For me, the impulse to walk the Camino de Santiago was never really about seeing Santiago or earning a Compostela. I wanted to make the Journey, to spend my days absentmindedly, determinedly making progress, moving forward, following in the footsteps of generations, creating new ways forward.
Each pilgrim has his or her own reasons for making the pilgrimage. Even in the early days, when most walked with explicit religious purpose, I suspect many left their homes and walked to the end of the world for more complicated and confusing reasons than the historic record communicates.
The record of my pilgrimage functions similarly. I walked ostensibly in service to my bucket list. Another grand adventure, another challenge. Brushes with catastrophe, new friends. Though not walking for particularly religious reasons, the circumstances of my life which allowed me to make the journey, also forced me to confront my life’s purpose, my responsibilities to myself and my community, and the very real limitations of my body and psyche.
Whether secular or religious, ancient or modern our initial stated purposes fail to reflect our shared experiences and transformations.
And so, when the towers of the Cathedral of Santiago came into view on this last day, they signaled not a glorious epiphanic catharsis, but the ending of the previous hard and joyous Way and the beginning of a new unknown post-Way way. Though undeniable changed, I still had no answers to big questions.
I did end up with a fancy piece of paper written in Latin that marked my journey. I have scars on my feet to mark the pain and friends around the world who share it. I have a new awareness of my body and sense of distance. A very real understanding of what it means to put one foot in front of the other and the importance of daily progress.
The pilgrimage was over, but my life as a pilgrim was just beginning.