body to automatically reset itself to rest mode instead of walk mode. It didn’t, and since there was a thriving city outside my window (and ond I thankfully didn’t have to lug a bag through), I sprang to my feet knowing I could discover the city as slowly as I pleased.

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When you’re in Santiago on Easter Sunday, shouldn’t you attend mass? That’s what I thought, so I retraced my steps to the cathedral and slipped into the back. I bowed my head reverently and dipped my fingers into the Holy water. It was a gesture that felt foreign after so long, but I was happy to receive whatever blessings I could. I stood silently listening to the echoes of the priest, my eyes circling over the sea of parishioners. I tottered from foot to foot, bored and uneasy. I didn’t really belong. Or, perhaps more honestly, I didn’t want to belong. My only real agenda was to look for Simon in all those faces. He wasn’t there.

I sunk my hands into my pockets, and my fingers found the tiny crystal I’d carried with me across the world. I’d gotten it at the beginning of my journey in New York; it was laying on the pedestal of the St. Francis statue at St. John the Divine cathedral. I hadn’t brought it with me for any real purpose other than I found it, and I took it with me. It seemed appropriate that I leave it across the universe in St. James’ cathedral in Santiago. I looked for a good spot, one that had a chance of permanence, and my mind flashed on the water fountain outside: it was perfect. After a few more minutes of listening to the drone of the priest, I made a beeline for the exit. At the fountain, I bowed my head and dropped my crystal into it.

It felt odd not having any place to go—no destination on the map ahead of me. My journey was complete. I didn’t feel let down any more, but I also didn’t feel any sense of euphoria. Or even pride of accomplishment. Maybe I’d had so many thoughts and feelings as I walked that when the walking was finished, there was nothing left. Emptiness.

I strolled through the cobbled streets feeling light without my pack. The sun was shining, oh, the sun. It occurred to me that I really liked being in Santiago: it’s a truly beautiful place. I found an appealing café whose menu said, “Delicatess,” and just as I was about to take a seat, the smoke from two couples inside invaded my senses. I eyed them. The women were talking; the men stared off at nothing, bored. I decided food could wait and instead, I walked and walked and walked some more. Casual roaming. No destination. Utter randomness.

I found myself in a park overlooking the city with the majestic cathedral spread out before me. As I marveled at the beauty all around me, I knew that was the place to bury my Seventh Moon cork. It was the cork from the bottle of wine that I shared with Brenda on my last night in New York. The back of the wine bottle read: Native American legend has it that in a night’s passage through the billowy valleys of Northern California, the Mimok Indians would see the moon rise seven times from behind the Mayacama mountain peaks. The seventh moon represents all the joy at the end of a well-traveled journey.

As I looked for a burial site, I noticed a hole in the earth under my bench. It was a small hole but I wedged the cork into it. And then, I finally started to cry. The end of a well-traveled journey. I reached for my journal:

Easter Sunday. I’m six hours ahead of everyone. Mary Ann and the kids will be with Mom and Dad today. Eating. It will be weird to talk with them after so much time and so much distance. I wonder what I will say to them.

How has this walk changed me?

I don’t need much in my life to be happy. I don’t need much food to survive. I feel better eating less. How can I scale back everything in my life to have less?

My will is stronger than I imagined it to be.

My ankle is totally fine. Any pain I have from here on out may well be in my imagination.

I love people and being around people more than I knew. I’m still sensitive to energies and moods, but everyone is doing their best. As a spiritual person, as someone seeking light, I must remember to forgive people for their moods and personalities. In fact, I feel myself as even softer than before, or perhaps living in softness, finding comfort here.

Spanish coffee is very good. Even the tiniest villages with nothing have a good coffee machine. Espresso.

My body. I marvel at my body and its ability to endure. I have been unrelenting. I have asked so much. I have demanded and expected. I never entertained the thought that I couldn’t, and so I just did. And I did it all. Let me never again utter an unkind word about my body. Let me finally possess this body, take possession, and live!

I need to get glasses! I can’t see distances well.

Churches and cathedrals everywhere seem to deify and celebrate and commemorate fighting. The Spanish love this image of Jesus suffering. Is it a reminder to them that life is difficult? Is it necessary that religions preach suffering to keep people limited and beholden? Am I wrong in thinking that the real path to enlightenment is a breaking away? These churches seem like monuments to fear. And we get caught up in their beauty, in the miracle of their existence. Does it keep us small?

I think of Mary Ann and how religious she has become. I think about the distance that has created in me. And the accompanying sadness. I think about the children and the sort of relationship I have with them, and how those relationships might develop. Or not. I wonder if any of the children will rebel and how vehemently. I wonder if I will be allowed to be the refuge.

Refuge. Haven.

In Villafranca, the sign at the refuge said: The tourist is demanding; the pilgrim is grateful. Grateful. I have spent my days in gratitude. It has been so peaceful.

The rain has stopped, and the sun tries its best. This park is so beautiful. My view of the cathedral is nothing less than divine. I have buried my Seventh Moon cork. Now my trip is complete. Now. And the tears fill my eyes. I have done this thing—I have walked the path of ancients. It is almost too big for me to believe. Who can believe this journey? Who?

My cork is tucked into a small hole under this stone bench. A journey well-traveled. Carried from LA where it was made, purchased and uncorked in New York, and delivered by hand to Santiago.

My trip is over. There were so many times I longed for this day. I am happy to not be walking anymore. I am happy to have finished. I am happy to have done it and endured. I am happy to return home.

Home.

angel