I made it to Santiago. I can't believe I just walked 200 miles across a foreign country. The blisters on my feet, the pain in my muscles and the fatigue in my heart do nothing but deepen the gratitude I feel for being able to take this pilgrimage.
Ramon, Don and I arrived in Santiago together yesterday. As we approached the medieval city center, I was overcome by emotion. Reaching Santiago with my new friends and celebrating such an amazing feat with them was one of the best feelings I've ever had in life.
We arrived just in time for midday mass at the cathedral and the swinging of the botafumeiro. We were scrunched into the aisles during the service, shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of other peregrinos. Honestly, it wasn't quite the cathartic, spiritual experience I expected - it was more of a tourist attraction than anything else. So I attended an English-language mass this morning to really contemplate the end of my pilgrimage.
During this mass, I found out that the 8th of September is the date that Christians celebrate the birthday of Saint Mary which was simply amazing to me. When I left home, I decided at the last minute to bring along this small, glow-in-the-dark plastic statue of Saint Mary. I can't even remember who gave it to me, but for as long as I can remember she's been in my bedroom and I've felt comforted by her watching over me. I never knew why I decided to bring her along but every day of the Camino, I carried her in my right front pants pocket. Walking on those dark mornings and those times I felt so lonely, I clutched her in my fist and felt better. And it turns out, I finished my pilgrimage on her birthday. During mass, the priest said that Mary was God's favorite daughter and the relationship between a father and daughter is so very special. He said that people pray to Saint Mary because it helps to have a daughter champion a prayer to her father. That I arrived in Santiago on Saint Mary's birthday not fully knowing why I kept a statue of her with me for the past two and a half weeks is far beyond a coincidence. I don't really know the significance of this, but I know in my heart that there is great meaning behind it.
So often on this trip, I got to choose if I wanted to be alone to write about what I was going through or go out with other people and participate in this extraordinary experience. I think that may be what I am most proud of on my Camino: the number of times I chose to participate rather than observe.
I started these Camino posts with poems I came across and would like to close with a Santiago Pilgrims' Blessing:
Father God we ask your blessing on us,
pilgrims who have come to venerate
the tomb of your Apostle Santiago.
As you kept us safe on our Camino way,
may you keep us safe on our journey home.
And, inspired by our experience here,
may we live out the values of the Gospel
as our pilgrimage through life continues.