I don't cry often. Even when there is an understandable, compelling reason for tears. Be it from fear, beauty, grief, gratitude - my emotional responses to being alive were tangible and evident as I walked. I often wondered about this after my frequently, sudden, powerful tears on the camino de santiago. I still wonder about it. Now that I'm back home, the tears seem to have receded again. Was I more tender in the newness of my experience? Was I more open; my heart aching for the depth of all of my experiences? In learning to embrace vulnerability, perhaps I was learning to be more accepting of all of the different parts of me that make up the whole.
My first day of traveling involved flying overnight to Paris. When I arrived, I needed to find the train station inside of the airport and I did. Then I needed to purchase a ticket to St. Jean Pied de Port without knowing French, and I did. My debit card was denied; fortunately I had enough Euros on me to pay for my ticket. That afternoon, my train was delayed en-route, so I missed my connection in Bordeaux, and again, I figured out in my non-existent french how and where to catch the next train to Bayonne which would arrive there at 10:30 pm and I did. This meant that I would have to travel the final leg to St. Jean Pied de Port the following morning. When I arrived in Bayonne, very much sleep deprived, I needed to find a place to sleep... yup, in french. My debit card was denied and again I used Euros that I had, but I did get a room. When I finally got into my room and locked the door behind me a steady stream of tears silently slid down my cheeks, and I brushed my teeth then cried myself to sleep. The next morning I spent thirty minutes on the phone getting my bank (which I had already spoken with about travel plans and then confirmed before I left) on board so that I wouldn't be denied traveling money. I found the correct bus which would take me to my launch point; St. Jean Pied de Port, and when I arrived I walked until I found the Pilgrim's office.
In the Pilgrim's office, I presented my USA passport and my Pilgrim's credentials. I answered the questions I was asked - how are you traveling - on foot - and where are you walking to - Santiago De Compostela. I watched as man helping me first wrote my name, my country of residence and my passport number in a log, then he placed the first stamp in my Pilgrim's passport and the tears began again. This was the first time of many that I watched someone, a stranger, make a record of me and where I was located in the world and the first time of many that this simple moment had me on my knees emotionally. There is something so basically affirming about being made a record of; about mattering; the tears, I think, were from the comfort of being accounted for even as I felt so alone and far from 'home', as well as from the joy of fulfilling a commitment I had made to myself. Blurry eyed and grinning, I looked at my first stamp: 16 Maio, 2014.
Day one, and my steps take me up, up, up, over, then down, down, down a mountain in the Pyrenees, nearly 27 kilometers in total. I realized quickly that all of the training I had done wasn't enough to prepare me for this. I also didn't realize that down was much more challenging than up, and my tears began somewhere in about the 22nd kilometer.... I was sure that I wouldn't make it, and I would be looking for a place to lay down in the forest for the night. I was aching physically, and my fears threatened to overwhelm me. I did make it to Roncesvalles before nightfall, and I watched as the second stamp was placed in my Pilgrim's passport with hot tears falling from my eyes.
Birds calling, sunrise and sunset, seeking shelter in a cathedral, weaving a cross into a fence in memory of my dad, knowing I was alive, gratitude for every little kindness I was shown, making it up a steep ascent, making it down a steep descent, the relief of be able, finding a bench or even a flat stone to sit on while attending to blisters, biting into an apple, fields of unending red poppies, coming around a bend and finding a village with a cafe, getting a bed for the night.... each of these little things held the power to unleash my tears and cleanse my heart.
When I walked into Santiago de Compostela the morning of 29 June, 2014 and entered the plaza in front of the cathedral my joy, my relief, and even a little sadness had me weeping magnificently. I was overwhelmed to feel so completely and utterly alive; I felt satisfied in a way that I can't describe very well. I found my way to the Official Pilgrim's Office and waited in line for a little under an hour to get my final stamp on my Pilgrim's credential as well as my compostela - official document saying that I, Kerstin Hanson, had completed my pilgrimage. Oh the joy, oh the sense of a deeper knowing, oh the tears. Sweet, beautiful tears.
Love each other.
Love y'all -