Goodbye to My Beautiful Camino Friend…

Sometimes people come into your life for such an incredibly short glimpse of time that it’s hard to imagine they could leave a huge lasting impression. And then they do.

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Nick, Danielle, and Connie…taking a break at a stop along the way.

And then, sometimes, you get to walk the journey of the Camino de Santiago…and every path you cross is significant, every person you meet is a brother or a sister. Just like how you are called to The Way, you are called to meet and walk with those you discover along the way.

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Every step of the Camino has beauty to offer. The trick is keeping yourself open to it. It is, at times, a tough journey.

My Camino journey was with a group. Sue Kenney is a friend and Camino guide who takes groups to Spain twice a year to walk a portion of the Camino together. She is a kind heart and an amazing Camino guide. When I went with her group in May, 2014, I had no idea what it would be like.

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A bridge on the way out of Portomarin, Spain.

On day one, our group discovered each other…we made friends with one another. We were filled with anxiety, excitement, jet-lag, hope, longing, fear, curiosity. The electricity was palpable! We were giddy! As we set off on the journey to the church in Santiago, we found our pace and we walked together, and in smaller groups, and alone. It was constantly shifting, changing, evolving. We walked with one another and we walked with strangers from around the world.

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The bridge into Portomarin, Spain…

The person I covered the most miles with, by far, was Connie. At first, perhaps, we walked together because our pace was the closest match. Though, truth be told, Connie actually had a slightly faster pace than me.

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The famous church of Portomarin, Spain. It was moved from the riverside up a hill…one brick at a time. They numbered each brick so that they could re-assemble it at the top in the proper order.

Right from the onset, Connie felt like a good friend from far away. We just hit it off instantly. She was wise and giving. She came into my life at a point where it was very much in flux. She was exactly who I needed to talk to at that time. Her no nonsense approach to life was amazing. She offered life advice, relationship advice, and surprisingly, even advice on how to walk properly.

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Did I mention that beauty could be found at every turn?

Connie was the group photographer. And she took incredible pictures along the way. She joked that the hundreds upon hundreds of pictures that I took were always blurry and out of focus. I joked that I was capturing my shots with an amateur eye and I didn’t have the pressure of taking the perfect shot every time because I wasn’t a professional. She took beautiful shots…breathtaking. I was lucky to find one good one in a hundred. But I was okay with that. Often, I didn’t even stop walking to take a shot.

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Mountains and fields everywhere. It is the most breathtaking journey to Camino de Santiago…

We would lose each other along the way, walk with others in and out of our group, catch up with one another for breaks…it was all utterly organic. No plans beyond WALKING TO CAMINO DE SANTIAGO.

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One of the beautiful signs that others have come before you is the many ribbons you’ll find in the trees. Most with messages of hope and wonder…most in different languages. The world walks the Camino.

Each night the group would meet up and break bread together and sleep together at the same albergue. Other than that, we were wayfarers walking our way across Spain.

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There is a lot of graffiti along the journey to Santiago, Spain. It seems to warn you to LIVE YOUR LIFE NOW.

Connie and I had some extremely deep conversations while we walked. We divulged secrets to one another…shared wisdom, laughs, jokes, tidbits of our lives outside the journey. The connection grew quickly, as it does for all who take this magical journey.

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We discovered the long and winding road of song. It’s in Spain…on the journey to Santiago…

By the time we got to Santiago, I felt such a strong bond with Connie. As a whole, the group definitely bonded. It was filled with wonderful people. But there were also smaller groups within the group. Myself and Connie being one of them. She was fearless, headstrong, a smartass, courageous, funny, serious, irrelevant, relevant. I knew I would love her forever. I hated that she lived so far away from me back home. She was in Mont Tremblant, Quebec. I’m in Toronto.

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You meet SO many people on the journey. This is Connie saying hello to a horse. Its rider was from Germany. We met up with him a few times. He was a wonderful man. We struggled to communicate, because of the language barrier. But we made do. Hugs are universal. So are smiles…

Connie came into my life, and became a huge part of it for just over a week. Such a short amount of time. But such a relevant and profound time it was. It was thoroughly life-changing.

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The man who owned the beautiful horse. He was showing off for me in this shot. A quick gallop as he passed me by. This was our 2nd last meeting. We were able to share a few minutes in a cafe a little later that day…

The journey changed me. Our group changed me. Connie changed me.

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Walking up the hill outside of Portomarin, Spain…where our group had a beautiful picnic at the top of the world. A picnic I will cherish for as long as I shall live! Connie getting JUST THE RIGHT SHOT…while I snapped a hundred random ones on my way up the hill.

