On Monday, B and I went to Finisterre- the end of the world.
Finisterre is a tiny fishing village on the Costa del morte- the coast of death- about 50 miles from Santiago. For pilgrims it is a three day walk to the lighthouse and cliffs at the end of a long spit of land.
Arriving at the Atlantic Ocean, pilgrims would swim in the sea, burn their smelly clothes, put on new clothing and begin their arduous journey home. They would pick up a scallop shell from the beach as proof that they had finished their pilgrimage at the end of the world.
For them it was a baptism if you will- a washing off of the old life and putting on a fresh clean new start.
I liked the symbolism of this so at the end of my first Camino I walked alone to Finisterre. It was an adventure to say the least.
Thanks to the wonders of the IPhone, I am able to share this with you.
Five mile shell collecting walk along the beach to the village.
Ceremonial clothes burn on the cliff behind the lighthouse.
Years later, B and I walked the route together. This time, we chose the Easy Path. We took the bus.
Unlike past years, Finisterre was teeming with pilgrims. Modern pilgrims now make the trip to Finisterre or to Muxia, another seaside village, made famous by Martin Sheen in his Camino movie The Way.
Muxia, seen in the pictures above, is less visited but equally as beautiful.
We also visited there but Finisterre has a history for me. I have done some of my best thinking on its cliffs and I wanted to go back.
After a wonderful lunch of assorted local fish favorites, we walked the three miles out to the end of the point.
Santiago was waiting for us.
You can see why I do the heavy carrying and we don’t walk together.
Note the 0:00 km on the marker.
Pilgrims burning and celebrating.
Finally it’s time to think about Santiago and this Camino.
While we were walking, we shopped from time to time in a store called Mas y Mas, translated more and more.
One problem on the Camino is how the backpack seems to gain weight during the walk. More and more gets put into it.
Rocks, shells, pamphlets, pine cones, snow domes, books find their way into the pack. Each one is a treasure I can’t live without and when the weight gets to be too much, I have to ship them home. Stuff. More and more .
Sitting on my rock, I begin by thinking what I will pull out of the pack and put into the box when I make my third visit to the post office the next morning. ( The post office opens at 8:30. The bus is at nine. Just enough time if I am first in line! We have just arrived and I already know this.)
The pack is getting fat- too heavy to carry, even on the short walk to the bus station. Time to unload. Again.
What is it about stuff?
I think of my garage which is filled with stuff.
When I get home and unpack my mailed treasures, I know they will eventually join all of the other rocks, shells, pine cones, pamphlets, snow domes and books that I have shipped home from every other walk that I have taken.
My latest Compostela will join six others in a mailing tube in the garage. The books and papers will end up in the box, now several boxes, marked Caminos or Spain.
The passports, filled with stamps I so contientiously collected, will fade with time.
I spent a fair amount of money having a long frame made to display my first passport.
Over the years, nearly every one of the stamps has faded. There on the wall, proudly displayed, is a long beautiful frame filled with blank squares.
This pretty much sums up the folly of Mas y Mas.
I come back around to a thought which I have returned to day after day while walking.
What is essential? What do I really need? What can I take out of my backpack, my garage, my life, that is too heavy to carry around? What is it that is really important to me? What is worth carrying around in my backpack of life?
I used to tell my grandchildren they could have anything in toys r us but they had to carry it all 20 blocks back to our house. Sometimes we’d carry their toys around the store until they decided they were too heavy to carry home. “Too heavy “, they would say.
As I reflect on the weight in my backpack, my garage, my life, I think back on my Sunday in Santiago. What was essential there?
The rituals of pilgrimage, as wonderful and full of symbolism as they are, will not determine the success or failure of my camino .
I do not need a piece of paper to tell me that I have walked the Camino del Norte.
Whether or not the Pilgrims’ Mass meant anything to anyone else, it does not affect what it meant to me.
The important thing in Santiago was seeing all of the people we had met along the way and celebrating with them.
It was watching all of the pilgrims we didn’t know arriving with joy at the end of their respective walks.
It was watching all of the tour groups who had come to Santiago trying to understand what this camino thing was all about.
From my rock in Finisterre, I knew I, too, was ready to turn around and begin my journey home.
While I had not swum in the ocean or burned my smelly clothes or filled my pockets with scallop shells, I had cleared some of the clutter from my mind and my soul. I had once again relearned the lesson of the camino. Travel light.
So what was important on my camino across Spain and in my Camino through life?
This is what matters to me.
These things don’t take up any space in my backpack or my garage. They don’t weigh an ounce.
What is important to me might not be important to the guy beside me. What weighs me down might be as light as a feather for someone else. My thoughts are my thoughts. They are enough for me to worry about.
The shells and Compostelas and shoes and clothes and stuff that I have accumulated are all neatly stacked in my garage.
When my parents died, I threw away countless trash bags full of their stuff. No doubt my poor children will be stuck doing the same for me. Instead of straightening my garage I need to be clearing it out!
I had a friend who was nearing the end of a long battle with cancer .
His brother had come to take him back to his childhood town to die.
On the way to the airport his brother asked if he’d like to drive by his house one last time. No he said. “It’s all just stuff.” “Let’s go home.”
On my rock I had my epiphany.
It’s all just stuff. Don’t get weighed down by it. Focus on the essentials. Keep your backpack light.
At some point down the road somebody is going to throw all my stuff into a big black trash bag and take it to the dump. Mas y Mas? Not for me! No siree!
Note to self. Remember, oh Nan, that thou art dust and unto dust shalt thou return.