After arriving in Santiago, the end point of the camino de Santiago pilgrimage, I felt unsettled. Unfinished. Unrested. My camino up until that point had unexpectedly been mostly about relationships with the people I met along the way and coming to terms with other relationships I’d left half a world away in Hawaii. It certainly had not been the solitary, prayerful, pious journey I’d pictured before setting off. The reality was I’d hardly had a moment alone in the 40 plus days I’d walked so far.
Over coffee next to the cathedral where St. James is buried and ribbons of pilgrims file in and out to pay their respects, a nun and I discussed direction. She assured me that if I were to ask, the way would surely be shown to me. I’d made it all the way to Santiago and still wasn’t sure what direction to take my life when returning to the states. Something like disappointment settled in, as I was hoping to have it all figured out by now.
So taking that nun’s advice, I did the only thing left to do and asked. I sat in a wooden pew, looking up at the tears streaming down Mary’s face on a statue in a tiny chapel, my own tears pouring into my hands, and asked to be shown the way. It’s hard to explain how I felt the call, or how I knew what to do, but the answer came almost immediately. And that was to keep walking.
Many pilgrims continue from Santiago to the western coast and a place called Fisterre, also known as the end of the world. It’s the furthest you can walk without tipping into the ocean and although I did not have designs to make this final leg part of my personal pilgrimage, it became clear to me in that church that I would walk those last days.
And so I did. On a gray morning, leaving my camino friends behind, I set out for the ocean. The following days were solitary, lonely, long. Unlike my journey to Santiago, I did not make any friends and I spent much of my time in prayer and meditation. I admired the sea, swam in clear waters with no one around, ate lots of bread. All I knew was that putting one foot in front of the other was the right thing to do and as those steps rolled out behind me, Fisterre was clearly where I needed to go.
There was a fogged over dawn, after spotting a bed bug motivated me to step out into the near darkness of the morning where a crumbling, moss eaten chapel in a cemetery showing off its tile letters felt like a secret moment only for me. Or the first glimpse of ocean since leaving Asturias weeks before, glistening below me in a deep bay shape. Spent an afternoon picking sea glass from a tiny deserted beach. Ate a perfect meal of beans, steak, and salad at an albergue with some old German women who complained about the fruit having spots. Hitched a ride from some spearfishermen, hunting for octopus at sunset, back to the albergue.
In the morning of the final stretch into Fisterre, certain of my path, I came to a way marker asking pilgrims to choose the path either to Fisterre or Muxia (another popular pilgrim destination along the coast). As I considered taking the way to Muxia (I had plenty of extra days to add this to the itinerary) I laughed heartily at myself and at life. So sure I’d been just moments earlier of taking the route to Fisterre, all it took was the suggestion of another way to stir my certainty. And how beautiful it is that we are given these choices, that life is not just a two lane highway with our birthplace at one end and a hamburger joint at the other.
We have a path, which during the brief moments in life when we actually travel on it are the most incredible, but along our journey we choose. We choose all the time. Which way to go, how much work to do, whether to go to school, to live with a cleptomaniac, to eat another cookie.
And these choices are not hard. Choosing to leave a job is not hard. Choosing to pack your bags is simple. Saying goodbye is just a wave of the arm.
Death is hard. Losing a dream job is hard. Birthing a child is hard. Living with a disability is hard. Car accidents are hard.
But our everyday, our everyday is not hard. If you are one of the lucky ones with food in your cupboard, or money in the bank, or a diploma with your name on it, let’s take a hot second to count those blessings. What a beautiful thing it is that we get choices in our lives.
Will you take that job? Will you eat a salad for dinner or sweet potato chips? Will you use your life savings to serve espresso in a warm mug? Will you set sail this afternoon? What dream is waiting for you to fulfill?
Stand up and live it.