On the 41st day of walking, I walked three kilometers up out of Finisterre at six in the evening. I carried a bag with a bottle of wine, a jar of vegetables, a journal, a pen, and some warm clothes. There were others walking up too: couples and kids and families and pilgrims and locals. We walked toward the sun. My eyes teared up and dried out, as gratitude for the camino and for so many other things pushed me up the hill like a strong wind.
There were only three thousand more meters of land to get in front of, to get at that sun.
At the top of the rocky hill was the lighthouse of Finisterre and a final concrete bollard with the distance between us and the end of the earth: zero kilometers.
I expected the happy crowds and the nice, fancy cafes at the top. I expected the public restrooms and the drinking. I expected the kissing and the selfies. I expected the sky and the ocean and the sun. I expected the cairns and the hiking shoes and rosaries that shouted: WE WERE HERE!
But I passed the lighthouse and walked to the end of the land and down the steep hill strewn with boulders, looking for a place from which to watch the sunset, and I didn’t expect the rocks to still be emitting warm daylight.
I didn’t expect a film of clouds to cling to the surface of the water as far as I could see.
I didn’t expect the expanse to be so endless and inaccessible.
I didn’t expect the sun to be yellow-white.
I didn’t expect to see wild goats grazing on the rugged plants at the water’s edge.
I didn’t expect to have solitude, but I climbed down, probably too far, past the last of the cairns, and I leaned against a warm rock, and I was alone. I opened my bottle of wine and jar of vegetables. I watched the sun dangle.
I wrote in my journal until I was out of pages and scribbling on receipts, and when my hand had no hope of catching up with my mind, I recorded a voice memo until I couldn’t think of anything else to say and then I really sat there.
I ate the vegetables from a tall jar with a short ice cream spoon. I drank from the bottle but stopped as soon as I felt it in my head, because I did not want this moment to fuzzy at all.
All was satisfaction and anticipation. All was human and holy.
I spoke aloud, “This must be one of the best evenings of my life.”
The sun got lower and lower, and the clouds gathered toward the sun, like it was calling them in for the night.
It was beautiful, but it wasn’t the most beautiful sunset I ever saw.
And the camino wasn’t the most beautiful walk I ever took, or the hardest thing I ever did, or the craziest. It was like a less extreme Eat Pray Love mixed with a less extreme Wild.
But this sunset mattered because I walked hundreds of miles to see it.
And the camino is one of the best things I’ve ever done, because when I felt sad or lonely or crowded or annoyed, I kept walking, and when my legs hurt, I kept walking, and when I was confused about the direction of my life, well, in the meantime, I knew what to do: keep walking. West. When my soul wandered into muddy waters, I knew that the essential thing, the thing that would get me where I was going, was to simply move my legs toward Santiago. When I had no motivation, I found discipline.
I found God on the camino, but I shouldn’t say found. I already knew God and I knew where God was before: in me and in every person made in God’s image along the way. In every breath.
But I started walking with the thought that I wanted a physical challenge and history and friends and wine and romance and photos and glory and God, and there was only ever one reason for this trip. I learned by observing my choices, and the ease with which I sooner or later shirked distractions, that it was just God I wanted. I just did this whole thing because I was abiding and wanting to abide in Christ. That’s it. The camino wasn’t a search for anything. It was a celebration of God’s being and my identity in it.
I didn’t know I knew my purpose so firmly.
And we follow the upward call of Christ our whole lives till we die, but I don’t know when that will happen to me. Presumably, it’s still a way out. So to sit on the rock watching the sun set, meeting the second of three ends to my camino, knowing I had thoroughly done something… When was the last time I definitively accomplished something so big…?
I have been fiddling with these paragraphs for three days and I still can’t quite articulate what it was to watch the sunset and think the things I thought, but I’m trying to just tell what happened. It’s hard to tell, though. It must still be happening.