A note for readers: This is the final offering in a series of articles intended to describe my experience of walking two of the many pilgrimage routes that make up Spain’s Camino de Santiago. Although I documented those experiences on Facebook as they were unfolding in October 2023, this is a much deeper look into their implications.
Should you need to review any previous articles for context, and if you landed here from Facebook, please click here, then scroll down as needed. If you came here directly, just scroll down.
As always, life is in convergence, and moving toward the inevitable.
In places the world over, like Oviedo and Muxia, in Santiago de Compostela and Rome, in Jerusalem and Mecca and so many others, the ancient pilgrimage routes come to an end. And whether the pilgrim then turns for home, or moves on to another walk, the journey continues; not a single step is lost.
The mountain walks of penitent reflection and the Atlantic coast’s stormy grace, have ushered me out of the past and delivered me to the cusp of what lies ahead. My conscience is as free and clear as the way forward, and I move into life’s closing chapters truer to myself than I’ve ever been. This has been the pilgrim’s way for me. At the end of my time in Finisterre on that first pilgrimage of seven years ago, I reflected on the long road I’d just walked. My observation seems as relevant now as it did back then:
“Now, none of what came here with me is as it was before...it is cleaner and brighter, more likely to shine on my life than shadow it.”
What a kind thought to bring home.
I sense there is an infinitely deep well of insights from this October Camino that will continue to be revealed, precisely when they’re needed most. One of these could arrive on some solitary evening walk by the lake in summer, maybe even on one of those dreamy blue nights that happen around the solstice and right after sunset. My thoughts may wander the way thoughts always do. Then something will slip through when I least expect it ̶ ̶ something arising out of grace as it rode hard on a frightening, windswept rain, or from a difficult, penitent climb in the mountains. “Ah,” I’ll say, and won’t even alter my stride. This kind of thing could go on forever.
Sometimes, life’s events have a way of folding in on the edges of a pilgrimage. Often it’s the trailing edge where the experiences of the walk start to crystalize, but there are times when the beginning of something presents at the leading edge. This was such an occasion:
It’s always the timing of a thing that first draws my attention; how it arises, seemingly out of nowhere, and is placed with the certitude of the divine into the center of everything. For good measure, there is often irony and a touch of humor involved as well.
Two days before I left for Spain, a note from a friend arrived via Facebook Messenger. We’d spoken a few months earlier about the possibility of my meeting someone he knew, and how he thought we’d be a wonderful match. At the time I was rounding out a period of intentional solitude and deep self-inquiry after the ending of a long-term, committed involvement ̶ ̶ taking what I’d come to refer to as a relationship sabbatical. Maybe it was something in his voice, more likely the rumblings of my own inner voice, but without too much fanfare, I simply replied, “Sure. Why not?” That was the last we spoke of her until the arrival of his message as I was beginning to load my backpack for three weeks of pilgrimage an ocean away. He was sincerely apologetic about the months-long delay, included her Facebook link, and reiterated how he thought we’d be great together. My attention captured, I reached out...to Jennifer.
She was quite understanding of what I was about to embark upon, and since both of us have public-facing writing lives, websites, and social media, we lightheartedly agreed to some mutual internet stalking in the spirit of getting to know more about each other until we could finally meet. This was our plan, anyway.
I’d been in Spain for about a week when, on the fifth stage of the San Salvador, I reflected on the difficult walk I’d had the day before ̶ ̶ a frightening crucible of an experience, one that left me deeply shaken. From my seventh blog post on the San Salvador: "It strikes me how this pilgrimage, coming as it has toward the end of a long and intense period of solitude and spiritual self-inquiry, presents an opportunity to reframe much of what has been revealed...a finer way forward as new doors are opening."
I reached out to Jennifer...just a silly message about a typo I’d made on a Facebook post...a further opening of a door. The details of the exchanges that followed for the remainder of my time in Spain, will, of course, always remain between us. But our correspondence was remarkable, and as I look back on it now, its perfection was found in the words of two writers, limited (first by circumstance, then by agreement) to the page, revealing themselves to another as neither had before ̶ ̶̶ effortlessly, completely, and without a shred of anxiety. It was about ten days later when I had a most profound, unusual experience ̶ ̶̶ that of missing someone I had not yet met.
On a drizzly early evening in the town of Finisterre, I walked to a beach that had held much meaning when I came here after my first pilgrimage seven years ago. I thought about how life had changed since then, and yet how abiding my love for Spain and the Camino had always been. This pilgrimage, likely my last here, would soon be ending. I would have to leave it behind a final time, and a sadness overwhelmed me. As I returned to my hotel through the darkened streets, it occurred to me that I should send Jennifer a simple message about this, about just how hard it is to leave this place. It was the first time I’d reached out to her in need of something ̶̶ ̶ in this case a measure of solace. Her response was perfect and kind, precisely what a heartsick pilgrim of the Camino would need offered, standing at the threshold of leaving Spain, possibly forever.
The day after I arrived home, we met in front of her place, a high-rise condo in Hartford. I had slept quite well, and I brought the very best of me. As she breezed through the building’s front entrance carrying a welcome-home gift, I saw the turning of a page. We greeted each other quietly; I opened the car door for her, then took my seat behind the wheel.
My first words to her: “I think I need a minute here.”
Hers to me: “Yeah, me too.”
All the omens have continued to be good ones.
I will always walk. It is the Word I’ve been given to live. There may be times I call it pilgrimage, but when I walk anywhere and trace down through the body’s feel, the mind’s thoughts, the transcendent experience that always comes shining, I may as well be crossing the great Meseta, the Cantabrian Mountain passes, or the coastal moors. It is the walk the soul does crave. The walk.