Today I arrived in Santiago de Compostela. No drama. No great difficulties overcome. No great fanfare. The cathedral is sprawling and confusing and full of scaffolding so I had no idea where I was supposed to go or how to get there. The usual entrance is closed for restoration, and there was a long line when I finally figured out where I was supposed to go to see St. James’ statue and casket. So I didn’t arrive in a typical pilgrim manner, getting to the cathedral and having a grand spiritual moment. But no matter. I have tomorrow to rest and explore the city, which looks to be really lovely. Lots of old buildings, tiny streets, unexpected plazas, lively atmosphere. Maybe some spiritual time as well.
I will go to the pilgrim’s mass tomorrow night when they will use the Botafumeiro, a large incense burner that requires many people to operate, and apparently quite the sight to see. I saw it hanging in the cathedral, and the cathedral is so massive it looked rather small in context. The reason for the large incense was, as most Catholic traditions turn out to be, quite practical, as the ancient pilgrims were quite odiferous and full of disease! I ran into a few of those types along the way, but many more pilgrims with high end backpacks, shoes, hiking boots and good looking athletic wear. I was the one lowering the bar with my plain cotton t-shirts and shorts! But I hope I never smelled!!
I went to the pilgrim’s office and received my official certificate of completion, in Latin of course. My first name in Latin was something I’ve never seen before… Waited in line for almost two hours. Luckily I had a book to read on my phone. Said hello to a few familiar faces along the way.
So. Destination reached. But this wasn’t really about the destination for me. It was about the journey itself. The man who gave me my certificate said I was the only American woman who walked alone that he had seen. We talked about the value of doing this walk alone. I found it to be really worthwhile. It gave me so much time to think, to face some hard facts, to feel peace, love, and gratitude. To trust and to learn that all is well. Taking this journey one step at a time, while a cliche, reminded me that is the only way forward. Each day, more progress. More opportunities to be grateful and to follow love and peace. Not a bad way to spend a few weeks…
As Paulo Coelho writes in his book “The Pilgrimage”, about his walk on the Camino:
“Life always teaches us more than the Road to Santiago does. But we don’t have much faith in what life teaches us…. Life teaches us lessons every minute, and the secret is to accept that only in our daily lives can we show ourselves to be as wise as Solomon and as powerful as Alexander the Great. But we become aware of this only when we are forced to teach others and to participate in adventures as extravagant as this one has been.”
Now to Paris, where the t-shirt and shorts look will NOT do!