It was not long after our return from Spain that Connie contacted me and let me know that she had cancer. She was confident that she was going to kick its ass. And because I had come to know the strength and resilience she carried with her throughout her life, I had no reason to doubt her. No reason whatsoever. She was a warrior. I struggled our entire journey to keep pace with her. She was the first person I ever met who walked faster than I did. There was nothing she couldn’t do.

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A great number of people pick up walking sticks along the way to Camino de Santiago. Some decorate them. Some keep them. But most stack them into a corner outside the office where you receive your Compostela certificate.

I will never forget my Camino journey, nor any of the people I walked with (both inside and outside of the group I began my journey with). I hold the magic of the journey close to my heart.

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CONNIE

I will never forget the RAIN, and how we often forgot it was even falling.

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Catching my shadow on an ancient road…

I won’t forget how grateful we were on those rare moments during our walk when we actually cast shadows and the sun brought us much needed warmth.

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Claudette, Julia, Connie – Three friends walking THE WAY…

I will never forget the snow. And I will never forget seeing Claudette and Julia walking together (shown above)…and often with Connie and I. Julia with her scary blister near the beginning and her impossibly painful knees…and her trucking through come what may. I was on this journey with a group of Goddesses, truly!

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Connie and Sue as we see our first glimpse of the church in Santiago. A beautiful moment captured forever in my heart. The prize at the end of a long journey!

I will never forget our group. Sue, Nick, Danielle, Tanya, Claudette, Julia, and, Connie. Camino peregrinos forever.

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Our last night together in Camino de Santiago, before heading our separate ways back to our lives…changed forever. Myself, Connie, and Marielle (from the Netherlands)…who walked some of the journey with us (the honorary 9th member of our group!).

There are so many people I will remember from my journey. People from all over the world. None were more memorable than Connie. All were amazing!

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Connie, having fun on the Juliet balcony…inside the restaurant of our hotel in Santiago. I did it first. Because I’m silly by nature. It made me feel so great when Connie did it…because she was not silly by nature. It meant more when she did it.

Connie and I both talked of one day going back and walking the entire Camino journey, all the way from France. She saw it as a part of her future. I imagined myself doing the same. But now I know I MUST walk the entire Camino sometime in the future. I wanted to walk it for myself. Now, I want to walk it for Connie.

Connie passed away on the first day of spring. I write this with tears in my eyes and a profound sense of loss.

I will remember you always, Connie. You gave me so much in our one brief week together. You were a beautiful soul and I was blessed to have walked some of your journey with you. I can’t believe you’re gone. It is a profound ache to know that you have left us. I had you for such an incredibly short time…but you have changed me forever. Rest in Peace, my beautiful Camino friend.

“Think I Failed the Camino…”

The Camino is a vast and magical place of endless sky...

The Camino is a vast and magical place of endless sky…

The title of this blog post is a GOOGLE SEARCH TERM used by someone who found my site today. So often, the Google search terms that lead people here have me wanting to write a post on the term. Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t bother. TODAY, I was required to. Because NOBODY FAILS THE CAMINO.

countriesA reader from one of the countries listed above visited my blog today. Please know that you didn’t fail. The Camino has no failures…

Sue Kenney - A Pilgrim Leader...bringing the masses to the Camino! And the Camino to the masses!

Sue Kenney – A Pilgrim Leader…bringing the masses to the Camino! And the Camino to the masses! Click this photo to go to Sue’s site. She’ll be leading another group this coming fall!

Whoever you are, you will probably not find your way back here. But I’m going to write this anyway. NOBODY FAILS THE CAMINO.

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Did you see the big sky? Did your feet touch the earth? Did your heart feel lifted, if only for a moment? Did you smile? Did you say hello to at least one stranger?

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There is no pass or fail on the Camino. The journey begins when you consider taking the first step…not when you step down in Spain. The journey is in your heart. Don’t you see that the Camino is like the YELLOW BRICK ROAD?! You can take that road all the way to the end, to the Emerald City, and your journey isn’t over. Because the journey is internal. Once you get to the Emerald City, you must click your heels together three times and say, “THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME.” That’s the journey…discovering that you are always there. Always on the Camino. Always in Santiago de Compostela.

Please, don’t think you failed the Camino if you walked the Camino. You did what you needed to do. You found the sky above you and the earth beneath your feet. There is no fail.

You need not reach the end...you need only reach your heart...

You need not reach the end…you need only reach your heart…

Me and the Camino? Why not…

I recently decided that I need to walk the Camino. In much the same way one lost in the desert decides they need water. It’s a long story.

