Wow. It feels weird writing that. Even when I ran away to California at 17 I never wrote you back, so I don’t think I’ve ever written the words, “Dear Mom” in my life.
You’ve been gone for more than 27 years. I wonder why I haven’t even thought of writing you until now? Maybe it’s because growing up in the funeral business we all had a firm grasp on the finality of death. So why would I write someone who is gone? I’ve only visited your grave a few times as well. Geez, now that I’m confessing this to you I feel like I’m going to get in trouble for not visiting more. But then again, we both know that YOU aren’t there. Back when I was certain about stuff, I used know about life after death and what happened to whom. Now, I’m not sure about much these days. Therefore, I have no clue if “you’ll get this” letter or not, but I’m at a point in my life where I need to tell you a few things. Do you have a minute?
I’m going to turn 50 in about a month and I’ve been walking an ancient 800 KM pilgrimage called The Camino de Santiago. (If you somehow do get this letter then that means I probably don’t have to explain it to you 🙂 As I’ve been getting coser and closer to the city of Leon here in Spain, I’ve been thinking more and more about you. I’m not sure why your parents named you Leone. Actually, there are a lot of things about you I don’t know. I wish I had spent more time asking you questions about your life before you died. As a matter of fact, there are a bunch of things I full on regret and they’ve been getting heavier as I walk.
OH WAIT! I forgot to tell you something. YOU ARE A GREAT GRANDMOTHER! Congratulations!!! But again – if you’re getting this letter, you already knew that. I have so many questions for you right now. What can you see from where you are? Nothing? Everything? Do you see me when I’m bad? Do you see me when I’m good? Is Santa real? 🙂 Because I do both you know! Is there a God? Are you in Heaven? Is there a Hell? Is Jesus who he said he was? Have you been reincarnated, or am I writing to myself?
Anyway… before I get to the things that I need to confess to you, I really need to tell you about something that happened as I was walking into Leon.
After travelling mostly in the Spanish countryside for the last 450 KM’s, the urbanization was slowly building up around me, indicating that I was closer to the last big city on my pilgrimage. The markers on The Camino trail (yellow arrows or white scallop shells)…
were taking me past a cemetery on my right at the top of a hill, with the Northern mountains of Spain as it’s background. When I got to the base of the hill, off to the left I could hear some bushes rustling. Eventually an elderly spanish woman broke through, carrying flowers in one hand and picking at her clothes with the other. Leftover remnants from taking a shortcut on her way to remember a loved one. As I walked by, her head popped up and the warm morning sun revealed a face that was even warmer. “Buen Camino,” she said to me. (This is the greeting locals offer to pilgrims as they pass through their villages. It means, “Have a Good Way” or more accurately, “Good Way.” I nodded in silence with my usual Namaste gesture and smile (Namasmile) and continued on.
About eight seconds later, I whipped my head around as though someone familiar had just called my name. Her face! Her eyes! Her smile! Mom – this woman was you! I mean, if you were still alive you would have looked just like this woman. And it could have just as easily been you walking through the bushes in order to place flowers on the grave of a loved one. But mostly, it was her smile. Mom, I forgot how much your smile lit up a room. Even though it was usually “cross” at me, I miss your face.
I looked back and watched your doppelgänger walk slowly and laboriously up the hill towards the cemetery, debating whether I should go back and talk to her/you. Then I literally shook my head, as I usually do when my mind starts to float off into the clouds, and allowed reason to take its “proper” place in my delusional world of scepticism.
Walking away from that strangely familiar encounter, I began thinking about about a new friend that I’d met on The Way. I had heard this peacefully playful Swiss girl wish for various things while I’ve were walking for a few days together, which I promptly wrote off in my mind of reason. “Silly girl.” But not long afterwards, her wishes would irritatingly come true. No really. I was there. One day, she wished that she would get the opportunity to ride a horse. Later that day, she decided to walk out into a massive “field of gold” toward the mountains in order to have some time to herself. Later that day when I saw her back at the albergue/hostel, the backside of her pants had a very distinctive dirt pattern on them. I knew it well. As she returned from her peaceful privacy party of one, she came across a black Andalusian horse, hopped on and rode it.
The next day she wished that the next albergue/hostel she stayed at would have a fireplace, because she was really cold the night before. Of course, the next place had a fireplace. (Up until this point, I hadn’t even seen an albergue/hostel with a fireplace burning. I’m not even sure I saw a fireplace!)
Then, she wished to see a rainbow. Later that day, she saw a rainbow. (Up until this point, I had not seen a single rainbow on The Way. Although I have met Dorothy, The Cowardly Lion & The Tin Man. I guess that makes me the Scarecrow!)
I had long since written off “wishes” as silly, childish “play-hope”, but after encountering a grown up wishing for things and then actually witnessing these wishes coming true, I thought I’d try it. Again. Just once.
