I set out knowing I was on schedule to arrive in Santiago the following day with just forty-two kilometres remaining. What I really wanted was to arrive in time for pilgrim Mass at midday. It was important to me that I arrive in my walking clothes with my rucksack straight from the Camino to take my place as a pilgrim before God. That would make my pilgrimage complete. However, the albergues were spread out in such a way as to make that wish impossible. No matter how I calculated the possibilities, I didn’t see how I could arrive in Santiago in time for midday Mass.
With so many pilgrims now within two days of reaching their target, the route had become particularly busy in places, so I decided to let people go ahead while I crossed the road to a café to consider my unresolved dilemma. As I was removing my rucksack I heard my name being called and I looked around to see Frank, Jill and Brett. It transpired that the three of them were planning a long day’s walk to Lavacolla, which would get them within ten kilometres of Santiago. I had stayed in a hotel in Lavacolla the previous year, so I was aware that it was nicely placed for reaching Santiago in time for midday Mass. I had considered it as a possibility myself but dismissed it as I knew the village didn’t have an albergue. Jill and Frank were intending to make a hotel reservation and Jill asked to borrow my phone. She spoke Spanish sufficiently well to make such enquiries whereas I didn’t, and until then I hadn’t considered a hotel a viable or cost effective option. I had anticipated both a lack of availability and a prohibitive cost, given that the hotels were within striking distance of Santiago. However, I was amazed to discover that I could indeed get a hotel room for just €30. Not only that, Brett was staying in the same hotel so I had a dinner date too, while Frank and Jill found an alternative source of accommodation. Synchronicity at it’s best! My decision to cross the road at that moment brought about the resolution to my dilemma.
My perspective on the day was completely changed as I set off again. It would be a long one; thirty two kilometres is no joke, but well worth it in the circumstances. I couldn’t have been happier. I felt as free as a bird as I walked between the eucalyptus trees on my way to Lavacolla. When I reached the hotel and discovered it was real; there was actually a room booked in my name, I felt so relieved. There had been a little worry at the back of my mind that it might not materialise. It was a tiny space but nevertheless a palace in my eyes. I had made it! I could taste it. Ten kilometres from Santiago, something that seemed almost unattainable five weeks earlier. It was a moment to celebrate. I switched on my phone for only the second or third time since I had left home. My Camino was a very internal experience and I had kept it to myself but now I wanted to share my joy with my friends.
In the hotel foyer later as I waited to meet Brett, I noticed my nervousness. It wasn’t really a date, so why was I nervous? I think because of his ministry. Sometimes, I can view people who choose religious life as something other; maybe not entirely relatable. That misperception is probably leftover from childhood and a time when Priests were more revered as high moral authority figures, while the rest of us were the sinners! At the same time I was fascinated by his vocation, and how his partner fitted into his life of ministry. Partnership or marriage isn’t allowed within the Catholic Church so my interest was piqued about Brett’s life of ministry and how it was intertwined with an intimate relationship.
Brett quickly showed me that concerns about his relatability were misplaced. I enjoyed his company very much and he took as much interest in me as I in him. We talked so easily, openly and freely. He was ordinary, approachable and full of good humour. I felt nourished by the encounter and the opportunity to share what gives meaning to me in my life.
I really liked him.