We’re home in Valencia. We left Santiago in the dark and pouring rain early this morning. I’m glad to be home but this past week walking 114 km was a good reminder for me on the power of the journey and what you find along the way.
To say it rained on us this week was an understatement. It’s a good thing we both know how to swim because that’s almost how we found our way to Santiago. We were hurting as we walked through the old town and under the portico to the square in front of the Cathedral. Strangers cheered us in, shouting and clapping. One of the most powerful feelings and I teared up a little – Shhh… don’t tell Jeff.
This short Camino came with more physical pain than emotional. I limped the last 20 km on an Achilles tendon that was visibly swollen and I drug my foot like Igor in Young Frankenstein. If I’d implored my fellow Peregrinos to ‘Walk this way’ I’m not sure they would have understood the reference. But Jeff laughed when I said it in a deluge at Monte de Gozo.
Jeff and I have been married for a long time, and together for longer. Over time, our life together became about the day to day. Raising kids, paying bills. The administrivia of living. But as Ferris Bueller warned us all in the 80’s ‘Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.’ And it’s easy to do. So I wondered – how would it go walking all that way (5-6 hours a day) with Jeff? He didn’t do my first Camino with me. That was Emilie’s special joy.
We’ve never done something that was so physically challenging together. But he surprised me. Not that he couldn’t handle the rain, the sore muscles and the pain. But there were things about him I didn’t know. Stories he’s never told me. In all this time. I guess it took walking side by side for hours to make some things bubble to the surface.
And he mused aloud. In my experience, that’s my domain. Jeff isn’t much of a verbal muser. He’s more of a person who does his musing in private and shows up with the results after many hours, days, weeks of mulling things over. But over the last week I got a view into not only his process, but the outcome in real-time. Interesting.
And I learned some new things. I always knew Jeff liked baby goats. We had goats at one point and he’d laugh at them. But I never knew he subscribed to the baby goat subReddit. He’s a baby goat antics aficionado. Some people like cat videos – Jeff likes baby goats. And he also subscribes to the one for jokes. He had me laughing the whole way. And at least once a day I was doubled over after standing aside to let others pass as I struggled to control myself. He’s funnier than I remember with his puns, quick wit and dry sense of humor.
Jeff’s legs are much longer so he had to adjust his pace to mine and go slower up hills. But there were days he was in pain and we went at a pace that was comfortable for us both. I’ll only lose one toenail this time. So I’m pretty happy about that.
We met some cool people too. A father and son who were walking together after the mother had passed and couldn’t go. A woman who turned 70 in May and whose mother passed away in August. An educator from Minnesota who retired and finally had the time. A group of 5 women from the Faroe Islands who have been friends since they were 6 years old and were on an adventure.
Santiago is an interesting place. The end of journey’s. We watched as those who were already cleaned up walked the streets greeting those still finding their way in, with hugs and cheers. Like old friends, even though they’ve only known each other for a few days or weeks.
The smiles on every face, including our own, at the office to get the Compostela are broad. Open faces and laughter. Unspoken are the words ‘Can you believe we did it?!’ as we all peeled off wet gear down to long underwear hoping to ring it out a little before our number was called to get our certificate.
Last night we had dinner in a place that served Thai food we were craving and there were tables filled with ‘Camino Families’ having their final dinners together. Recounting tales from the trail. Places like Molinseca and Castrojenz. Times when they needed help from others and when they gave of themselves. Smiles, ribbing and laughter.
People who walk the Camino are looking for something. Within themselves, in the world. Sometimes it’s closure from an illness or a loss. Sometimes it’s to process grief or find a part of themselves long buried but not forgotten. Tears are almost always near the surface – wine helps grease the skids. And stories spill forth ready to be told. But in the end, I think it comes down to what we’re all looking for in this life. JOY!! And Pilgrims find it on the Camino – in one form or another. And even if only for a brief moment, they can name it and hold it in their hands.