Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Shoving Off

Monday morning after Mass I received a text that a friend of mine named Donald had stopped breathing at sunrise at the hospice facility in Danvers. He had spent his last night in the same room in which my former mentor Cesareo had died a month before.

My friend Donald liked to maintain his anonymity. An artist and musician, he used the picture at left for his Twitter profile.

Later in the morning, I completed my final piece of commission writing work before heading to Italy next week en route to the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. I also arranged to return a check for several thousand dollars to a client with whom I recently signed a contract for a new project. I had not started the new project yet and did not want the client’s money burning a hole in my pocket while on the Camino. I mean to keep my options open.

I’m shoving off. The old world is falling away.

When I turned fifty, I told people it was liberating. “I don’t have to give a hang any longer,” I said, although I did not use the word hang. “I’ve won my bride. I’ve fathered all the children I’m going to father. My house is paid for. There’s no one left to impress.”

Now that I’m sixty, and a Catholic, my attitude has changed. I do give a hang, only not about the same things I cared about when I was twenty, thirty, or forty.

This morning, Katie and I read aloud together the final pages of Paula Huston’s lovely book Simplifying the Soul. The author notes that the weeks after Easter are a good time to meditate on one’s image of God and one’s relationship with Him. She provides many suggestions for doing so. She did not mention taking your first honeymoon with your wife of 28 years, or walking 500 miles with your daughter, with no clear battle plan for the future—but she might have.

I am packing as light as possible, for the Camino and for whatever lies beyond it. But I am carrying a rock.

My friend who died on Monday recently saw “The Way,” Emilio Estevez’s film about the Camino, starring his father, Martin Sheen. In the movie, the four main characters participate in a Camino tradition, carrying a rock in their pockets and depositing it at the base of the Cruz de Ferro, an iron cross that stands at the highest elevation on the Way. They do so while saying a prayer, asking for forgiveness for the sins of their lives.

On his last afternoon, my friend gave me a small, smooth, black rock with the word PEACE painted on it. He asked me to carry it for him and for his wife to the Cruz de Ferro. So I will do so, and leave the rock behind with a prayer, maybe at sunrise—

Buen Camino, Donald.

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