Dr. Lanice Jones is a Canadian family physician, intrepid world traveler, and adventurer in every sense of the word. Before she embarks on her next big adventure, joining Doctors Without Borders in a remote corner of Pakistan, she shares her last great adventure with us.
The reason why someone begins the ancient Pilgrimage of St. James is not the same reason why a pilgrim finishes it. Often, a pilgrim will recall the moment, the Camino moment of clarity, expansiveness or inner peace that marks the turning point of the inner journey. For me, the Camino moment happened on a cool, foggy morning five kilometres out of Finesterra, the End of the World.
I began the pilgrimage of Santiago de Compostella with two dear friends on August 28, my fifty-sixth birthday. Our plan was to walk about ten days from St. Jean Pied a Port on the French side, across the Pyrennes into Spain, then catch a train from Burgos to Sarria and walk another eight days to Santiago. We’d set the intention that this would be a spiritual journey and had each brought readings to share, along with hours of walking in meditation, prayer, or contemplation. Our route took us through the tumbling ridges and peaks of the mountains, into rolling rich vineyards and fields of sunflowers. We averaged twenty kilometres a day, with plenty of time to explore the churches that marked the route, a living history spanning a thousand years.
Coming into Santiago was a mixed blessing. We were so happy to have accomplished our goal, to have shared such a rich experience, deepening our friendships and our spiritual practices. But here, we would go our separate ways. My friends were returning to Canada, and I was walking on alone to Finesterra, to complete another two hundred kilometres to the coast and back.
I took four days to reach Finesterra. As I crested the last range of hills, the ocean stretched forth, rimmed by white sand beaches, and I could imagine the Romans believing that they had indeed come to the end of the world. The evening of my arrival, I joined up with four other women to share a bottle of wine, bread, and cheese on the rocks below the lighthouse, where tradition demanded that we build a fire and ritually burn an item of our clothing to signify the burning away of our old lives.
The next day, I started alone in the early dawn under a heavy fog. The route wound up through two small villages into a eucalyptus and pine forest. I was tired and lonely, wondering what I was doing hiking another hundred kilometres to Muxia and back to Santiago. I felt I didn’t belong here, in the damp and the fog, struggling in Spanish to ask directions along the poorly marked trail.
As I passed an old Celtic cross, a small dark face with a pointed nose poked out past a crumbling stone fence. It was a fox! He looked at me, and I looked at him, both of us silent and still. A dog barked in the distance, and the fox glanced at the noise, back at me, then turned and trotted away, his glorious tail waving behind him. A few meters away, a chicken scratched in the dirt, oblivious to the predator, which had just passed by. Beyond the chicken, a dog sniffed the scented air.
I stood in contemplation, wondering about it all. Who belonged here? The fox? The chicken? The dog? The woman?
Something tight and hard broke open, like a spring releasing, or a shell cracking apart. All of us belonged here, one no more than the other. All of us were equally part of the glorious whole, and each of us reflected the whole.
It has been a few weeks since that special moment. Life has returned to “normal” back at home, but something has shifted, something that made that 550-kilometre journey seem like nothing. And yet everything has changed.