April 17, 2019
Caldas de Reis, Spain
It was the second to the last day of my Camino pilgrimage, and I was both ready to finish, but frustrated I hadn’t experienced any earth shattering revelations while walking. Early in the day as I set out with my friend from Pontevedra, on the way to our stop for the night in Padron, I saw a couple walking together in front of us on the path. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen them – they were getting started early in the morning when my friend and I had set out from Vigo a couple of days before, and we had chatted briefly before wishing each other “Buen Camino.”
As they walked ahead of me, I noticed the woman was carrying their large backpack and the man their smaller day pack. He was walking with a noticeable limp with his right foot swinging out to the side with each step. It looked like he was really struggling, and I forced myself to stop complaining about my own foot pain. Then I noticed they were holding hands while they walked, and my heart seized up for a moment.
I couldn’t help thinking that Greg and I were meant to grow old together like this couple, that I should still be holding his hand. I snapped a picture, and posted it on Instagram with the words “love on the Camino.” I swallowed the lump in my throat, wiped my eyes, put away my phone, and started walking again.
Two days later I was standing in line in Santiago to receive my Compostela, and I nudged my friend. Unbelievably, despite the hundreds of pilgrims we’d seen in the past couple of days, there was the couple, just a few people ahead of us in the line. I grabbed my phone and pulled up their photo as I approached them. “I wanted to show you this. I thought it was so sweet that you two were holding hands on your Camino. I lost my husband two years ago, so I was really touched when I saw you walking together,” I said.
They asked immediately if I could send them the picture, and then the woman started crying, first just a few tears, then really sobbing. “I don’t know why I’m crying,” she said, embarrassed I think to be making a scene in front of all of the other pilgrims in line.
“I do,” I said. “Because you know you won’t always have each other. And you’re grateful that you made it all the way to Santiago together and know how special this is.” By this point I was also crying, as was my friend, and the woman’s husband. We congratulated each other on completing our pilgrimages, and hugged before parting.
This will be the Camino moment that stays with me long after my return.
September 17, 2019
(5 months later to the day)
Number Four and I are walking into the liquor store to stock up for the weekend. The kids are all coming and I’m buzzy with excitement to have them all home to celebrate both my grandson’s second birthday party and my milestone birthday. (It’s hard to believe that I’m 60 now!) It’s rare I get all of my kids home together, each busy with their own life, and I know this weekend will be special. As we walk through the parking lot, Number Four and I are chatting about all of the plans for the weekend, holding hands as we head into the store.
I guide the cart to the cava section, my first opportunity to explain my favorite beverage to Number Four, and as we’re selecting bottles, a woman approaches us. “I followed you over here because I was watching you hold hands as you walked into the store. That was so sweet. My husband and I were married for 50 years, and I lost him recently,” she says. “I really miss holding his hand,” she adds as her eyes well up with tears and her voice cracks. Number Four, kind and sensitive man that he is, instantly reaches out to comfort her. I’m so touched by her comments, and we thank her for stopping to talk with us.
When she walks away, I have a huge lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. Number Four hugs me for a moment so I can collect myself. My mind is racing backwards, to five months ago, when I was the widow choking up as I watched the tenderness between the couple I saw holding hands on the Camino. I tell Number Four the story so he’ll understand fully what this moment means to me. “I’m on the other side now,” I say, remembering my Camino experience. We are both quiet for a moment as this sinks in. And when we leave the store, I reach for his hand, so incredibly grateful for this second chance.