Sigur Rós – Festival
Three weeks into our walk, we came upon the “cruz de ferro”, the “iron cross”. The sub-plot weaving about that milestone was rich; we were literally climbing mountains. Higher and higher, we passed through Medieval towns with dark slate roofs, and the mountains were painted purple with confetti flowers, blue skies looming larger than life above us. Like many others, the day was full of emotional and literal heights and depths. Awe-inspiring views were christened with painful shale descents – that day it was twelve kilometres at a baby-step rate. But in between that euphoric hike up and painful hike down was the cross, a sort of culmination of our journey.
In a stadium of evergreens there is a tall iron pole with a small cross rising out of an unceremonious pile of rocks, a collection of pilgrims scattered along its heights. The cross is known as a place to leave your burdens, as in John Bunyan’s classic. It wears the marks and scars of countless pilgrims’ inner transformations on their journey: pictures and notes tied and taped to its base, rocks inscribed upon and left at the base, or formed into inuksuks. There are colourful flags and old t-shirts and socks – really anything to symbolize a change. As a result, the very air is charged with meaning, shot through with a sense of reverence. It is likely that each rock in the clearing represents someone’s transformation on the Camino, because I think everyone is shouldering something we were never meant to carry. For some people, it was past husbands and wives, broken families, someone that needed letting off the hook (or maybe it was me), dreams turned disillusioned and lives that didn’t turn out to be at all what they had expected. Everyone, it seems, could use a fresh start.
There comes a point when the pain of bearing the weight overcomes the pain of changing. The Cruz de Ferro is a place of great reversal: old into new, brokenness into beauty, suffering into joy, discontentment into deep satisfaction, bitterness into forgiveness. And miracle after miracle, time and again God is restoring humanity in relationship to himself and thereafter reversing our own relationships (see the book of Esther for one example).
Cecilia approached me at the cross, and asked if I would take her picture while she went up the hill. We had fondly dubbed her our Danish Fairy Godmother, because she was whimsical and feisty, and her clear blue eyes held a thousand secrets and stories. Through zoomed lens I watched her carefully place each rock, then place her hands on them and pray. When she neared me again, I could make out the trails on her face where tears still travelled. She took the camera without a word and sat along the sidelines. A while later, she asked if I would take her picture again. She wanted to go back up, because the rocks she had left symbolized what she was leaving behind, and she would like to leave new rocks as a declaration of her new life. I thought this very beautiful and I started to cry because her eyes so surprised me with the depth of her pain.
She said the Camino is the place to leave things we were never meant to carry. But this is the hardest thing to do.
(Image via here)