It may surprise you, but I’ve reflected on what you wrote so many times. It was just a simple social media post, yet one of the most endearing things anyone’s ever said to me.
Day 39. I’d walked almost exactly 800 kilometers. Up and over a mountain range. Through cold, rainy wind and lots of mud. One night of delusional fever. There was an eight-hour blizzard. And my lower left shin was visually hemorrhaging blood now. But only one day of hobbling remained.
A friend of a friend sent a message suggesting maybe it would be best to call the whole thing off. Come back and finish another time. Nothing is worth that kind of pain, she said. “You gave it a great effort,” I read her final suggestive words as my blood pressure spiked.
Oh my Lord, someone’s recommending I quit.
Never has a suggestion seemed more hateful in the pit of my gut.
Moments after reading all this, I remember pausing for a photo at a Galician crossroads just as the sun peaked over the distant eastern mountain ranges. They were so far away. The fog was burning off revealing the promise of the deepest azure-blue sky for a final Saturday walk. Tomorrow, the prize: Santiago de Compostela.
I sat in some dewy grass and crafted a public response to the idea about quitting. The urge to write was overwhelming. That happens sometimes.
“The very thought of quitting is hateful,” I wrote. “I’ve come this far, gone through this much, walked through this kind of pain to quit one day out? Do I really seem a quitter to you?” My words became unnecessarily defiant and obnoxious now. “I’d crawl all the way through oozing Spanish mud to reach that cathedral tomorrow.”
Now, that was very much NOT what a pilgrim should exude at this point, but it sure felt good.
It might be the honor of a lifetime how so many people followed along on that walk. Some actively joined in the conversation over 500 miles. Others just quietly sat back and watched. You fit the latter category, I suppose, until you read that awkward articulation of raw emotion on Day 39.
That night I read what you wrote, and I wept with the sincerest honor I’ve ever experienced. I kept a screenshot of your words so I’d remember them forever.
Crap, I’m weeping again!
From across an ocean divide you chose me to take you to the cathedral? You chose me???
Aside from my own wife, I don’t think anyone’s ever expressed a sentiment more understanding of my spirit. Yes, hell or high water, we would get there, Helen. I wish I’d known you were along for the journey earlier. I might have been less indignant – a bit nicer even – polished things up a bit more.
I’m not sure if I followed up to share this with you, but the final Sunday of walking was glorious. There was much hobbling and it took about two hours longer than it should have to complete those final 12 miles, but I savored every step, much because of you, and others like you.
In the final steps to cathedral square, the trumpets did resound and I recalled your words. I shall never forget the moment. The cathedral spires appeared just to the left, I walked toward the square’s center, laid down on the cobblestones, and cried. Yes, I’m a crier, it’s true enough.
Lots of people and many things ran through my mind as I lay there after 40 days of walking. But one of them was you, and I thought you should know.
It was the honor of a lifetime taking you on that journey.
Thank you for letting me know you were there.
Your pilgrim brother,
Steve “High Roller” Watkins