A Pilgrim Tale: day thirty-three

I don’t remember rolling up my sleeping bag or packing away my gear for the last time. I don’t remember walking down the hall to brush my teeth, or lacing up my boots. But I am sure I did all these things.

I do remember that the sky was the color of rose petals. And the air was cool, but soft. And we walked mostly downhill, til we were in the city. There was a monument. Then the city was like any other.

And not like…

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We breakfast at a cafe where we see the familiar tortilla. And the very unfamiliar rose tea. And all the tables are indoors and everything is clean and bright and the owner moves about calmly and easily and some people look like they are dressed for the office. And I wish we were bumping into one another and sitting out on the sidewalk and the owner was bustling and something about the place was a little run down, and friendly.

Jan, David, Mike and I stop at the inn where we will share a room tonight and drop off our backpacks. It feels wonderful to be walking without them. It feels strange to be walking without them.

We decide to head to the pilgrim office straightaway before the line gets too long. This turns out to be a good idea. But we almost miss Jorge, Kelly, Otto, Jose, and gang. Almost. We had walked with Otto for a while earlier this morning, but he and Jose went on while we were leaving bags. And yet, like iron filings to a magnet, we seem to be drawn to one another.

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We find Jorge and Kelly, Kathy and Catherine in the square just as several others arrive. We hail Otto who is walking away and take a group photo. This picture will be one of the treasures of the Camino for me. Then we run into Nathadeo who we haven’t seen since we sang with the nuns in Carrion de los Condes.

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This is one of my favorite stories from the Camino. These two gentleman walked the whole 800 kilometers of the Camino Frances, from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago, just like we did. All the mountains and valleys, all the rocky terrain and narrow, briery paths, all the puddles and cow patties. Here is the difference: the fellow on the left, he’s blind. Watching them move in concert is like listening to a duo that has been singing into one another for so long that they breathe together. Some friendships are given to us as examples, to know just how far love can go. This is one of those.

The Cathedral is undergoing renovations which means that we cannot access the Portico of Glory. We walk round to the other side to enter. We queue up to “hug” the statue of St. James. Then, we walk down to the crypt to venerate the body of our Lord’s own apostle. This is a solemn moment.

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Coming out of the cathedral, we run into Paul and Lasse who we haven’t seen for days. Mike is not with them. He too will arrive on this day, but we will not see him. Jan and David will find him in Finisterre, though. AND we see Adam, our friend from Poland, with whom we also have lost contact for a bit. We have one last beer with the boys and share a few final tales of the road. Bittersweet.

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We choose from a dizzying array of tapas for lunch, pop our head into a few shops looking for gifts for our kids, our granddaughter and our godchildren, then go back to the inn for a little rest. We head over to the cathedral around 6:00 to snag a seat for the 7:30 pilgrim mass and who should we find resting just outside, but Damien, Psicobeta, Filipe and Claudia! They have walked 40 kilometers today to be here for the evening mass. It is SO GOOD to see them.

Shortly before the mass begins, a feisty little nun comes out to teach us a couple of responses we will need later in the service. Then the mass begins. Like all of the masses along the way, this one is in a combination of Spanish and Latin, so I understand little. But it is nice to know the responses.

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You may or may not have ever heard of the Botafumeiro. It is an inordinately large censor. Incense has been used in worship since the pre-temple days of the Old Testament. It is still essential in the practice of Orthodox and Catholic Christians today. But I’ll bet you’ve never seen a censor quite like this one. The story goes that part of the reason for its size was to help cover the stench of the pilgrims. This, I believe. (The above photo is its support structure.)

The Botafumeira is not used at every mass as the cost of the incense is prohibitive. But we have heard that it is commonly used on Friday night. So we are glad to be here on Friday. Still, it’s not a sure thing. Til we see the men in red cloaks, one of whom carries a shovel (as in a garden shovel, you understand) full of charcoal and incense. Then we know.

However extraordinary you imagine it would be to stand here, it is a thousand times more so. I have provided you with a taste. But only a taste. The music, our prayers arising as incense, the weary bodies so full of miles, the stories, the love that has knit so many of us into one another…

And then it’s over. Except it’s not. We walk out into the night to find our young friends again: the newlyweds, Damien and Psicobeta, and friends Claudia and Felipe. We talk about their long walk today and they ask us if we remember the spiritual Mike and Paul sang at Granon. “We have been changing it up a bit as we walked,” they say. And right there, in the gathering dark outside a cathedral in Spain, they sing…

I believe it too.

Go with God, dear friends!

I miss you already.

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Once the soul awakens, the search begins and you can never go back. From then on, you are inflamed with a special longing that will never again let you linger in the lowlands of complacency and partial fulfillment. The eternal makes you urgent. You are loath to let compromise or the threat of danger hold you back from striving toward the summit of fulfillment.

~John O’Donohue