Dear stranger from Santiago de Compostela:
I took this picture of you a while ago. It was Sunday, April 8, 2007. Easter Sunday. I was on vacation in Spain. It was more by chance than anything else that I ended up spending most of the Holy Week in Sevilla and Easter Sunday in Galicia. I'm as religious as a napkin, but as a Catholic in recovery, I'm familiar with most of the rituals. Or I thought I did.
Sevilla was incredible. I had no idea of the magnitude of the celebrations that take place there. One night it took me a few hours to leave the hotel, walk around one of the plazas, and come back to the room. Galicia, on the other hand, was not as crowded. I drove north from Madrid to León, and then west towards Galicia.
Westbound, after crossing Astorga, everything changed. The scenery was different. The infrastructure was different. You could see the pilgrims on the road, on their way to Santiago. The Way of St. James. It's unbelievable that some people walk almost 500 miles (or more!), all the way from France, to complete their pilgrimage. They must be crazy.
Who are you, stranger? You must be crazy.
I saw you arriving at the Praza do Obradoiro, with your giant bag and belongings. You were alone, sunburnt, walking slowly, tired, with your eyes fixed on the Cathedral. I saw you sitting down on your bag, resting your elbows on your knees, and then your face on your hands. I could not see you crying, but I saw you wiping away some tears while looking at the the western façade.
Not counting board games, I've never been much of an athlete. But I'm a runner. I like to run long distances. I'm not fast, I have a bad knee, I don't train well... But I run. It's cathartic. Each race is a new goal. Pinning the bib number on the shirt sometimes is as emotional as crossing the finish line. For me it's 90% mental. The other 10% is in my head. But I do it. I like doing it.
And you did it. Whatever it was you were attempting to do, you did it. Were you one of those walking all the way from France? Farther away, perhaps? If your shoes could talk... How do you pack for a trip like that? How much weight were you carrying in that bag? How much weight were you carrying... inside?
The photograph is out of focus. It's grainy. The settings in my camera were all wrong. But I only had a second to capture (steal?) the moment. And after all these years, the memory is still vivid. I remember everything. A fleeting moment, like life itself.
If you ever read this and recognize yourself from the photo above, I'd love to know the real story. For now, nine years later: thank you for the inspiration.
Who are you, stranger? You must be sane.