trip of a lifetime
Into the light
Halfway through a blister-inducing pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, Brat Pack actor and travel writer Andrew McCarthy has a life-changing revelation.
was on my knees. Sobbing. In the middle of northern Spain, halfway into an 800 kilometre walk along the Way of Saint James, bound for Santiago de Compostela, I was exhausted, tapped out, reduced to a weeping mess. I shook my fists at the heavens and cursed whatever God it was I half believed in. This was not the triumphant march across the Iberian Peninsula I had intended. But it wasn’t just the walk – although it had been a miserable few weeks of blisters, bad beds and loneliness. Unwittingly, I had attached metaphorical significance to my trudge. It had grown to represent the journey of my life so far – and on parched ground under a blistering sun, the symbolic meaning I read into my present condition was not good. I seemed to lack some innate thing that living demanded. How could I have
come so far, only to end up like this? I sat back on my heels, my tears subsided, my breathing slowed. Alone in a field of scraggly wheat that stretched to the horizon, the space between my shoulder blades felt exposed and vulnerable. I re-hoisted my backpack, found my walking stick – hurled aside in my tantrum – and shuffled on. At the next village, the dusty town of Castrojeriz, I found a room above a bar and fell into a heavy sleep. The next morning I set out again. The air had a softness the day would devour, but hadn’t yet. The sky was without clouds. The space between my shoulders still carried a sense of frailty, yet my pack seemed to rest easier on my back. After an hour I stopped beside a barn to drink water and noticed my senses seemed unusually keen. The colours around
Pilgrim spirit, top, on the road to Santiago de Compostela; above, 1980s heart-throb Andrew McCarthy, all grown up.
me appeared heightened – the umber of the dirt, the red of the barn, the yellow of the tractor in the field, were all more vivid than normal, their edges more sharply defined. I heard birds call and respond. I grew conscious of my breathing, slow and rhythmic. In a moment of clarity I had done nothing to consciously summon, I became suddenly aware of something that I had known my whole life. It disclosed itself to me with the simplicity of the absolute. I realised there wasn’t re something in my so character I lacked – ch as I had feared – but something I had an so overabundance of, ov something that had some dictated so many of dict my actions without my awareness, that had been behind so many decisions, and obscured so much obsc judgment. Fear, I saw judgm in that moment, had ruled my life. And the vulnerability between vulner my shoulders was the space that had been created when the weight of that domineering, life-directing, decisionmaking fear had been temporarily relieved. It was in that experience of its first absence, when fear began to lose its all-pervading hold over me. The next two weeks went by in a blaze. Every step brought me deeper into sync with the universe. I arrived at my chosen location just before a downpour; I slept in and missed the pack of wild dogs that terrorised the early walkers; I grew physically stronger each day and, by the time I strode into Santiago in late July, I felt the way I had always wanted to feel but never quite did. During an accidental moment under a hot sun in the rural north of Spain I was cracked open and given a glimpse of how I might be able to live a different life from the one that had been leading me – and nothing has been the same since. Andrew McCarthy’s memoir, The Longest Way Home (Simon & Schuster, £10.99) is out now.