I just walked the first tour of 2015 with Juan Carlos and our 10 Authentic Journeys pilgrims. I didn’t think that my walk was really for me this year, but rather to look after our clients and ensure that they were comfortable, happy pilgrims. But I have been doing this long enough to know that the Path always has a gift or a lesson, whether you are looking for it or not. In fact, I’ve always thought the theme song for the Camino should be the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want … but if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need.”
Days before we left, I made the decision to take the remainder of my beloved dog Gunny’s ashes back to the Path. I had carried his ashes in my back pack shortly after he died and spread about half of them on the Path between Pamplona and Logrono, but couldn’t bring myself to let go of all of them. So they have sat in an urn on my piano for three years, waiting.
Anyone who ever met me for more than 5 minutes knew about Gunny. He is one of my soul mates and I love him more than life itself, so his death has been very hard for me. I have felt for some time that I needed to let go of the rest of his ashes, for him as well as me, but losing that last physical connection to who he was just terrified me. Nonetheless, I worked up my courage and put him in my back pack in hopes that I would be brave enough to let him go. I decorated my back pack with wildflowers every day so he could ride in style, and picked a few places for his ashes that are of great significance to me: the river under the old Roman bridge in Molinaseca, one of my very favorite towns on the Camino and the cemetery next to the pre-Romanesque Saint Mary’s church in O’Cebreiro, which is my favorite church on the Path. I still cry every single time I walk into that church, overwhelmed by its simple beauty and the light streaming through its tiny windows.
I was waiting for a sign to let me know where I shouldput the last of the ashes, and the answer came to me, clear as a bell, two days before we finished our walk: Finisterre. The beach there is a place where pilgrims go to burn a piece of clothing to represent the transformation they have undergone on the Camino. What better place to release Gunny than a place where people celebrate transformations? And besides, there is nothing that he loved more than the ocean and the beach. Absolutely nothing. (Well, except maybe bread.)
I talked to Gunny about it for a while – was he sure? Should I really let go? Was he ready? No taking it back once it was done. I knew that he was ready even if I wasn’t, but I would never really be ready so no point in waiting for that day. So I took a deep breath and spread the last of his ashes in the sand, sprinkled the wildflowers that I had collected that day on top of them, and stepped back to watch the tide take him away. I felt him smile. He was happy that we were taking another step on our path together without the physical attachment to the bodies that we inhabited this time around.
I never expected to get such a moment on this trip. But I know better than to underestimate the Camino, Santiago, and all the beings who look after the pilgrims there (both those in body and in spirit). Transformations happen every minute of every day on the Camino. Gunny and I are grateful for ours, however unexpected and bittersweet. I don’t know yet if I got what I wanted, but I have no doubt that I got exactly what I needed.
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