Never say Goodbye - A Summer on the Camino de Santiago: part 5

This last July I walked the Camino de Santiago from France to Spain. I met a lot of different people, ended up in the hospital and eventually ended up in a series of airports trying to get back to the U.S. This is that story...

See Part 1: How to Find Happiness: A Summer on the Camino de Santiago
See Part 2: Maybe a dog fight near a cheese farm is simply a dog fight near a cheese farm.
See Part 3: It's a sign that we've all gone inside.
See Part 4: God wants you dead

I had arrived at the airport in Santiago, which was a sense of relief and fear. I've recovered quite well these last few days in Santiago but continue to have a sense of exhaustion from the fleeting infection leaving my body. Tonight I will sleep on a bench in the terminal in a foreign country. I'm ready to leave Spain but I'm not sure I'm ready to return to the U.S. It's paradoxical. On one hand, I'm ready to go Stateside and eat a spicy burrito, hug my family and fall into the arms of my lover. Yet, I know I'm likely romanticizing all this. I know that after a week or two of being home, whatever fairy tale I've manufactured for myself will turn to my own sentiments of failure.

Five weeks ago I climbed the Pyrenees from France to Spain. I remember sitting at the communal dinner with everyone at Refuge Orisson.  There, there were people from all around the world with smiles on their faces and dreams in their heads for what the next few days of their adventure may bring. We ate and drank like fat pigs. We laughed, we felt uncomfortable and grew familiar with each other in the hours of that meal. After dinner, we went around and introduced ourselves and where we were from. I hate these questions because, while yes, I'm from the U.S., I identify less with this label more and more these days. Why am I here? "I really don't know." What do I do? "I'm sort of in between at the moment."

Even when I think I know myself (or don't) at the end of the night, we said goodnight to our hosts. A little tipsy, I innocently hugged the rather attractive bar tender a bit too long and may have confusingly asked if I'd see him in the morning. Me, the socially awkward lesbian. While my female roommates decidedly cheered me on, on our way back to the room, in my head I was asking myself "Who the hell are you Liv?"

Yesterday in Santiago after what it had seemed like weeks since I've spoken English to anyone, I met Joely. She's 19, from Nottingham and we instantly hit it off and began verbally downloading each others lives. As usual, we found our problems aren't so much different. At this point I've met hundreds of people, heard thousands of stories and do you know what the common theme is among almost every pilgrim? Love. Love is confusing, it makes us do irrational things. Relationships are hard and everyone I've met here just wants someone in their life that makes them feel special, someone who loves them for who they are both in success and failure. We want someone to see beauty in us where we do not see it in ourselves. Someone to standby us before anyone and anything. Joely tells me, "they should be your biggest fan, your greatest accomplice to all of your crimes and your savior when you can't save yourself." It's about happiness and that's in short supply these days we concede. We forget what really matters. That you cannot truly love someone else unless you're willing to be both loved and the giver of such love. You must be both the hero of your own story and theirs. There are high standards out here among women, many of whom have walked the 800 KM alone. Their expectations of themselves often contrasting traditional stereotypes. So, I implore you to consider this simple fact: they're writing their own story unbounded by intimidation or jealousy. Joely advises, "I want someone to love me for my story".

A photo posted by Liv Jones (@liv_adara) on

The next day, I landed in Madrid. Standing in the line at the ticket counter I see couples holding hands and stealing kisses. The guy lays his hand on his lover's thigh. Eventually, I decide to go grab a cup of coffee outside a bar in the airport. Airports are an interesting place to observe the behavior of others. I watch these two women at a table inside the pub, their legs touching each other. Some strange hallmark of tension existed between them that made me curious. I cautiously peered over my magazine and took a sip of coffee like some James Bond spy. They sat with several other people who seemed unaware of this dance being performed below the table's surface.  Eventually, the woman placed her hand on the other woman's leg and her hand stayed there. I could tell that they were both enjoying the warmth of that touch and the secrecy of casually intimacy that could easily be explained as misrepresentation should they be caught in the act. Eventually, it's time for their flight and the group gets up and says their goodbyes.  The two women hug as it's clear they're not going in the same direction. They begin to walk away in opposite directions. Eventually, the group has turned the corner out of sight  and the other woman pauses, looks back over her shoulder and begins to cry. A few moments later struggling to walk away, she manages to move forward sobbing to the point of being out of breath. This is when I realize I've been fake reading my US Weekly magazine upside down for the last twenty minutes. My heart was heavy having witnessed what I had. My cynical disposition transformed in the final minutes of Spain. My walk, my stay in the hospital, nothing had prepared me for what I felt in that moment. Suddenly, I wasn't ready to give up, but to go on. Even when you think you can't move forward, you do.

The truth is this and it applies to everyone. You can't dwell on those matters that change our direction in life. You can't go and back and you can't hold onto your idealism because surely it will destroy you. It all comes down to this. When it all changes, you must change. Let go of those plans for the future, your expectations and start again from where ever you are. We've all known people who refuse to forge a new path when they become lost in the mountains. They continue onward as the terrain grows rocky and the clear distinctions of the paved road fades into nothingness. We observe these people knowing that one tiny change of direction could pull their lives together but they refuse to because it's not the life they've planned. And that's just it, no one gets the life they've planned for. They get the life they live. I now laugh at those who make those five year plans, taught as an academic exercise in forward thinking. If your life comes out how you expect it in five years then you're living life wrong.

As I took my seat on the plane to Copenhagen, I looked over to see the same woman in that bar sitting in the row opposite of me. She's texting on her phone, still crying. I wonder if she's trying to say goodbye. Is she trying to say something in these last few minutes that she could never say in public? In the middle of the text, the phone rings and she answers it. They talk, she begins crying even more. "I've got to go now, we're leaving", she says. "One last thing... I'll miss you." - In that moment, I could tell something was said that made her smirk and tear up even more. As the engines spooled and we ascended away from Spain I wonder if she ever got the confirmation of what she needed to hear that day? I could see it in her eyes. I still wonder to this day if she ever heard the words she was looking for. Words beyond a casual goodbye.

For myself, I've learned to never say goodbye. It's a horrible word that should be eradicated from the vocabulary. I never thought I'd find myself back on the Camino but here I was. I've met so many wonderful people these last few years from all around the world. Some you know you have to say goodbye to, others you know who have scarred your heart and will walk with you the rest of your life. To those who have touched me in that way, I refuse to say goodbye to. Instead, I'll simply suggest that, "I'll be seeing you when I see you".


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