I wished that I would “experience” you during my visit to the city that resembles your name. You have been in my dreams a few times throughout the years, but I wanted a conscious experience of you.
Actually, before I tell you about what happened next, can I tell you about the recurring dream I have of you? Every once in awhile, I’ll wake up absolutely emotionally wrecked and breathing heavy with tears because I’ve just found you! All this time, you were alive but just hiding from me. I’d see you in a crowd, freak out, then track you down because you either ddidn’t see me or sometimes you saw me, smile and then move on. When I finally make contact with you, I’m elated and excited beyond all control, but you don’t seem phased by our reunion. It’s almost as though you’re not really happy to see me. You just seem so calm and matter of fact about our reunion. Of course I’m a little pissed off about the fact that everyone else has known of your existence, but for some reason decided NOT to tell me! It’s at this point I usually wake up a complete wreck. This has been my only “mom experience” experience for the last 27 years.
So I decided to wish that I could have a conscious experience of you while I stayed in Leon. Then, about four minutes later I walked past a small table on the side of the trail that had bananas and pop and water on it with a sign that said, “Take what you want. (For) A donation. And help other pilgrims taking a drink to follow the road?” WHAT THE…? And there wasn’t a soul around. I know there was no one around because I stood there for quite awhile trying to see if there was someone hiding in the bushes or peering fromsome distant rock with binoculars. I kept thinking, “WHO DOES THAT? There must be a catch? The drinks are laced with something and the bananas too. Maybe there’s a hidden camera somewhere?” I was baffled. I mean I had seen other tables like this on the Camino, but someone was always standing beside it wanting you to buy something from them. This time – it was free? CRAZY! I was so moved by this act of anonymous good that I put money in the little lock-box and took nothing. “Good on ya,” I thought.
Then, I rounded the corner and began crossing a bridge that took me over the highway into Leon. I stopped and stared out at the city that I had been looking forward to for quite a while now. And BAM! The penny dropped and of course another emotional ambush came outta nowhere. Usually my emotional breakdowns happen once every year or two, and only when I’m certain that no one else is around. Lately though, my emotional breakdowns have been happening weekly, sometimes daily. And despite that fact that I spend great quantities of time in complete solitude, I seem to be getting emotionally ambushed when people are within earshot. That’s not how I typically roll, mom. You need to know that your boy is a “real” man and has SOME self control! 🙂
I stood on that bridge and sobbed as pilgrims walked or rode their bikes by me, because mom, that’s exactly the kind of thing you would have done. To this day, you have been one of the best examples of serving others unconditionally and without any recognition, that I have ever known. It felt like YOU were the one who set that table up. Not for me, but like usual, for those who really needed it. (I used to get so bugged that all those pies and cakes and cookies you’d bake would usually be for some charitable fundraiser and not for ME!)
And then… I ran into a bunch of Leones! The convent I stayed in had a whole gaggle of nuns taking care of me. I even had to ask what time curfew was! (That brought back some memories.) They told me they loved having the big silent Canadian guy to take care of. (Nuns rock! Priests are creepy. I’ll tell you about that soon.) Too bad I wasn’t silent when you were taking care of me, eh mom?
So to my mom the nun, thank you! I promise to write you again, but before I go, here’s what I need to confess to you.
1/ I know I was a pretty good kid as a kid, but somewhere in my teens I became a completely selfish jerk and it lasted for quite a while. I don’t know what happened, but I do know that I am sorry for everything I put you through. I heard you crying late at night because of me and it destroys me knowing that my life played a role in your life ending too soon. I’m sorry mom.
2/ I regret BIG TIME the fact that you died before I was able to get some of my fecal matter together and before you could see your grandkids. Before we could repair our relationship and hang out and talk and stuff. Heck, I had to call Aunt Doreen to find out how to cook rhubarb. RHUBARB! (Water sugar, heat and RHUBARB!) I’m not angry at you. I’m just angry that we never really had a relationship. I took you for granted and then you were gone. Forever. And of course in typical Leone fashion, you didn’t want your battle with cancer to wreck the celebration of new life, so you slipped away hours before my son was born.
3/ After I became a “real” christian, I judged you for not being a “real” Christian. As it turned out, you were more of a “real” Christian than I have ever been. I’m sorry mom.
It’s 2:00 PM on a Sunday here in Leon Spain and the Cathedral bells are ringing. I can see this incredible structure from my window at the convent I’m staying in. A couple of nights ago I went and watched an organ recital in this ancient hall of reverence. They wouldn’t let us video during the performance but I made a bootleg audio and took some pictures. Check this out: But even one of the greatest European cathedrals with it’s magnificent organ doesn’t make me think of Jesus.
You do. Thanks mom…
I’m sorry. I love you. I miss you. Thanks for adopting me.
Love, your son – Drew
(PS. Not sure praying worked much for me but I might start wishing more. Upon a star – the Son?)