Where millions have trod,
I walked once and once again.
Five hundred miles, twice.
From my notes:
51° and clear
The last 20 km
I head down a familiar road and veer left into the forest. The moon is a sliver, adorned with one bright star.
I smell the eucalyptus.
Roosters call the light and birds sing.
I see only two others ahead of me.
I remind myself to slow down.
A man singing, approaches from behind. I let him pass but not before offering a "buen camino". And, I meant it!
My mind races.
I anticipate the sound of bagpipes when I walk under the arches, into the Square. I wonder who of my new tribe might be there to meet me. I walk on.
Out of the forest now, the path parallels the highway. I hear a dog bark from inside a house. I wonder if dogs ever get hoarse. And I imagine the annoyance of the dog's owner, especially at siesta time, or when the number of pilgrims increases from dozens to hundreds.
I stop at the first cafe, thinking I'll have one last café con leche, but because of my desire for solitude this last day, I leave the breakfast eaters behind, grab a banana for one euro and head out, again into the forest.
My thoughts range from savor to arrival...and to inevitable goodbyes. I wonder, what happens if you live your life as if everything is a goodbye? Are you really able to enjoy the moment...or the future? Maybe goodbyes are simply adieus...for the time being.
The path undulates. The “last hill" is never the last hill. I plant my sticks.
Halfway at 8:50am, 10K left of this 800k journey.
My pace quickens due to walking with a young Irish couple from Dublin. We share Camino stories; then I walk on.
At 9:45, I have 5k left to walk.
I walk down the "last" hill, anticipating first sight of the cathedral.
I know transition is beginning. I consider that transition may be hardest for children, elderly, animals AND pilgrims.
Up ahead I see a busload of people who now walk the narrow path alongside the street. Again, my pace quickens.
I follow bronze scallops that replace yellow arrows.
I hear bagpipes.
I round the corner and look up at the scaffolded cathedral with recognition and awe.
I watch as others arrive.
We stand where millions of others have stood. I savor the moment before entering the Cathedral.
Inside, I hug the gold statue of St. James and look out from the altar toward those who pray.
I thank God for my desire and ability to have walked this 500-mile journey across Spain, not once but twice.
Although no two Caminos are identical, there are common aspects. Friendship, companionship, beauty of the landscape, hardship, perseverance, laughter and just plain fun are commonalities. Each of the over 1,000,000 steps is both a hello and a goodbye...to the past, the present and the future. For all of these steps, I am grateful.
People, similar and different, help on this journey. But when you reach Santiago, you say goodbye...to those who have walked with you, to those who have provided for you; to those who have shown you the best parts of themselves. And they say goodbye to you. Transitions are neither beginnings nor endings. They are just transitions. Somewhere along the way, second impressions morphed to second chances. Life seems not as it was; yet is still the same. Bittersweet, hopeful and lovely.