I was reminded this morning, of the feeling I had walking into Santiago de Compostela, after a very eventful pilgrimage. Walking over the hill and seeing the cathedral in the distance, I was initially filled with relief. Relief at having just made it. I wasn’t concerned with anything else at that point, but to just have made it to the finish line.
It was a challenging time for me. I struggled with a hip injury and when I considered that I might have been underprepared, I settled on the fact that I had prepared as best as I could have, under the circumstances. It is all you can do really. Try your best, prepare for the worst, and go walk.
In any event, I walked into the square feeling relief as I said. I stood for a long while staring at what I thought I would never see, and watched while other pilgrims completed their pilgrimages. Some were overjoyed, some were overcome with emotion and some like myself, I assume, were quietly contemplative. I then did what I do always, and assessed my internal “thermometer” for the actual feelings that should have been there. Those feelings that I had expected to be there. At that point, there was nothing. I left the square feeling as though my backpack (which was very specifically so light that I could pick it up with two fingers) weighed a ton. Heading to my hotel, which I had booked as treat for myself, I had this overwhelming feeling of “underwhelmed”
My stay in Santiago de Compostela was planned for five days, after which I would be flying home. After a hot shower, unpacking every single item in my backpack and getting into clean clothes I headed into the old city to join some pilgrims for an early supper. I was glad it was early, since I was planning on an early night to head to the Pilgrim Office the next morning to collect my Compostela. I would then go to a pilgrim mass hosted in a nearby cathedral since the main cathedral was still under repair. For me, it was a quiet meal, since I was still trying to mill through what felt like a massive hole that I had inside.
As planned, the next morning I was up early and headed back to the square, and there I sat for the next few hours, watching the going-on and being witness to other pilgrims’ joy at finally reaching their respective goals. A lady approached me, to ask that I take a photo of her, she was walking alone and I happily obliged. We exchanged a few words, and what she said to me will stay with me forever. It is not anything new, or anything none of us doesn’t know, but she said how wonderful it was for her to have finished, she said she felt accomplished, but that she was also slightly blasé at entering the city! I told her how I had felt the day before. As she walked of thanking me, she said…”well it’s not really the destination, but the journey that we make to that destination that is important” As she walked off on what were obviously tender feet, my tears were real and if I remember correctly, I might have been sobbing just slightly.
It was most certainly a journey for me. I had planned a Camino for years, postponing one for a hip replacement, holding another off to be home for a parent who I thought needed me, this time wasn’t right, that time wasn’t right until eventually, it all culminated into a pilgrimage that I would again have to delay because I had picked up an injury! So many delays, and my relief, joy, happiness, accomplishment, and all those good feelings had too delayed themselves until a very wise lady put things into perspective for me. It was never about making it to Santiago de Compostela, it was about that journey that took me to the ancient city, and I felt grateful and blessed to have persisted in fulfilling this dream. I never went to the Pilgrims Office that day, I went to Pilgrim mass and cried a little more, and those tears were happy tears, were tears for my old self, because this new person is strong beyond measure. I am not finished walking the Camino de Santiago. I will walk as long as my body allows, and when it doesn’t, on that last pilgrimage I will go to the Pilgrims Office for my Compostela.
The effect on my life of walking the pilgrimage continues to fill my thoughts, and while we have all been restricted to our countries over the past months, there are pilgrims waiting to commence this incredible journey. I wonder if some, like myself, are underestimating the impact it will have on their lives? It’s changed mine in ways I have no words to explain. Simply speaking, it brought to the surface a boldness, a strength that I never knew I had inside of me but most importantly, it brought a sense of urgency. I am urgent to live my life to it’s fullest. I am urgent to live with purpose and with an authenticity that only I can understand.