Yes, I actually heard them! …with my real ears! Of all things they now can use modern technology when they sing. They have names: Abigail and Ashlyn – great names for angels. They are still young angels, but they sing beautifully, with perfect intonation. They sang solos and duets. They are 9 years old and 10 years old (Angel Abigail quickly reminded me that her 11th birthday is coming very, very soon). I have the distinct honor of being the Grandfather of these angels (and another named Chloe).
There is something that my journey in Spain has brought into clear focus now that I am looking back on it. For the 44.5 years with Mary Ann, I did not feel lonely. For a few weeks walking and living with my Camino Kids, I did not feel lonely. Strong attachments developed as I walked the Camino. When it stopped, those people returned to their lives with the ones they love, the people to whom they belong, who belong to them. At the end of the time in Santiago with them I spent what was only days but seemed like an eternity alone thinking about it – more importantly feeling about it.
I started thinking about this when the Camino was nearing the end as well as when I was alone during the transition back to the place where I live. Whether they like it or not, there are people to whom I have a permanent connection while we are on the planet and, for that matter, after we leave it. Abigail and Ashlyn and Chloe (who will be 15 in weeks) are my Grandchildren. I am their Grandfather, and that is that. Lisa and Micah are central to my life. They are my children and I will always be their Dad. Dick, Dave, Gayle and Tish are my brothers and sisters – whether they like it or not. I, for one, like it very much. Denis and Becky are my Son and Daughter in Law. We belong to each other. I like it.
At one point on this journey I had an embarrassing moment of personal struggle with which my walking partners helped me. It is hard to admit that a 27 year old and a 33 year old were my counselors. They gave me the gift of their love and concern when it was needed very much. I learned the most on the Camino on that day – things that I am now seeing even more clearly. (I realize that it is still too soon to determine what from the trip will have lasting impact.)
One day something quite incidental broke open very strong feelings when I was walking the Camino. To put it in the simplest terms, I saw the empty hole inside left by losing Mary Ann and my Career and I felt sorry for myself. I realized that I have been trying to fill the empty place in me with all sorts of things that are not up to the task of filling it. I love meeting people; I thrive on it. Discovering who they are, developing a personal connection brings me great joy. As much as I love that, it does not fill the empty spot. They go their way and I go mine.
What does remain for me is my family. Then there are those with whom I have enduring relationships. There are long term friendships that I cherish, some are many decades long. I am no longer related to the parish from which I retired as the Pastor. That is a good thing. There are new and exciting things going on. I am in community with many of the people there now in a different way. I have known many of them for most or all of the last 17 years I have been living in this city. Some of them were intimately involved with Mary Ann’s care. I am part of a Spiritual Formation group that changes participants at various times but still endures and has for a decade. Some of the casual relationships over the years have become more than casual. They have grown into long standing friendships. It is yet to be discovered which of the relationships that started on the Camino will remain now that it is over. I am sure it is apparent that I would love for some of those relationships to endure far into the future.
As to the empty spot, since I am a Pastor, albeit retired, it is reasonable to ask, “Shouldn’t God be enough to fill it?” My first answer is: It is God who created us with a longing for relationship, connections, intimate community. The empty space draws us to others. God put it there for a reason. From reflecting on the Camino I have received the gift of appreciating that I have connections, people in my life that belong to me and I to them. I received the gift of identifying the longing and realizing its place and purpose.
The truth is that there is actually no empty space in any of us that is not loved by God and filled by God’s presence. The more we settle in and become aware of God’s presence the better able we are to negotiate the longings that come and go. There are many whose longings have been filled in healthy ways with family and relationships and community, experienced as God seems to have intended. They experience true peace. I have many exhilarating times reveling in that peace and wholeness. It is always present at some level. Even then, there are sometimes moments when an awareness surfaces that signals a longing. The challenge is to discern to what the longing is drawing us. Reflecting on the Camino is a time of much discovery for me.