Tomorrow morning Anya, Christine and I will be reaching Cruz de Ferro, the highest point of the Camino. There beneath a tall metal cross is a hill of rocks, photos, jewelry, notes and other bits of someone’s life that mean much more than the object could mean to you or me . For many this is the climax of their Camino and they carry their burden, often just a stone, from home to leave it here, like thousands of other before them.
Since I started walking more than a year ago, I’ve been collecting things with the intention of leaving them at the cross– a piece of Quartz from a dusty road in India, sea glass from the beach in Japan, a broken bit of pottery from Turkey, a heart-shaped rock from Tuscany. I can’t believe the moment to let them all go has come. I don’t want to. It’s strange that these lifeless bits that have been weighing me down have become so important to me that I am now afraid of what will happen if I let them go, just as I had always intended to. What does that say about the bigger things I’m carrying with me that have been a heavy load? How will I part ways with them tomorrow? I carry a giant clunky old thing of guilt with me.I still remember the name of the boy, Ryan who had asked me to the dance at camp and who I rejected in the most cruel way. “I just don’t like you,” I remember my eleven year old self saying and twenty years later I still wince.
As a teenager I made fun of my grandfather’s English when he was visiting us from Russia. Not only did he catch on to his grammar mistakes and my obnoxiousness but worse, he felt embarrassed rather than angry. He died two years ago and though I showed him the greatest love I was capable of the last time I saw him, that teenage moment of callousness will stay with me for the rest of my life.
A week ago my most beloved furball, Mourka died. I picked her up on the streets of Russia when I was eighteen and she was three weeks and for fifteen years, through boyfriends, college, apartments and roommates she was alongside me, sleeping in my bed, curled up in my lap meowing for affection or food. I blame myself for not taking her to the vet more often, for not being there, for leaving the task of saying goodbye to my equally heartbroken parents.
I carry the guilt of leaving my husband to go in search of a life purpose that didn’t include him, for taking things and people that didn’t belong to me, for giving away what I should have held on to, for betraying myself over and over and over and one more time after that and for the times I betrayed someone I loved, or worse, someone who loved me.
The wall above the fireplace of the albergue where we are staying tonight is covered in quotes from spiritual teachers, their photos and oddly enough momentos from some of the most important places I’ve been to this year, a flag from India, the wish granting slips of paper from Japan, my favorite Rumi quote. Looking at this wall, sitting among my fellow pilgrims who all have their own crosses to bear, I feel like we are a few hours away from summiting Everest, united in our quest, but alone with our fear and our courage.
I am desperately afraid of what tomorrow will bring but more than the painful throb of letting go and the seemingly impossible task of forgiving myself, I am scared that I won’t be able to do it, that the giving away of rocks will be just that, a token, a gesture, like the Monday resolutions we all so gleefully vow to keep on Sunday night, never really intending to do the work that it will entail the next morning.
Before going in for the night, I caught sight of half the arch of a rainbow disappearing into the clouds, earth and sky connected by a prism of light. It felt like a promise that the physical journey, the stage where my life has been unfolding will connect to something much bigger, bridging the gap between wanting and having, between the person I’ve always wanted to be and the one that exists here, imperfect and overwhelmed, between the possibility of what could be and the inevitability of that which already exists. I hope that I can lighten my load just enough to walk across.