Depending on who you ask, the Camino de Santiago has many different symbolic, spiritual and religious meanings. Our class learned about many of them however one of them has stayed true to me throughout this liminality period in my life. It was during our first week in Roncesvalles where our class experienced an act of destiny private tour with Father Juan. Not only did we experience a tour but we also heard of his encounters and experiences with the Camino. Father Juan explained to us that the Camino is a journey grander than ourselves and that on our walk, we were supposed to experience and feel pain in order for God to get closer us. On the Camino the pilgrim only has what is on his back, his thoughts and what is in his heart. The Camino is used to release what is holding us back in our lives; depression, insecurities, resentment, pain, fear, unhappiness — everything which is not working out for our greatest good — the Camino is used symbolically to release them. When we reach the end at Finisterre some of us chose to burn certain items that meant something significant to us. It was at Finisterre I chose to burn what was holding me back as I begin my new journey here in Europe, so that I too, as many pilgrims before me, walk into my new beginnings.
I don’t even know how to put today into words. We finished the Camino and I have never felt more camaraderie, accomplishment, or pride in my entire life. I walked through the tunnel hand in hand with the people who have helped to encourage and motivate me the entire way and the feeling was like no other. From the very beginning of this trip I had no idea what to expect, but limping in to Santiago with my classmates who have come to mean so much more to me in these few short weeks than I ever thought possible, I am overcome with a sense of renewed vigor for whatever the next chapter in my life brings. I have a special place in my heart for the incredibly brave and powerful woman who has been by my side for every up and down of this trip, who despite currently undergoing chemo finished the last few miles with us, showing us all just what can be accomplished with the right attitude and determination. This trip wouldn’t have been nearly as memorable or life changing without her. You mean the world to all of us Jess and you are truly all of our Hero Champion!
One of my reasons for deciding to take this trip this summer is that I have a rare disease that might take most or all of my eye sight away from me at a young age. I plan to see as much of the world as I can before that happens. Spending these weeks learning about the Camino and then being here to experience it is one of the greatest moments of my life. Right before you get to the cathedral in Santiago, which is the point to which the Camino leads, there is a tunnel you have to walk through. For a moment everything is darker, and when you emerge from the tunnel you are flooded with sunlight and are finally in the square where the cathedral is. Should I lose my eye sight before I'm done exploring the world, I'll always be able to recall how it looked and felt to walk through that tunnel and into the square outside the cathedral. I'll always be able to close my eyes and remember all the beautiful mountains I've climbed in Spain. I'll always be able to recall the sunsets and waking up before the sun rose to get an early start on my walk to Portomarín. I'll always be able to close my eyes and remember all of the moments that have led up to walking through the tunnel, and how the sunshine felt on my face as I looked around and realized we had made it to Santiago. And most importantly, I'll always remember the people who walked beside me.