Less than ten percent of pilgrims who arrive in Santiago continue on to what was previously thought of as “the end of the world”, Finisterre. This is true from what we’ve observed, as we’ve only run into a few pilgrims since leaving Santiago, mostly solitary men. The journey is more difficult, on this side of the “Camino”. The distance between towns is greater, the road more treacherous and less kept. So far, we’ve ducked under fallen trees and the rocks that have always littered the path are boulders not pebbles. We’ve spent a great deal of time therefore looking at our feet, reminding us of that Indiana Jones movie line that says that “only the penitent man may pass”.
When we left Santiago we felt like Camino pros, looking forward to the next 25 km, our legs anxious to get going again, but as the day wore on, we became physically and emotionally wrecked. Before arriving in Spain, we had practiced going up and down a steep hills, judging the steepness of the maximum hill by our John Brierly guidebook. What we had not anticipated or encountered before was a hill that was not so much steep, as it never seemed to end. Every time we rounded a corner thinking we’d finally reached the zenith we’d only found more hill. Our legs wore out taking our hearts with them.
I personally grew angrier and angrier as I continued to climb the hill. My thoughts going from “will this hill ever end?” to “why did I ever agree to go to Finisterre?, then to “why did I even want to do this walk?” and finally to “why God had taken our beautiful boy!” I was sobbing by the time I reached the top and with no one else to be angry at, I blamed my husband for failing to warn me about the length of the hill. So I left him, nearly sprinting down hill as quickly as I could.. As I reached the bottom, furiously wiping the tears from my eyes, I came upon an “ass” in an open field, eating grass, minding his own business. I could have sworn that in that moment, the rain clouds parted and the sun illuminated the donkey as though God was saying “stop being such an ass”. Even angrier, I gained speed. I was galloping now, trying to leave my grief behind. I stopped only when I arrived at a medieval bridge over an expansive river, the water rushing underneath, mirroring my own fury. I softened just a little, thinking how literal God could be when he is trying to communicate. I sat and waited for my husband, my sobs being carried away by the current.
My husband came along a few minutes later, he’d been wrestling with his own pains, one in his heart and one in his leg having pulled a muscle trying to catch up to me. I did not need to apologize, he said, he understood and felt the same. He was only worried that I’d get lost or be kidnapped by the truck that kept driving back and forth. I apologized anyway and the thought of a scrawny little man trying to push me, amazon woman, into a truck with all my gear, as furious as I was made us laugh. We were still laughing when he asked if I’d noticed the “ass” along the road, informing me that he’d taken a picture of it just in case (God still trying to make a point). The bridge loomed before us, like the rest of our lives without Gus. If we were going to make it, we’d need to cross the bridge of grief together. We collected the pieces of our heart, stuffing them into our pockets with the hope of piecing it back together later and crossed the bridge.