My Camino Story pt 11 – Nothing Really Ends

Image…In the end?, Nothing really ends…

Allan Moore – Watchmen

It is a cold, grey morning and I am feeling the sense of  ending as I wake, looking out of the window of the Albergue before anyone else is stirring, I see the drizzle soaked road as it glistens in the pale dawn…

We are only 10 miles from Burgos and so today we “Faff” about, getting ready for the longest time. We breakfast and drink coffee until the time comes for us to leave the Albergue, so it can be readied for the next group of pilgrims to arrive… and Angela, Paul, Noel, Matt and I set off.

We are wrapped up against the elements  for the first time since we walked over the Pyrenees  160 miles ago.

We walk slow and I am happy to hang back today, I don’t want to get to the end too quickly, I want to take in as much as possibly, to savour this last day…

Early in the day, we reach the village of Atapuerca,  a famous archaeological site since 1997 when human remains from 350,000 years ago, were found in caves nearby.  I chat with Matt about the site… the significance of passing through this measure of time, human time, our planets time and how we spend our time, in this life, I tell him how I spent so much time waiting for something to happen, I had lost sight of the shear, amazing, accident of my own living soul, had forgotten  I am here to experience existence.

Matt tells me about the Philosopher and Jesuit Priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (who was also a Paleontologist and Geologist) who wrote…

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a             human experience.”

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin – The Phenomenon of Man

…and celebrated the earthly endeavours of all human beings as an expression of God’s work.

This morning, as the sun comes out and we begin to warm up, as we leave our oldest known ancestor behind and  begin our final climb before reaching Burgos,  I can actually consider my life in this way, my endeavours – an expression of  Gods work.

The climb is a bit of a scramble, steep in places, with the loose rocks under my painful feet, each awkward stone jars my wobbly ascent  and soon the others are ahead of me.  Looking down at the stones warily, out of the corner of my eye I catch the shadow of a familiar symbol, somehow raised in the rock beside the path…

Image

“The Om – The essence of all beings is the earth”

From – The Upanishads

I smile and, as I look up, see that  up ahead Angela and Paul  have stopped and are beckoning for me to hurry up.  I catch up to them at the top of the hill…

“See mate” says Paul smiling “we found you a cross”…

At the top, as the hill begins to plateau, there is a pile of stones supporting  a wooden cross with the familiar yellow arrow painted on it.

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I feel  my stone in my pocket, it’s not the iron cross but it feels right somehow, proportional for this journey. We are here now and I realise I can leave this stone and its symbolic cargo…

I am caught in thought about this little stone, how it came to be in my hand, with this weight of meaning and capacity for healing… formed by thousands of years of tumbling around the world in the waves, sometimes washed up on a shore and then hidden in the depths of the ocean, before my brother picked it up on a beach in Greece and gave it to me 4 months before I even know I’m going on this trip… or that I should be bringing a stone… known the fear and exhilaration of crossing the Pyrenees… meeting Helmut… the hill of Forgiveness…  the walking in the dark… Anna…  all the people,… all the conversations… all the love and care: and yet… still there, all the time the little nagging voice at the back of my head…

“…yeah, but not you, not you… not really, you don’t deserve this…you don’t deserve, anything…”

This guilt has been with me all my life and although  I understand that it is appropriate to feel bad if I do something wrong,  I have been living in guilt which I now see as such a terrible waste of emotion, poisonous to the soul, inhibiting my growth.  As I consider the little red and ochre stone in my hand, I see that we are all the lamb and we are all the knife… to be human is to know both Kālī and Shiva, the Angel and the Devil…

I take the stone out, kiss it and place it on a rock, near the cross, where Paul and Angela also leave a stone…

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Then we turn and walk away, across the spirals, mazes  of stones and messages left by pilgrims and others who have passed through on their way and begin our final descent…it takes a long time…and I listen to music as we walk sometimes together sometimes alone, in quiet contemplation…

All you create
All you destroy
All that you do
All that you say.
All that you eat
And everyone you meet
All that you slight
And everyone you fight

Pink Floyd – Eclipse

I think about how long I have been carrying that cargo, all my wrongs and recognise that the only, honourable way to deal with guilt, is to let it go when it no longer drives me to change, but sits there as a tool of self flagellation.  I recognise that my feelings of guilt and unworthiness will probably return, but I feel more absolute (absolved?)  in my resolution that they will not let them get the way of my exploring and bringing what I can to the world.  I see that,  If I keep waiting for perfection, I will just wait, much like I waited for so long before making this Camino…

I catch up with Paul and Matt as we enter the outskirts of Burgos..

Image

…it is quite a perfect little moment, I understand that the end is here.

Even on its outskirts, Burgos feels huge after our past few days of countryside walking and we still have  5 miles before we are at the Albergue so we stop for food in the industrial part of the city before we head into town, when we eventually reach the large, municipal Albergue and  rest, shower and unpack our sleeping bags as we have done every evening for the past 10 days but for Paul and I this is the last time…

That night we all attend the service in Burgos cathedral.  Again, I am deeply moved by a ritual I don’t understand and  I mouth along my childhood remembered words of the Lord’s Prayer, as its familiar cadence cuts through the language barrier…

“…and forgive us our trespasses.. as we forgive those who trespass against us…”

I feel so close to everyone, to everything … communion…

All that is now
All that is gone
All that’s to come
and everything under the sun is in tune

Pink Floyd – Eclipse

…and later that evening we all eat together one last time…

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We have had an amazing experience…

later, I am talking to Simon… telling him the story looking back, looking forward…

He tells me he sees how much the experience has meant to me, he tells me that other people are talking about the three english men who stumbled, laughing, out of a rainstorm with their open hearts  and took a gentle Camino, trusting,  telling our story to help other pilgrims, telling them what can happen if you answer your hearts calling and  take a step on the road to Santiago

                                           

Epilogue:

We spend the next morning in Burgos with Angela and Matt and then wish them both Buen Camino before setting of on the bus to catch our flight back to England Paul and I are very quiet all the way home.  We pick up Matt’s car from the airport and drive back, I drop paul off and by the time I get home it’s late and I sleep immediately…

The next morning, I wake early get dressed in my camino clothes and go out for a walk as the sun is rising,  knowing that 1000 miles away my pilgrim friends  are walking their Caminos as I continue to walk mine.

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Outro…

So that is the story of my first Camino journey. I hope you have enjoyed reading about  my experience I have been trying to write about it for over four years now… and there it is done…  and much like the Camino, maybe it takes some time to make sense of experiences like this (both the walking and the writing)…  It does feel a bit like reliving the journey which, at this point I thought was over, however as my circumstances evolved,  I did end up going back the following year and so…

Coming Soon…

Camino 2 the Return

“Two guys, one week, this time its personal!”

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