I wake up early in a strange bed, the same way I have for weeks. My brain feels around in the first few moments of waking for traction. Where? When? Who? The first thing I feel is a big space where all the math used to be. Today, there would be no calculations of how many miles or minutes. No estimates of time between cafes or number of steps in a day. I would not look at my watch. Emily would not count in eights to make the last kilometer go faster. I would not have to fit my life, like a puzzle, into my pack. We would not look up the temperature on our phones or count coffee cups on the Camino Ninja app. We would not hear just the right number of bells each time we passed a church on the hour. I close my eyes and feel a moment of vertigo. Untethered. Tears crawl up from my throat but do not reach my eyes. I cannot help but feel a sense of loss this morning. The flip side of an arrival is a departure. Yesterday, we arrived at our destination and today, we depart from the journey that brought us here.
Emily and I have been friends for a long time. We will continue to be friends. We will walk together again. We will travel together again. We may even do another Camino together. But we will never be compadres the way we have at this time, in This Way, on this Camino. The whole time we’ve been on this pilgrimage, I have felt like I’m in the right place, at the right time with the right person. Magic followed us everywhere. We were just in time when we should have been late- so many times. Every pivot we made ended up being better than the straight path we thought we wanted. We saw rainbows almost daily and everything we needed showed up just in time. We laughed endlessly even though we each think we’re not funny. We talked when conversation was right. We were quiet when silence was needed. We were together even when we walked apart. And we were able to find solitude even when we walked together. Things that should have been hard, were easy. Every time we got lost, we were quickly found.
We can make plans and pretend that nothing will change. We can put dates on the calendar and tell ourselves that this is not the end but the beginning. Our Camino will continue. We can promise to try and keep the magic going. But it will never be quite like this again. There is no way to avoid going through this shadow of sadness; no way to avoid this ending. Saudade.
The original meaning of the word, “aftermath” was ” a noun referring to the new crop of grass that is grown by farmers once the original crop has been harvested.” How cool is that? I am sad now but I think about the fertile ground that now exists for each of us. Who knows what will grow next? I yawn and check my watch. What time did the guy at the front desk say there would be coffee? I guess there will still be some math today. And I am grateful.
Inertia: “a tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged”
We don’t go to Finisterre. When we start discussing getting into a car for several hours, we cannot bear the thought. With the exception of our short taxi ride into Padrón, we haven’t been in a motorized vehicle in almost a month. We’re not ready for such a jarring re-entry. Plus, we have been wandering so aimlessly through the morning and through the beautiful streets of Santiago de Compostela that we are surprised when it’s afternoon. It’s too late to make it happen anyway. We acknowledge we won’t be venturing to the “end of the world” over our first glass of afternoon wine, but I don’t think we ever really make the decision. Our “Camino hangover” makes it for us.
I read some stories about the Camino before coming to Portugal. Most of them described some form of let down or disappointment upon arrival in Santiago de Compostela. They seemed to explain this by describing a lack of understanding or recognition on the part of others or sadness that the journey is over. But having experienced this phenomenon before, following important events and experienced it vicariously through my clients following big accomplishments, I have a slightly different take on it. We are often eager to set the next goal once we’ve checked one off the list. We are frustrated or confused by our inability to do so. Inertia usually describes a period of stillness after movement. We can, for sure, interpret this inertia as stagnation or even alienation. But I prefer to think of it as a period of grace. It is our opportunity to solidify a change of state or embody a new way of being. Not going to Finisterre is not a failure on our part. But instead, this seemingly lost day in Santiago de Compostela, is our day of grace. It is restful. A little uncomfortable. And it is time needed to adjust to the ways in which we have been fundamentally changed along The Way.
We do finally rally in time to make it to our appointment at the tattoo parlor. We have designed and redesigned our tattoos over the last few weeks and we are ready. It is fun and almost painless. We’re finished just in time to make it to our dinner reservations. We eat quietly with bandaged arms, soaking in the last bits of our time in Spain before heading back to Portugal tomorrow.
A FINAL KINDNESS
We have experienced so much kindness from locals along The Way. A woman ran frantically out of her warm house into a rain squall to keep us from going down the wrong street. A waiter, who could tell we were famished after walking all day, brought us bowl after bowl of potato chips for hours until the kitchen opened. A woman gave up her washing machine at the laundromat and showed me how to use it so I didn’t have to wait. Another woman gave me change for the dryer when I couldn’t figure out how to make the machine work. A guy in a bar left the soccer game he was watching to make us dinner in his empty restaurant during his break. Then sat down with us for stories and sharing of family photos. We have been welcomed with port, sent away with blessings and shown endless patience as we fumble with the languages.
My favorite kindness though, happens that final night in Spain after we leave the Italian restaurant. Our tattoo guys had instructed us to keep bandages on, but to purchase some lotion to put on our tattoos as they heal. On our way back to the hotel, we pop into a corner pharmacy. From past experience, I know that these little pharmacies have everything but most everything is unrecognizable to me. There’s a line at the counter so the pharmacist is not available. We locate what looks to be a shelf of lotions. We pick one and get in line. Lotion is lotion, right? The pharmacist sees our bandaged arms and eyes the tube we’re buying, suspiciously. He’s about to ring it up when a very pretty Spanish woman interrupts the proceedings and says in perfect english, “Maybe I can help. What would you like to buy?” We point to our tattoos and she smiles. “That is not for arms.” she says. She speaks rapidly to the pharmacist who pulls a different tube from behind the counter. It takes just a hot second for us to realize that this very kind woman just saved us from buying vaginal lubricant for our tattoos. All of us have a good laugh. We thank her profusely. We make our purchase and are sent off into the night, for the final time in Spain, with blessings and, thankfully, with lotion meant for arms. I am grateful.