The stars aligned

(The cathedral which is built on the site of the original church. The original tomb is in the basement)

We’re leaving Santiago de Compostela today. My friend and I went on a free tour of the town yesterday. It was very interesting. Two hours of history and geography and tips and suggestions. I would definitely recommend it.

(Our tour guide with the white umbrella)

The story of this place is a little complicated and shrouded in mythic stories. I’m going to attempt to give you a potted version.

(This building is just 3 meters deep. It was originally just a front facade to give aesthetic balance to the plaza at the east facing entrance of the cathedral)

Once upon a time, more than 2,019 years ago Jesus was having a serious conversation with his disciples. He asked them to do something for him when he was gone, meaning dead. Of course he was only in his 30’s so they didn’t think he’d be gone for a long time and so it wasn’t hard for them to say, no problem whatsoever tell us what you want. He wanted them to spread the word of his message – about the loving god and the loving way to live – to all the ends of the earth.

(Narrowest lane in Santiago de Compostela)

He was dead very soon after and when the disciples recovered from the shock they started going about spreading the message. But one disciple took Jesus’ words very seriously and he literally went to the ends of the earth.

(Higgledy Piggledy layout of the old town)

At the time the earth was thought to end at the edge of Europe and the west coast of Spain was on that edge. So the disciple James headed in a stone boat to the end of the earth and arrived in a place called Fisterra. He began preaching about Jesus and his message. It didn’t go well. The locals weren’t very interested and he was probably getting a bit low in himself when Jesus’ mother Mary appeared to him and told him she would love to see him. So off he went back to the Holy Land. His message hadn’t fallen completely on deaf ears in Spain and he had two disciples so they went back with him in the stone boat.

(Cute window seats)

Well if he thought things were difficult in Spain they were ten times worse in the Holy Land. There was all sorts of bad things happening to anyone who was a follower of Jesus and poor James was beheaded. Now he became Saint James and his two helpers didn’t know what to do so they took his body and raced back home in the stone boat.

(A lot of ham)

When they arrived back they went to the forest and buried their friend. No more was heard about the message of Jesus or St. James in that place for 900 years. That’s when another guy, Pelagius, arrived to the very same forest. He was on a similar mission to St. James. Anyways one night he had a dream about a field of stars and one star was pointing directly to a spot in the forest. Next day when he went to that spot there was a tomb. He had found the tomb of St. James!

(Almost impossible to get lost in the old town, just look up, you’ll see the towers of the cathedral )

Absolutely delighted with himself, Pelagius went to the bishop and said we need to build a church for St. James and take care of his tomb. Long story short the king, Alfonso II, heard the story and paid for the church to be built. Then he did something millions of people have done since, he made a journey to the tomb.

(The covered market is very impressive, this is the restaurant section. At the first restaurant on the left you bring ingredients you have bought at the market stalls and they cook them!)

That was the beginning of the Camino of Santiago de Compostela and the town grew up around that first church. Camino means the Way. Santiago means St. James. Compostela means field of stars. People who make this journey are called Pilgrims. In the past they were coming to start again, to let go of their old sinful ways. These days there are probably as many reasons as people but usually pilgrims come with a wish or an intention.

(The shell is pointing the way. The Camino)

There are seven official routes, the French Way, the Portuguese Way, the Northern Way, the Original Way, the Silver Way, the English Way and the Fisisterre Way (Fisterra in English.)

(There’s the end of the earth, Fisterra)

I am here in Santiago de Compostela only because the stars aligned, the snow fell on the plateau and my friend choose this week to walk the Camino.

Life is lovely, Mairead.

Camino’s End

(Bit wet here)

We have arrived in Santiago de Compostela! Not the arduous journey that most people take. We were warm and cozy and sitting in Ruby as we entered the city.

(Courtyard greenery)

This is the end point of many ancient pilgrimage routes and people still walk those routes today.

(The cathedral de Santiago peeping over the rooftops)

We have cheated by driving here. But it’s not the same. Blisters and leg ache add to the experience and we have neither…which makes me very grateful.

(Restaurant serving pilgrims)

I’m also very grateful that I met my friend here and yes as expected we talked like we had never been apart. We’re meeting again today for a walking tour (hopefully the rain will stop!) We’ll get a coffee and there’ll be even more stories to share.

(Strong chains)

I was wondering, if you met someone from a long time ago what would be the first story you’d want to share with them?

What’s the story? Mairead.

Is there something you want to do?