I have been lost for a very long time. When one is visited by trauma in early life, one often gets misplaced from the life they would have lived had the trauma not occurred. I think I did a pretty good job these past few years rediscovering that long lost potential life.

Since around 2002, I’ve been writing. I believe writing to be my calling. I don’t know if I’m any good at it, but I know it makes me a better person. Does one have to be a master at something in order to believe that thing to be their calling? I don’t think so. I think it’s in the doing of the thing that one finds its true value, not in the quantifying of one’s ability in doing the thing. The possibility of kudos should not be the determining factor. My calling is writing. Because it is while I am writing that I feel most like the person I imagine myself to be. It defines me. I’m defined by it.

There was a time when I thought rediscovering my passion would be enough. I would find my happiness in doing the thing I was destined to do. Over the past decade, though, I discovered I couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s not enough to reach your calling and sit on your ass. One must always plow forward. One must always be in a state of learning and personal growth. Sure, getting BUM IN CHAIR is an awesome and integral part of being a writer. I know this because I practice it.

But discovering and embracing my calling was not enough. Not by a long-shot. I was still a severely damaged human being. I was just slightly happier because putting words to paper seemed to keep the demons at bay, even if only momentarily.

I now know I needed to do more. I needed to face the demons in my life. If you are ignoring trauma, it doesn’t go away. It feeds off of you. And it grows. And grows. And grows some more. The only way to euthanize it and take back your life is to pull it out from under the rocks and face it down.

I heard about the CAMINO years ago. I took part in the 2007 Great Canadian Winter Novel Marathon at the Pickering Public Library and two of the other participants were this dynamic woman and comical man who, together, formed this kind of Superhero Duo. They were writing a novel together. At the time, the concept kind of blew me away.

The duo were Sue Kenney and Bruce Pirrie. I later learned about the Camino through Sue. AND since I first heard about it, I knew I had to walk it. I knew in my heart. I knew in my soul. I knew in that place where you just know. The Camino called out to me. I’ve since learned that one really doesn’t choose the Camino. The Camino chooses you. When it is your time to take the walk, you will know. It will become not just thing that you once heard about, but this thumping thriving living breathing thing inside you…a force that tells you to cross an ocean. When the Camino knocks, you put down your things, find the nearest walking stick, and start waking. <<that was a fortunate spelling error–I accidentally left out the l in walking. I think it’s kind of apropos, though…don’t you.

Turns out, since the first time I met Sue, she has discovered her own new callings. She now guides tours through the Camino. CLICK HERE TO LEARN ABOUT HER MAY, 2014 GROUP CAMINO JOURNEY.

I have quite a bit of baggage to shed. And I have this rock I must leave along the Camino. I must leave it there, like others who find themselves lost in the desert must have a drink of water. I took the rock away with me when I left a Male Survivor Weekend of Recovery retreat. The rock is from a mountain top in Ohio, U.S.A. This summer, I had a moment when I knew I should leave it at our fire-pit in Muskoka, Ontario, Canada. But now I know I was wrong. Or, perhaps it only wanted to spend a season in Muskoka. Before I head for the Camino in May, I’m heading up to Muskoka to retrieve the rock.

You may think, “It’s only a rock. Why’s he making such a big deal?” A Weekend of Recovery retreat sees some thirty men participate in a fully interactive program to help them along the journey of recovery from the scars of sexual abuse. The larger group breaks down into smaller groups…and it is in these smaller groups that each participant chooses a rock from the grounds of the facility (which, for me, was at Hope Springs, in Peebles, Ohio). It is what these smaller groups do with the rocks that give them power and meaning. Each participant of the smaller group holds each rock in their hands. This symbolizes the strength we have together. Each participant walks away with a rock that was in the hands of each survivor in their small group.

Believe me…when I’m having a bad day, getting that rock out and holding onto it…it helps me to reflect on the weekend and what I learned there. I have been to Hope Springs two times. The first year, one of the other members in my small group actually gave me HIS rock. I’ve had it in my pocket every single day since October, 2011. I’m sure I’ll never be without it. But the rock I received the following year, I felt that I needed to plant it somewhere significant. And I thought maybe leaving it in that significant place would give all of us in that year’s small group a degree of power. I would be leaving a piece of US in that place.

I honestly thought Muskoka was the final resting place of that rock. But now I know differently. I’m walking the Camino to place it at the Cruz del Ferro site. This site is an iron cross atop an enormous pile of stones…stones left over the centuries by past pilgrims. This is the place I need to deliver my rock to…and in-turn deliver my brother survivors to.

I believe there is still room in Sue’s 2014 Journey. Click on the picture below to learn more.

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