My plan for the day was clear: I was going to walk to Arzúa and spend the night there regardless of what anyone else was doing. Why? The answer to that question lay with my experience of attending Mass in Arzúa the previous year.
On that occasion I knew I was in a special place when I heard the soulful sound of a singing congregation as soon as I entered the church. Then without any knowledge of the language I felt completely enthralled by the Priest when he spoke. It wasn’t what he said as much as where it came from, and I knew the scene was set for a powerful experience.
Moving towards the altar to receive holy communion I felt a oneness with the community of people around me. As I met each person, I watched their facial expressions and the devotion in their movement as they returned to their seats. I experienced a level of grace and connection that is impossible to describe and out of that space the words came; ‘if I die now it’s okay’. It would be okay because I had experienced everything.
Later the Priest invited the pilgrims amongst the congregation join him at the altar to receive a blessing, and we stood before him in a semi-circle whilst he searched internally for his words. When he spoke, my mind had no idea what he said but my heart recognised their source and tears streamed down my face. I felt loved absolutely.
Mass in Arzúa is a nightly event, just as it is in most towns along the route. The blessing is a nightly event too, yet its impact was such that I felt it was the one and only time it had ever been given. Of course, I wanted to return in the hope of the experience being repeated, without any guarantee that it would be.
During the day I talked to Leo, who was part of the Spanish/Limerick contingent I had met a couple of days earlier in Samos. He told me that he had received reports advising that accommodation in Arzúa was already fully booked. It wasn’t what I wanted to hear and initially I blocked it out. I wasn’t going to be easily diverted from my goal. However, as I thought more about it, I realised that I ought to listen to what I was being told, even though I didn’t like it. The prospect of not being able to get a bed in Arzúa was not one I really wanted to test, and although it wasn’t easy to let go of what I wanted, my day became a lot easier once I did. My Camino was teaching me about flexibility; without realising it, that had been a persistent challenge for me over the previous thirty-two days. By letting go of my fixation on a particular outcome, other things became possible.
That night I stayed in Ribadiso, a hamlet with a couple of albergues two or three kilometres from Arzúa. After the initial relief of checking in and completing my chores, I went to the bar with my journal and a beer, and I noticed how lost I felt without my new friends. In Mike, Jackie, Frank, Jill, Brett and a few others I had found an inclusive circle where I felt safe. I didn’t know where any of them were and I was afraid of losing them. With only two days to go before arriving in Santiago I was afraid that I would be celebrating alone and I didn’t want that.
However, as I sat there Leo came in and joined me at my table while Javier joined some friends he knew. Soon we expanded to become a trio when a UK pilgrim joined us, and when I spotted Heather and Eugene arriving, I invited them over to join us for dinner. The things I worried about sometimes manifested into being while probably mostly they did not!