Elaine writes: It is often said, “be careful what you pray for”. I have learned today just how very true this statement can be. As we’ve walked I’ve been praying for a better understanding of why I am doing this pilgrimage. Today, I received it. We were notified that my Dad is ill and it may be serious. He’s been having some stomach issue for the last year and the doctor is now quite certain that it’s cancer. My immediate reaction was to stop the Camino and find the next flight back home. I then quickly discovered it would take several days to get back, thank God it is not something acute. This did gave me some time to talk to my parents and to get their thoughts about how I should proceed. Mom said I should finish what I started and Pop agreed. I thought about their advice and I also thought about how much the reality of death has been nagging at me for the past few months. I know it sounds morbid, but lately, every day and even several times a day, I think about my own death and how I will face it. I picture myself embracing the final moment. So much so that I have mentally practiced what that would look and feel like–physically. For instance, just today Joe filled a bathtub full of cold water after we’d walked another 20 km. As I submerged my aching feet in the cold water I immediately remembered how one author described death as a cold shock, “like jumping into a pool of cold water, but that once you embrace it, the pain is over.” Well, I thrusted my feet down even further into that cold water, but the pain did not stop and I wondered whether that author had any real clue about what death was like. I suppose none of us really do. So, all this thinking about death on the Camino, and then I get this email about my father. It made me think….have I been doing this walk with the right spirit? Have I been devoting myself to this journey with the right faith and mindset? Have I been suffering for a greater good beyond just my own self-exploration? When I feel like my feet are burning and I can’t go on even one more step, have I been dedicating that next step to ease the suffering of others? To ask God for a better understanding of His plan for me? I know I can’t stop my father’s, my mother’s or my own death. The ruminations about life and death are happening for a reason–we are all getting older and as the Queen said in the movie “Braveheart–“You see…death comes to us all.” That statement is becoming increasingly and painfully more real to me.
Yesterday, while talking to a fellow peregrino, he made the comment that “the death of someone we love is very hard to accept.” Such a simple truth. He talked about how we just want to reach out to that loved one, but they are no longer there for us. I think that is the definition of grief. We want to reach out but the space is empty where it was once filled with love, with support, with some simple words of encouragement. Everytime we reach out, the emptiness reminds us of what we are missing.
My father is very much alive but today was a reminder, as if I really needed anymore reminding, that I will soon enough lose everything to this earthly conqueror called death. Can I use the rest of this pilgrimage as a spiritual journey, focusing on the church and the symbols of life after death as a means to deepen my own faith in God? Focusing on the reason we have been placed on this earth despite the transience of our mortal existence? I certainly won’t be the first, but rather the millionth or so pilgrim to use this walk to deepen this understanding. Do I have the conviction to make a promise (and keep it) to seek God more faithfully on this pilgrimage than I have been? Is that what God is encouraging me to do through this additional suffering and notification today? Have I been seeking too much comfort and not enough wisdom over these past days and weeks? I am praying about this and trying to be a better listener. My path does not seem clear right now. I don’t know if I will finish this pilgrimage to go back home for my pop, but before I make such an important decision I will have to give myself a chance to think, to listen and to proceed on a spiritual path regardless of whether I fly back home or continue walking Santiago’s path.