I have been counting the miles to see what I saw today.
I walked 13 miles and up almost 2000 ft and then I saw it:
I had heard about the Cruz de Ferro (Iron Cross), I had prepared for it before I left and I had been looking for it all along the 500+ kilometers that I have already traversed.
I knew it was a place of petition, a place to leave behind burdens, to sacrifice a sorrow. It is one of the most important places along the Camino. I believed it to be second only to the arrival at the cathedral in Santiago.
I carried from home, resting in the hip-pocket on my backpack, next to my bottle of anointing oil, two stones: One from my sister and her family, a representative of their prayers and burdens. The second came from my mother’s stone collection, chosen by my boys, a representative of my sorrows and losses.
Each one placed at the base of the Cruz, blessed with a single tear of anointing oil (thank you Liz Martin.)
My personal ceremony was meaningful and emotional and it would have been enough to mark this experience among the most important of my pilgrimage, but…
From my haunched place, over my two stones, I watched this man silently approach the pyre, place a stone under a strap… and when he tried to take a photo of his prayer offering, his sorrow overwhelmed him. He lost the control necessary to control is camera. He immediately hid his face in his hands and stumbled across the stones to crouch and hide ten feet from his obviously holy stone, strapped to the foundation of the Cruz.
I was overtaken with empathy, my own eyes now wet. I went slowly around the monument to see a black stone with a single word: “Vincent.”
I stood for some time. I did not want to leave the man alone in his sorrow, even though I did not know what I could possibly offer… only my prayer and presence.
Then he came. We did not share common language, but he gestured with his camera, asking me to take a phone of him with his stone.
He stood next to the pole. Three times he retreated, hiding his face, because his sorrow would wake over him again and again.
Now I am fully crying.
Finally he found the dignity he wanted to show in the photo and I snapped a quick picture.
He stepped forward to take the camera and I was lost as to how to comfort him.
I placed one hand on his shoulder. He looked up into my tear-filled eyes and in a pure human moment…
He grabbed me and pulled me to him. He buried his face in my shoulder and our heads bounced off one another as we sobbed.
One more step on the road of dying. One more turn in the prayer labyrinth. One transcendent human moment between strangers, who met unexpectedly along a foreign road.