Our Camino – Arriving in Santiago – April 6, 2013

 

Santiago here we come.

Santiago here we come.

The excitement of arriving in Santiago that day got us up early.  We stuffed and strapped on our packs quicker than usual, getting on the road well before 9 am.  The steady downpour that had characterized our walk since the start was replaced by a clear sky, the sun smiling upon us as we prodded along.  Pilgrims who once chattered along incessantly, grew silent, uttering the “Buen Camino” greeting only when absolutely necessary.  We were carried along by a cool breeze that rustled the trees softly making it sound as though they were applauding.  We covered a full 10 km in two hours, we were no longer walking but running.  At that pace we’d be in Santiago in two more hours.

Just outside of the city, we reached an imposing monument that mirrored the enormity of the journey, while we might have only been walking for five days, some had been walking for almost forty, others even longer.  From our vantage point we could just make out the tops of the Cathedral’s spires in the distance, they were waving at us to hurry.

For once John Brierly was right, walking on paved roads is much more tiring than walking on dirt even when that dirt is sludge, and those last five kilometers exhausted us more than the one hundred five kilometers that preceded them.  Our feet grew heavier with each step and we thought seriously about by-passing the grand entry to the Cathedral for the comfort of our hotel bed, but just then, the spires re-appeared from behind the buildings, encouraging us to keep going.  When we finally emerged onto the plaza, we just stood there, incapable of thinking, talking, or even crying alternating between staring at the church, each other and even our feet. Had we really just walked here?

We were still standing there, when a small group of french girls (more women) led by their teacher came up to us looking for an interview. “Were we pilgrims?” They asked, practicing their English.  We said “Yes”.  “Can we interview you?” they continued. We hesitated, wondering what we’d say looking at each other.  We mumbled, “yes”.  First question, “Why are you walking?” Since landing in Madrid, despite the number of people we’d met and chatted with along the road or over dinner, not once had we mentioned why we were walking.  We took great pains to wait until others passed before attaching our Gus crosses or leaving our Gus prayer cards.  We did not want to cause others pain or illicit any kind of pity.  We were survivors, lucky to have had Gus, to be in Spain and have each other. There were other pilgrims in the plaza, yet the group of students had made a bee line for us, in that moment it was clear that “these” people were not asking the question for themselves but asking the question for God himself.  So we answered God, saying “We walked for Gus”, while handing over a Gus cross and prayer card, no further explanation necessary.

Our feet no longer hurt or we forgot they hurt, so we continued on to the Pilgrim Office to request our Compostela.  We presented our passport, filled with more than the necessary amount of stamps and were questioned.  “What was the purpose of your Camino, cultural, historic, or spiritual?”  Spiritual we answered in unison. Before leaving the Pilgrim Office with our Compostela in hand, we left a rock in a basket hung for that purpose over the stairs, it read Wito, Nana and GUS.

Next stop the “End of the World”.

 

A cool sunny day along the Camino.

A cool sunny day along the Camino.

The Church is just a little further now.

The Church is just a little further now.

We made it! - Cathedral Santiago de Compostela

We made it! – Cathedral Santiago de Compostela

Pilgrims Passport

Pilgrims Passport

One of our Compostelas

One of our Compostelas

Our Love Rock at the Pilgrim's Office

Our Love Rock at the Pilgrim’s Office

The Great Purge

Two weeks after the worst day in my life, I went back to work. That first day I hid in my cubicle for eight hours holding back tears, pushing papers from one side of the desk to the other and tried to remember what I did for a living. I found myself staring at the clock dreading for “three” to roll around. With our older boys in their twenties and Gus gone, it would be the first time in twenty years that I would not have to rush out to pick up a child from school, race to a practice or a play date, do homework, or in Gus’ case dash from doctor’s appointment to doctor’s appointment. I stayed until four that day and then went home hoping I’d let enough time pass. I hadn’t. With nothing better to do I ambled around the house impatient and sad. At the corner of the family room was Gus’ bookshelf still crammed with his school supplies, books and toys. I decided it would make a great place for a permanent memorial.  Right there in the corner of where we ate and watched tv so that he was still in our midst.

I began by clearing off the shelves and collecting anything that Gus had ever used, slightly touched or even glanced at. I planned to organize it all and put it in his room which is kept closed and nearly like he left it – probably until I die. Since keeping all of his pencils, crayons or games would be ridiculous, I resolved to keep only the “special” ones -the ones he used the most. As I sunk deeper into my task I came across boxes of other things that with him gone we’d no longer need. The assortment of paints for the pinewood derby cars (apparently we’d bought more and more of them each year), boxes and boxes of crayons, paint brushes, coloring books, bottles of glue and stacks of long-forgotten games. As I tossed or boxed the many items that I thought were Gus’, I realized that many more were mine. Soon, I was organizing not just his shelves, but the immediately adjacent closet, then the cabinet across the room, the pantry next to it, the laundry room, the linen closet, the other linen closet, the outdoor tent, the garden shed and finally the two holiday decoration sheds. And so the great purge began.

I blame William-Sonoma for convincing me that I absolutely needed that express rice cooker I was always too afraid to use and a multitude of “specialized” kitchen gadgets like a mandolin (I might have used that thing once). I blame Pottery Barn for the collections of nick-knacks appropriately “grouped” and displayed throughout the house and for filling my linen closet with “seasonal” sheets and comforters. I blame Martha Stewart for the all the ridiculous “matching” holiday collections and decorations like the “mummy in a web” for Halloween and the Santa Clauses, Easter rabbits and wreaths that contributed to that special “a Holiday just threw up all over the house look”. I mostly blame myself for believing that I ever needed any of it to heighten our family experience. That my perfect family was somehow more complete in a expertly staged photo-ready setting. Over the year I made at least ten trips to the local shelter with the car filled to the brim (trunk, back seats and passenger seat) with neatly arranged boxes of the useless and irrelevant stuff that once crammed rooms, got piled on shelves and clogged up closets. At one point I was even asked if I was moving. At the time I blushed and muttered that it was a long story. The truth is though that I am moving – from the perfect family Gus era to the nearly perfect family “after” Gus era.

In this new era, it is not the setting that will take center stage but the memory of the experiences we had and the ones we are yet to have. The less “stuff” I have,  the more room I make to bask in the glory of  our family love (Gus’s love) and the love of the people that are still in our future. I expect the great purge to continue.