One of my friends, Laura, has returned from her second trip this year on the old pilgrim’s way in Spain called the Camino. Laura initially was due to travel with her friends but work commitments meant they had to cancel, so she travelled alone. This was the first time since she got married that she ever needed to travel alone, other than to work related conferences or seminars. Therefore the experience of going abroad alone was not familiar and it wasn’t attractive. Although she did want to go, she was apprehensive about going solo. Anyway, she took her courage in her hands and booked the ticket four days before her flight.

And that’s when she started to panic.

She was able to recall (vividly) every story she’d ever heard of a lone traveler who came to a gruesome end. In an effort to calm herself she started to tell her friends and family how she felt. But far from calming her they were able to provide even more terrifying stories, with definitive advice that she should not go!

Added to this (or maybe because of this) she wasn’t sleeping well, so that by the time she got to Dublin airport she was exhausted and on edge! On the flight things did get a little better because she sat down beside a lovely couple and had a very interesting conversation. That is, until she told them what she was about to do and they had some more stories with bad endings! As the huge cabin door swung open Laura thought the best thing might be to remain on the plane. Of course she couldn’t….. so she got out. Saying goodbye to the couple she set off with her belongings for the next five days (including walking poles) on her back and went to find her bus. There was still time do she stopped at a little cafe, got a coffee and settled herself. As she was about to sip her coffee, there was a loud clatter – both her walking poles lay in a heap blocking the aisle between tables. Embarrassed and annoyed at herself for being incompetent she bent down to pick them up. At the same moment someone else was reaching for the poles, and as happens, smiles were exchanged and conversation began.

“Are you doing the Camino?”

“Yes, you too?”

These were the first words for days that brought calm. For the next four days the two walkers kept each other company. Although some of the walking was difficult it was made easier by the companionship. companionship that just turned up when it was needed.

Since that trip Laura has gone back again – alone – and this time company was provided again. The difference this time was that she found that although she loved talking and listening to the many people she met she knew she didn’t need them to stay with her or to be there for her, she knew she could let them go or she could go and more company would be provided.

In case this sounds a little selfish in the retelling please be assured when the story was told to me I heard only selflessness. The selflessness of allowing others to be themselves and to enjoy them being that without the need to ‘steal’ their time.

Laura is planning to complete the Camino (all 890 kilometers of it!) at her own pace and in her own lifetime.  Alone or not she now knows whatever she needs will be provided.

Coincidentally Mike, a friend I’ve known for a long time called while I was writing this post. I met Mike when he was my boss in a software company, his job was to turn me into a programmer! Since then his life has changed a lot. In 2002 he was a software development manager but now he’s got a psychology degree and works as a counsellor. This isn’t the normal progression of a career in software! It’s also not the way to go to have a normal progression of salary for a man with three teenage children.

Mike was made redundant. He paid off a loan with the lump sum; cancelled his life insurance, his pension and his health insurance; he took a part-time job, and decided to pursue a career in something that had come to his attention by accident.

It’s a terrifying story!

I’m making it sound quick by putting it into one sentence, but it took time and there were lots of scary moments. He says he didn’t have a lot of choice, there wasn’t enough money to pay for the luxury of insurance.

There was only enough for what was needed right now, not what we might need in the future.”

Then he remembers he did have some choice. He could have gone back to a former employer in software and got a full-time job but he didn’t. In software all he could look forward to was retiring, with this new career he was looking forward to every day for the rest of his life.

Even though they had very little money and no ‘guarantee’ that they were protected from what might happen he knew that his (and his family’s) new quality of life was better than it had been. He recalls going for a walk one day after dinner with his wife and noticing the commuters coming out of the train station looking weary and hungry, and he knew he was doing the right thing for him.

And as time passed money came in from unlikely sources and they always had enough. The one near crisis for his teenagers was when they were going to have to sell the car, but in the end the car stayed and the crisis was averted! They now manage to run two cars – without the ‘BIG’ job.

When Laura wanted to go walking on the Camino, she began a journey, she did the things she needed to do to get there (even when she was afraid), and what she needed was provided. Incidentally, one of the things she hung onto in the four terrifying days before the flight was the encouragement she got from people who had travelled the Camino. People who had the courage to begin their journey.

When Mike went to an information day with a relationship counselling organisation as a favour to his wife, he found something he really wanted to do and he began a journey. When he was made redundant, he got an opportunity to make a choice. He did the things he needed to do to get where he wanted to go (even though he had to trust without a guarantee that he and his family would survive financially). And what he needed was provided. One of the things provided was his supportive and encouraging wife, June. Mike says “I couldn’t have done it without her.” And he didn’t have to.

Is there something you want to do? Would it be useful to trust that what you need will come (even if only just in time)? Do you want to start that journey today? Is there someone who has made that journey before? Are you willing to do what you need to do when you need to do it?