The End is Our Beginning

            We had arrived in Santiago de Compostella, which is the endpoint for many people who choose to do the pilgrimage of Camino de Santiago.  The film The Way popularized this bucket list journey.  The most traditional path is to take the Camino Frances route, which begins in St-Jean-Pied-de-Port France, and then transitions into Spain through the Pyrenes mountains and traverses for 500 miles.  Generally, one needs to do at least 100 kilometers to receive a certificate of completion.  Regardless of how many miles one walks, generally the destination was our starting point.  

            It was our initial day in Spain, and we were beginning our journey at everyone’s end.  On our first night, we went into the Cathedral, that houses the remains of the apostle St. James.  For hundreds of years people have walked to this location for this specific purpose, to see where St. James lies.  It seemed taboo.  Had we earned the right to visit without yet putting on our walking shoes?  Our walking journey was to begin the next day, but we could take in the evening’s festivities of this celebrated town. 

            I am not new to the Spanish culture.  This was my 21st trip to Spain, and my second time embarking on this pilgrimage in Santiago.  Yet this time our route was to end in Finistere, also known as the end of the world.  It’s been said that this Celtic path predates the Catholic pilgrimage.  We were hopeful the exploration of the city that evening would massage out the kinks that occurred at the airport hours before.  We were lucky it did.  

            After securing a walking stick, a delicious meal of tapas and patatas bravas, a tasty pastry, and rations for the next day’s journey, we strolled the streets to see what the night would reveal.  The tourist shops had now closed, and it was solely bars that were open at this hour.  Then we stumbled onto an archway by the church.  It served more as a portal.  Generally during the day, a musician plays his bagpipe, demonstrating the Celtic traditions that still exude in this land of Galicia.  But at this hour, the bagpipes were packed away, and were replaced with an opera singer.  

I love most street performers.  They move an audience to stop the busy-ness of their lives and slow down, and simply take in the gift of music they are sharing.  The opera singer sang several popular opera songs, the crowd slowly started to build.  Then the tunes changed, and he began singing “My Way,” which generally isn’t my favorite song, as it reminds me of an American middle aged drunk man’s go to karaoke song, as a bar closes.  But there were other people in the audience that seemed to enjoy it.  A tiny group of three older people who looked as if they were tourists and friends had their arms around each other.  They swayed and sang.   The opera singer appreciated their immersive experience.  When it was time for the chorus, the opera singer pointed to the trio and allowed them to take the stage.  “I did it my way.”  People had stopped to sit on the steps, and observe this magical moment.  For a brief passing period of time, we were all connected.  I couldn’t help but cry witnessing this beautiful example of collective gratitude and mindfulness.  These were not tears of sadness or worry for my future.  These were tears of joy I was able to experience this moment of collective bliss.  

            Perhaps starting at the end wasn’t a bad decision.  It was how this journey was to begin.  We could harvest the beauty and love shared from the evening onto the next day’s 23 kilometer trek.  I couldn’t wait to see what was next in store. 

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