There are some roads we travel on just once, and others we revisit again and again. It’s hard to know the significance of such a series of curves – gray concrete and yellow lines. But as I peer through my dashboard at the two golden orbs casting tunnels of light across the foggy I-5 Northbound in Oregon, I am reminded of a certain road I traveled on just once in Spain.
I was perched tall on the bus seat, bobbing gently as we chugged along the windy road. Sleepily, I pressed my nose against the cool window, staring out into a misty tide of fog. Each time we’d wind around a bend, the moon would shimmer, skipping alongside the dream catcher of forested hills to keep pace with us. I was returning to San Sebastian from a day trip to Bilbao.
There was something special that happened that day. I had met an unlikely friend: an old woman with pearlescent white hair. When I got off the train at the top of the hill, I spotted her walking across the lawn with a limp, slowly dragging a checkered push cart behind her.
I walked to the railing that lined the park to take in the view. It was breathtaking. There were tall mountains and the charming city of Bilbao below, interspersed with patches of vibrant green farmland and a silver ribbon of river winding between them. The air felt cool, fresh and somehow, familiar.
I felt a presence approach behind me and turned to see a beautiful, smiling face studying me curiously. She must have been standing there for a few minutes watching me. We got to talking with the mediocre Spanish I learned in school and she told me that her parents were carpenters. They had once visited the old growth forests of Northern California and Oregon and told her about the unbelievably tall trees, she explained wide eyed with hands outstretched. Then she told me I should learn more languages and study a specialty outside of Journalism. I laughed, appreciating the motherly advice. I told her I thought it was a good idea. We chatted some more, using hand gestures and laughter to close the gap in our understanding of each other’s words. She invited me to join her for dinner the following night, and although I was touched, I had already purchased a bus ticket back to San Sebastian where I was staying with a friend.
We decided to take a picture together, stopping a passerby to snap the photo. After five, or what felt like ten kisses, and several hugs, we parted ways. As she shuffled down the path, just before dipping out of sight around the bend and down the hill, she turned once to blow me a kiss. Like waking from a dream, I stumbled out of the shell of my loneliness and felt my beating heart again. I blew her one back and turned to walk the opposite direction with tears in my eyes.
I learned an important lesson that afternoon: that no matter how far from home, and no matter how alone I perceive myself to be, the world never stops inviting me to take its hand once more.
My short visit to Bilbao was wonderful, nourishing and provided the breakthrough I needed in the moment. The fog that crept in later that night no longer felt ominous, just as it doesn’t tonight on my drive home to Portland. The light of the moon and my headlights are enough.
In the comfort of not needing to see beyond just a few steps ahead, the ride can be the destination itself. And that creates a beautiful, rare kind of contentedness.