Cruz de Ferro

The Cruz de Ferro, or the Iron Cross, marks a significant part of the Camino.  The journey in life you’ve already walked coming to an end.  A place where you leave your trials, issues and insecurities and take all that you’ve learned and start a new journey.  It’s been said that while building this cross it was asked for pilgrims to carry a stone with them and place it at the base.  Now, pilgrims carry a meaningful stone from their hometowns or take one from the start at St. Jean Pied de Port. One carries their stone from the first step of the pilgrimage and you give your burdens, issues, worries and stressors to this stone.  You carry the weight of the stone and all that troubles you on your back for approximately 600km.

I found my stone in St. Jean Pied de Port.  I had planned to start walking on September 2, but awoke to a heavy feeling that I shouldn’t go.  I wasn’t ready.  During the Road to Santiago I wanted to work on listening to myself and to avoid continuing through life with the guilt of an “I should” mindset.  So instead of walking on September 2, I climbed up to the Citadel high above St. Jean Pied de Port and sat on a bench tucked behind the old stone walls.  I sat for hours staring at the startling gorgeous panoramic views of the countryside below the Pyrenees contemplating the next six weeks of walking.  It was here I found my stone and I carefully tucked it deep in my backpack knowing I wouldn’t need to find it for the next month. 

The morning of the Cruz de Ferro, I was only 2 km from the cross and I wanted to make it there when the sun was coming up. I typically enjoyed covering about 10km early in the morning before the sun rose; two hours of dark, Orion’s belt shimmering above, following the small tunnel of light from my headlamp.  The room started to stir and I awoke itchy after another bed bug fiasco. 

I step out into the dark.  My dying headlamp illuminates the siginificant amount of dust in the air. We climb steeply, but in the dark you don’t feel the elevation.  I’ve learned my eyes are the ones that trick me making the climbs difficult. The deep clang of large cowbells reverberate next to me in the pasture, but I can’t see the cows.  A dog howls and follows as the howl never fades.  I think of the person I was.  Or the person I am.  The insecurities, judgements, vicitmization that I’ve allowed in my past- today I leave this behind.  We walk in silence.  The poles of a pilgrim clicking behind me.  A woman slows before me searching for the waymarkers, but then realizes we have to cross the road out of the pasture.  

Today feels big.  I leave behind the negativity towards myself and my body.  I leave behind my insecurities.  I leave behind my previous life of self-hatred and no self-love.  I welcome a life of knowing my power, knowing that I am my everything. I welcome confidence, acceptance and joy.  Today is a ceremony of thanking the past Laura that has allowed this Laura to blossom.

I don’t even realize we’ve arrived at the cross until I hear footsteps on scree.  I figured we’d have the first light right now, but I now see we are completely fogged in.  I take my bag off, ready to leave my token of my past that I have carried for over 600km. I dig into the pocket that the stone was safely packed away.  It’s not there.  Every pocket checked, all items removed from my strategically packed bag.  I continue to dig, but no rock.  I saw it yesterday in my pack and must have fallen out since.  I think back to the day before- I felt light, happy and at ease.  The Universe must have known that I was ready to leave it all behind and took the stone when it was right for me.

However, I still want to have the ceremony.  I thought I would be more dissipointed that my rock was gone, but I wasn’t.  I hear a woman sitting on the ground break into tears next to me.  I’m careful to not shine my headlamp in her direction, but dig for my pack of tissues.  Amidst her sobs I offer her a tissue as another pilgrim comforts her by scratching her back. Another pilgrim awaits her turn to ascend the rock mound to have her moment. The rocks are loud and echo as they touch with each footstep. It’s my turn.  Hearing the sobs in the dark starts to stir my own emotion.  My eyes start to well with tears as I carefully ascend.  I walk over stones and pebbles that have been brought from all over the world.  Walking step by step up the lives, pain and suffering that were left behind by the pilgrims that walked before me. Each step a prayer that allows me to leave all the times I hated my body, all the times I told myself I’d never be loved and all the times I was never enough.  I walk from this today.  I take my lessons and my foundation and I start a new journey.  The rocks slide me back every few steps.  “Love”, “leave it”, and “joy” are written on rocks and stand out prominently to me, family photos and crosses are scattered around the base of the cross. I clutch a penny, I decide I want to leave something here.  I am putting all my energy into; this is what I leave saying a brief prayer of gratitude.  

I start to descend.  Pilgrims approach the cross, not seeing the obvious nature that this is a monumental moment for some and start yelling “Buenas Dias”. I see their vague outlines through the fog.  I don’t key into these insensitivies and say to myself “the more focus I have on the behavior of others, the less inner peace I have.” I grab my pack and start my trek past the cross.  I think of everything that this morning means- think of the practice of more love in my life.  I fall into the cadence of my steps and trekking poles.  Stick, step, stick, step.  In about an hour, I see a small quartz rock.  The ground has been littered with them all morning, but this one stands out to me. I stoop to pick it up, the weight of my backpack pushing me closer to the ground.  My thumb finds and rubs the sharp and the smooth edges of the stone.  I place the stone in my pocket and smile as I think of my new journey. 

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