As I prepare to read my novel, A Decent Woman, aloud for what I hope will be the final time in the editing phase, I realize that I feel like I did when my children and I were one town over from the end of our two-week walk to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, the final resting place of Saint James.
We were so close to finishing El Camino, the medieval pilgrimage walk, and I remember it it was near sunset. My feet and heels had blisters the size of quarters. My kids and I were exhausted, mentally and physically exhausted from getting up at dawn and donning 20 lb backpacks and walking 20-22 miles a day in the Spanish summer sun until near sunset. Together, we'd walked 370 kilometers.
During our walk, I'd had visions of my kids and I running into town, our destination. I'd say that we'd yell in celebration when we entered the town, hug and kiss each other, but as we stood on the hill with Santiago de Compostela in the distance that evening, I changed my mind. It didn't feel right to walk the mere 10 final miles for some reason. I trusted my gut as I'd done when I decided to walk El Camino and drag my teenage children with me. I'd learned to trust my gut more and more on the walk and I've never deviated from those life lessons learned on our walk--our personal caminos. My kids agreed to wait.
I remember my children and I were silent as we looked down the hill at our destination. We were lost in our own thoughts about the walk and how it had all come about. At times, we hadn't believed that we could finish the arduous walk as we walked down country roads, through villages, trekked beside highways, and hiked up hills and mountains. My kids worried that I couldn't finish because of my blistered feet and I worried that my children would chuck it all aside and demand to go home. But, we hadn't given up. Home seemed so far away on that late afternoon, and crazy as it might sound, we realized that we didn't want our walk to end.
When we finally spoke, my kids and I expressed a desire to savor the moment. It hadn't been all that bad, had it? Yes, it had! We laughed and decided to enjoy a great meal, get a good night's sleep and enter the city fresh and clear in the early morning. I had dreamed of walking El Camino for years and here it was--the end. So close and yet, I wanted to wait.
Waiting to enter Santiago de Compostela was the best decision EVER. That evening, we had dinner with fellow peregrinos, pilgrims who had walked El Camino from various starting points around the world. Some of our new friends, all pilgrims had walked the entire Camino from France to the village we found ourselves in the night before the end and others had begun in Holland, Germany, Belgium like us, and we'd all heard the story of the 80 year old woman who'd walked our her front door in England, took the ferry from Dover to Calais, France and finished the walk. Others began their journeys in the US, Portugal, France and as far away as Japan.
There are many paths that lead to Santiago de Compostela. We'd all taken the path that made sense to us or the path that we found ourselves on at the time. During dinner we discovered the various reasons we'd decided to walk El Camino and the reasons were amazing to hear. There are as many reasons to walk as there are stars in the sky.
I'm glad that my children and I took the time to process our walk. We needed to process. And, as it turned out, we took two days. We loved the albergue, hostel, where we found ourselves and we enjoyed the pilgrims we came into contact with. It was clear that my kids and I needed to be alone with our thoughts and we needed to laugh about the things that had happened along our camino.
My kids and I shared many laughs and stories with each other that night and there were tears, as well. Our lives had changed so much in two weeks and we knew we were different people. We also knew that when we returned to Brussels, the lives we knew would be different. My husband and I had just separated and my kids and I were heading back to the US after 13 years of living overseas.
My children and I had always been close, but walking El Camino with my precious children, when we were hurting, confused, and doubting a good future, was the best experience of our lives. I will never forget walking into Santiago de Compostela with my kids. We were overjoyed, hugely relieved, tired and we'd grown by leaps and bounds. I'm amazed we survived that walk and then again, I knew we'd reach the end.
This morning, I remember the night before we entered Santiago de Compostela because my novel is finished. I've sent out new queries and I want to be alone with my book for the day. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and with my last reread (aloud), I'm savoring every word. I remember when I started this book and where I was in my life. So much has happened to my children and I over the last few years. Some days have been difficult for us, but we're happy and healthy today.
Of course, I've already starting writing that book! I'm going through the journal I kept on the Camino, gazing at our photographs taken during the walk, and remembering how it felt to begin a journey and to come to the end. I'm in awe of what we accomplished and I marvel at our resilience, courage and strong bond of love.
Today, I'm going to savor the moment because I'll never write my first book again. It's been quite a journey.
Peace and love to you,