Obligatory post for a pilgrim today, I include the following excerpt from one of my favorite books on the Camino, The Great Westward Walk, by Antxon Gonzalez Gabarain, who passed away from ALS September 1, 2012. Having walked into the Plaza del Obradoiro myself, I can relate to the emotions he describes:
I approach the cathedral from behind, and step into an immense and deserted square. I head to the center stones and look up through a curtain of rain at the brightly-lit cathedral facade. A river comes down my face. Tears fill my eyes. The two towers stand majestically, almost menacingly against the blackness of the stormy night. Millions of raindrops strike and bounce off the stone façade, wrapping it in a ghostly aura. I am dazzled. I am small and alone in the middle of the Obradoiro square, and the cathedral of Santiago stands before me in all her glory. Completely emptied, I lean on my staff and stand motionless before the majestic Baroque stones of Compostela. Face to face we stand alone, she and I, washed clean with the same water from the sky. This is my chimera, my ultimately unattainable goal….
Providence gave me this magical stretch of solitude. I can now attest that I am not the same nervous man who pulled shut the door of his house a month ago. I am the same, but tanned. I’m the same, but more free. I am the same, with far less fear. I am … but who am I? It’s funny, I’ve never asked myself that question. No, I’ve never considered it. If I ever did, I must’ve been drunk, because I do not remember it. Who am I? I wonder. I take a deep breath and listen for the answer. I am one part limestone and another part sand….
I’m the hopeless case, the disease that has no cure… who, despite everything, will try to do his best. I will never abandon you. I am the one who thought he’d never write a book. The books that sell best have happy endings, and that’s the way I’d like mine to end. But even happy endings are endings. If you look at it closely, it’s good just to finish. A relief. I curl up on the cathedral steps and lean my head on the stone rail. The rain doesn’t bother me now. I cannot get any wetter, so I can relax. A warm, radiant peace overwhelms me. A sharp, bright whisper slices through my trance — I feel her, I hear her, She with whom I have shared so much, whispers a sweet “I love you” in my ear. The little girl with the pink cheeks whispers to me, like a secret in my ear: Aita, Daddy, I see you, you are the most luminous of all the stars. My little girl flutters around me with outstretched arms, like a butterfly. I feel my mother, my father, my brothers beside me, chanting comforting words. A hand grabs mine; I feel a salty drop of love fall on my arm. I’m dressed, clean and crisp. I hear Pavarotti singing “Miss Sarajevo.” I hear Julieta Venegas singing “El Presente.” I delight in the melodies. My friends pass here, too. Loyal friends.
The distance that separates us doesn’t keep them from sitting at my side. My mouth cannot form a word, but my heart sends a message: “Follow your Path. I am right there with you.”
“I’ve got this. I’m free now.”
When the time comes I give myself to a deep sleep. There’s a smile on my face.