Lessons from the Camino (part 3): What happens at the end of the road

The final installment..

In Part 2, we discussed the ‘rat race,’ going around in circles, how to ask for what you want, and the importance of slowing down. In this final article, we will discuss anticipation, choosing alternate routes, the end of the road, and what happens when things don’t go according to plan.  It’s taken me a while to finish this series, because ironically, I couldn’t figure out how to end it. The pilgrimage to Santiago was fairly epic. It’s almost impossible to sum up everything that happened in only a few words.

obstaclecourse
Obstacle course in Asturias.

Anticipation
Towards the end of the 500-mile journey, there comes an anxious anticipation. You start to feel like an annoying kid singing in the back of a car, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” Some days were filled with amazement, joy and excitement. Other days were difficult, as I missed sleeping in my own bed, cooking home cooked meals, driving my car and being able to walk around without a heavy backpack. Although we traveled lightly and built up our physical strength, it was always a sense of relief when we would arrive at a destination and be able to set down our bags.

The reality that we were almost at the end hit me when we arrived in the province of Galicia. This was the fourth and final province to cross before arriving to Santiago (so far we have walked through the Basque country, Cantabria and Asturias). In order to receive a certificate of completion at the end, you are required to walk the last 100 kilometers. That means you aren’t allowed to take a train or bus to “skip ahead” through towns. The way this was tracked was through pilgrim passports. We each carried a passport, and all the hostels, churches and most restaurants were able to give you a stamp. I went back and forth about even caring about getting a piece of paper. It’s all about the journey right? But towards the end, I figured since I had come this far, I might as well finish and get the “credential” to show for it.

We also started to ‘run out of time,’ and reached a crossroad where we had to make an important decision. We could a). continue walking on the Northern route as planned, working extra hard during the last stretch with no rest day (up until now, we had always taken a rest day, aka Sabbath or non-walking day). Or we could b). cut through an alternate route, known as the Primitive route.

We tirelessly stewed and pondered trying to weigh out the best option. Stagnicity was starting to permeate, as we were getting restless with following the same straight-line route in our guidebook. We even had thoughts of escaping the trail to visit Sweden. So what did we do? We switched it up and decided to take the alternate course. We took a chance and turned the pages of our book onto a new chapter. No matter what, we were going to end up in Santiago, so why not get out of the slump and venture outside the straight line? The moment we made the decision, a feeling of freshness washed over us and we were ready to continue on.  Some may say that we exhibited a lack of commitment for not staying on the same route. However, I beg to differ. As discussed in Part 2, we had a start point and an end point. What happens in the middle becomes the creative process of interpretation, our free will to choose, and ultimately becomes the ‘story’ of our lives. My vow was to make it to the end. I committed and never lost my eye on the ball.

threedoors
Three doors leading into the same place.

The End of the Road
The last day of walking was glorious, but also kind of sad. It had all gone by so fast, and the realization that it was about to be over was exciting, yet bittersweet. We had made so many friends on the trail, overcame many personal trials, and experienced many different parts of Spain, from the different language dialects (fascinating), food, landscape, culture, etc. For the last day, we decided to give ourselves a treat. We transported our backpacks ahead so we could walk without a heavy load. Some may call this “cheating” and at first I was feeling guilty about doing this. However, my friends asked me, “who are you trying to prove yourself to?” I had somewhat suffered for 29 days carrying my weight on my shoulders. On the 30th day, I set my shoulders free.

As the final steps approached the cathedral, I became overwhelmed with tears and emotion. We made it! A part of me felt like I didn’t deserve to be surrounded by such beauty. I sat in a corner and cried. I thought of Jesus and all the trials he bore. And here I was.. a nobody, lucky to be alive to even experience this moment. And here was this door wide open with people flocking in and out. The end was here, the doors were open, and I walked right in.

cathedral
Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

When Plans Go Wrong
After prying myself away from the elegance and glamour of the Compestela, I settled in with our couch surfing crew, bought a new wardrobe, and prepared for the party at the Saint James Festival. This is the biggest festival weekend of the year as the entire town was filled with music, food and festivities to celebrate the birthday of the apostle James, whose tomb is buried under the famous cathedral.  We gathered in the town square waiting for the opening fireworks. However, within a few hours, there was chatter going on amongst the Spaniards. People were on their cell phones, talking to each other with bewildered voices. Then all of a sudden someone hops on the loudspeaker to let us know that the entire city and festival was shutting down because there was a nearby local train accident. What was supposed to be a day of celebration turned into a festival of mourning. More information about the train accident can be found here.

80 people were killed and never made it to the festival. That moment sitting on the town square is a very powerful image that I’ll never forget.  People were flocking to the hospital to donate blood to the victims.  This scene will always be a reminder of how precious our lives are, and how important it is to be thankful for everything that has been given to you, even during times of mourning. It’s also a reminder of how humanity can really come together during great times of need. On the flip side though, it’s kind of a shame that sometimes it has to take a huge emergency for us to “wake up” and help. We should really try and be there for each other in our day to day affairs and in the smaller scale hardships.

So here we were at the end of the road and death was staring us in the face. I hate to end this article on a morbid tip, but the reality is that someday we won’t be here. Also, one day, perhaps your relationship, marriage, friendship, career, dreams, project, family member, creature comfort, sense of security, status, bank account, or whatever you are investing into may die and fade away.

  • Are you continuing to hold on to something that’s not there, or can you embrace what is gone and remember the beauty of what you had?
  • Is it possible to see an open door waiting for you amidst your present situation?
  • Once that door appears, are you going to walk through it, or will you retreat back to your “comfort” zone?
  • Do you have a tendency to continue repeating the same patterns over and over again expecting different results?

Finally…

  • What are your “credentials” and what kind of stamps do you have marked on your passport? A high school diploma or college degree? A job title? A changed last name? A baptism? The number of places you’ve traveled or volunteered at? The number of hearts you’ve broken, kids you have or fans you’ve gained on Twitter? The amount of money in your 401k?

The things above are all great things to invest in and there are no right or wrong answers to any of these questions. However, beyond the to-do lists and personal achievements, its sometimes easy to forget that the world around us is remarkably filled with beauty, yet at the same time very terribly broken. Life can be harsh and tough sometimes (perhaps more for some than others), although, it doesn’t have to be an everyday struggle. There are days when you’ll want to throw off your bags, quit whatever you’re doing and escape. Instead, maybe all you have to do is turn your garbage that’s been ruminating in your backpack into compost, fix your zipper, re-adjust your straps, set your bag down for a moment, take a break, drink some water, breathe and continue walking.

There’s a lyric from the song, Gold Dust Woman by Stevie Nicks that says, “Do you know how to pick up the pieces and go on?”  Learn to work with what’s been handed to you. No matter how light or heavy, there is a reason you’ve been chosen to carry it, so carry on wisely, with authenticity and integrity. And when life slaps you in the face, takes something away from you and/or closes a door, just trust that there may be another open door that awaits. Another lyric from the song, Cruel by the Head & the Heart says “Now that we’ve come to the end, we find that we’re right where we began.” The end of something always marks a new beginning. Don’t ever stop “walking.”

dontstopwalking
One of the last signs before reaching Santiago.

Here’s Part 1 and Part 2 again, in case you got lost on the trail..
Lessons from the Camino (part I): Why you have to get up and “walk” everyday.”
Lessons from the Camino (part 2): Creating your own “way.”

Photo Gallery..
Click here for the official Camino photo gallery.

———
by Kristin Bach
Copyright 2013

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