to my mother:
thank you. for raising me, for always loving me, and for filling my world with color.
Today, for the second time in my life, I arrived in Santiago de Compostela. Today I arrived by plane, while seven years ago I arrived by foot, following thirty-three days of solo walking pilgrimage across northern Spain. Today, I am not embarking on pilgrimage.
Instead of focusing on what I will get out of being back in a place that gave me so much – mainly clarity, peace, and the ability to let go – I am focused on my mother.
The picture of the glowing cathedral under the night sky was something to behold tonight, but the image that resonates with me most as I get ready for bed is of my mother’s hands.
My mother’s hands, holding a paper cup of cappuccino in the airplane seat next to me as we flew through the clouds. Hands that just a few years ago were vibrant and alive, today are withered and spotted. Hands that belonged to a woman with tireless energy and enthusiasm, now belong to a woman that gets tired at the end of the day. Hands that once enveloped my tiny fist in hers, today rest in the palm of my adult hand.
So no, as I head back to the Camino de Santiago for one week of walking, I am less focused on inner pilgrimage, but instead on making memories that will survive my mother. I am here to create and collect precious memories.
Over the last two years, life has taught me that love is the answer to everything, and I am convinced that there is no greater example or expression of love then that of a mother.
Nothing in the entire universe can compare to it, to the depth and severity of what a loving mother would do for her child. So here I am, spending one week alone with my mother in Spain, walking from Santiago de Compostela to Finisterre, to the ocean sea.
My goal is to cherish every step alongside my mother and to walk with her, to walk for her, and to be present in every moment as best as I can be. In this way, I will be able to walk with my mother long after she no longer walks beside me. This pilgrimage is not about me, but about honoring my mother and everything she has done for me.
(on the road)
Several times over the last few days I have felt something special – the feeling that I am experiencing moments that I will cherish for the rest of my life. To experience these feelings while living in them is unique and fills me with both gratitude and a sweet sadness.
Right now, my mother walks fifty meters ahead of me, a silhouette disappearing into the impenetrable fog. In this moment I am grateful for every second, every minute, every day we are sharing in Spain. Even the rain. The sideways, freezing, penetrating rain that hits our faces and climbs into our clothes.
Earlier today, during a particularly tough stretch of walking, I slowed my pace and took my mother’s small, warm hands in mine. For a few moments, I felt that I could protect her from the harsh, cold conditions outside, a small debt to repay her for doing the same for me my entire life.
(on the road )
I am enjoying the walks because I am more focused on the next step then I am getting to the end. I don’t have any urges to check the way-markers with their km to go listed on them.
On the contrary, I notice my mother suffer with every step, checking every way-marker with increased scrutiny. I do not blame and I do not judge, although I can’t help to think how much more she would enjoy the walk if she didn’t worry so much about when we would arrive.
When the weather begins to turn south, which I will admit it has done for the majority of our days, she begins to curse. At the clouds, the Camino, Spain, and the concept of pilgrimage in general. Meanwhile, I think about how grateful I am to feel the wind hit my face, how grateful I am for the feeling of cold on my exposed legs. I feel so grateful to be feeling again.
I walk with warmth and peace in my heart, not only for myself but for my mother as she struggles on the path next to me. I think about how strong she is for continuing to walk at 71 years old, how she has faced battles and come through clouds and rains far tougher than anything I have ever faced, yet continues to show up, for herself and her family and for me.
Thich Nhat Hanh would say that I am watering my seeds of loving kindness and compassion, but I am also learning how to love, because loving well means loving when it is hard, to see love as a light that shines through the darkness and into the other person’s heart. I do not judge because I do not know my mother’s suffering, I do not judge because I do not know her intentions or her wishes or her dreams, so who am I, an imperfect human with so many of my own faults and seeds that can be triggered at a moment’s notice, who am I to judge?
It is not up to me to decide how someone else should feel. If I am happy in the rain and my mother is unhappy in the rain, I should let her be unhappy in the rain.
(final reflections at finisterre)
It is Christmas Eve in Spain. I am staying in a small hotel on the cape town of Fisterra, Spain. My mother sleeps on the twin bed next to me.
It is 6:02 pm, and outside the sky is on fire. Soon, the blue horizon will melt into the ocean’s, and one will no longer be able to tell where the sky ends and the ocean begins.
As the year comes to an end I can’t help but feel that so much of life seems to feel this way, like one thing ends and another begins, yet somehow they blend together into a painting filled with brush strokes, without much clarity or direction, and sometimes less color then before.
It is a confusing business, life, made only more confusing when one tries to figure it out. But of one thing I am certain – it fills me with love and gratitude to share these precious moments and memories with my mother.
Happy Mother’s Day, Ima.