She is an old stone house, set in a small town in green Galicia, Spain. Far from any large, glamorous cities, bustling streets and excitement, the unassuming little house has stood quietly for hundreds of years, across from a tiny whitewashed church, surrounded by cornfields. An old wooden table out stands front, bleached and weathered by the sun and northern Spanish rain. She knows she isn’t a grand house, neither large nor architecturally interesting. Yet she is humbly proud of her structure, the mottled grey and tan stones, a plethora of shapes and sizes. Her four symmetrical windows were both dignified and useful, looking down on the sleepy little street below and giving a perfect view see the donkey go by or hear the townspeople gossiping near the tiny church. But her favorite feature is her round wooden door, shaped like a portal. She was built in a time when houses were built to last, and last she did, through the centuries of Galician weather, the pounding gales in the winter, and the steady rains of the summer.
Even though the house had never experienced a large city, she knew humanity better than the tallest skyscraper in the largest metropolis. She had followed families from beginning to end, from birth to death, marriage to divorce. Humans were fickle creatures, never satisfied. But she internalized their struggles, and the husband from the last couple passed away, the house herself wept, water slowly seeping through the stones, something she heard the humans call ‘damp’. They always had to have an explanation for something.
The house was left alone for a year, gathering dust in her corners, small mice coming to inhabit the cracks in the walls, creating nests for their tiny families. But she preferred humans. Their vibrancy, their jokes, their laughter, their quirky and strange ways. Houses were built for humans, and she had seen what happened to houses without families. She had slowly observed it happen to the house down the road; weeds growing in through the windows, curling over the doors and scrambling in uninvited over the decaying walls. She heard its thoughts and musing less and less each day.
The damp in her own walls got worse. The woods, which used to be home to so many animals – so much life – were long gone, replaced by fields that lay barren most of the year. The front stoop began to crumble. There were no humans to walk over it anymore.
Then, one Saturday, a writer walked through the door. She wore a long purple dress, with her long hair held up in a butterfly clip, loose strands escaping to frame her face. Suddenly, the house was a flurry of activity: bustling, preparation, voices, cats. New furniture, books, loved and fraying at the edges, and colorful carpets thrown down on the cold tile floor. Plants of all kinds appeared on the long stoop, adorning the previously barren facade: ferns, cacti, herbs. And of course there were flowers. Wildflowers in purple, blue, and red sprouted in the pots placed out front, growing excitedly toward the sun which shone brighter than ever on the face of the little house.
Before that day, the house had never heard of the Camino de Santiago, but from that moment on, it became her entire universe. Pilgrims from all corners of the world arrived at her doorstep, weary and drained after completing a pilgrimage of hundreds of kilometers across the Spanish countryside. The route was untold years old, and finished in Santiago de Compostela, the nearest city and supposed resting place of the saint, Santiago. They walked for as many reasons as kilometers they crossed. Some walked to forget, some walked to remember. Some walked as a physical challenge, some walked for fun. Most weren’t entirely sure why they were walking.
They placed their walking sticks by the door, muddied hiking boots on the mat, and threw their rain jackets over chairs to dry. The pilgrims themselves sank into chairs by the fireplace with their mugs of tea and glasses of wine. The house felt warm again. She soaked up the wide smiles of pilgrims conversing over warm bowls of potato soup, and drank in the honesty and compassion radiating from their tired yet satisfied bodies.
They came with scars both physical and emotional, pained by blisters, death, and heartbreak. It was her job to help them. With special attention she cared for these broken souls, placing just the right book on the bookshelf where they would see it, hiding their favorite foods in the cupboard from others, and breaking the right household item to give them a small a purpose and distraction. Most importantly, she fed them with her energy, enveloping them in their corner chairs, curled up in blankets and lost in their minds. They left, not cured, but with the weight beginning to lift, and life purposes renewed. They attributed it to the elation of finishing their journey, to finally waking up and staying in one place. It didn’t come without its cost to the house, as she gave her attention to their needs before hers. Stove burners refused to turn on and doors squeaked and creaked no matter how much their hinges were oiled. For the electricity to go out became a common occurrence. Underneath the television was a graveyard of dusty DVD players. But the house just smiled to herself and welcomed the next visitor.