something holy

Now there are only two days and thirty miles between me and Santiago. I’ve stretched my mileage so that I can arrive a day early and take a bus to Finisterre, a peninsula on the western coast of Spain that the ancients believed to be the end of the world. The name actually derives from the Latin finis terrae or “the end of earth.” Here it is customary to burn an article of clothing as a symbol of the end of one’s Camino (and possibly due to the smell that just doesn’t wash out). It will also be a welcome respite to relax on the beach and let my legs rest until I fly out of Santiago on the 23rd.

I’ve come to enjoy this rhythm of walking for hours each day and then taking time to read and write and rest. It’s a slow, steady rhythm and I think that I’ll miss it once life speeds back up after Santiago. I know I will adjust, but I hope I will remember how to settle back into my easy stride when time allows.

Today I walked 20 km (12 miles) from Ferreira to Melide and then I found myself swallowed up in a wave of pilgrims for the last 6 km to my destination. It seems like there will be many more on the trail, the closer I get to Santiago, and I have to say that I resent the change. The way is not so quiet and peaceful now, and there are so many shops and stalls along the way to cater to the heavy traffic. It feels much more like tourism than a pilgrimage at this point. I know that this is just my inner grumpy hermit coming out, after spending the last two and a half weeks without much social stimulation. I shouldn’t begrudge anyone their opportunity to walk the Camino, and I’ll try to look at the change more positively tomorrow. At the very least I’m sure to meet some interesting people.

Yesterday I was speaking with an Italian pilgrim named Rodrigo, and he told me about his reasons for walking the Camino. He told me that he carries the legacy of his ancestors, including his father and grandfather who have both passed away. He believes that through walking and prayer, his pilgrimage will help their souls find a better place in Purgatory. I thought this was an admirable reason to walk, even if I don’t hold the same beliefs, especially as I noted the way he persevered through significant leg pain.

Rodrigo asked my reasons for walking and I shared them, to which he replied, “So you’re a real pilgrim too!” He was referring to the fact that people increasingly walk for reasons that are not overtly religious, as opposed to pilgrims in the past who walked to visit what they believed was a holy site (the remains of St. James). While it is true in my experience that most people on the way don’t cite their faith as a reason for walking, I think that we are all still pilgrims. People walk to find peace or purpose; in response to a tragedy; to appreciate the beauty of nature; to slow down; to take care of their bodies; to spend time with a loved one. They walk for many reasons, and many of them are private. I think there is something spiritual in every walk and every reason is a good one. We all walk along a holy way, and it is impossible to walk without finding something holy in the journey.

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