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For Simon

Dear Simon,

Thanks to today’s chaos, I found you. Though we live on different continents, I’m imagining you’ve also been wandering around in what’s familiar and what’s difficult and sad . . . managing and rearranging your life to meet some kind of a newer “Simon normal.” Sometimes tough and lonely work on my end! But the good news is during my latest office-cleaning frenzy I found something I thought I’d lost – a small scrap of paper holding your email address. Seeing your name made me smile in a way I haven’t for weeks. And, now that I’ve located you, here comes your well-earned thank you.

You and I met only once, for a few hours on a beautiful May afternoon in Spain. We found each other when you took a random seat across from me, during a random break for lunch, on a random spring day. We were each in the midst of individual pilgrimages on “The Way” – the Camino de Santiago.

Even though I thought of myself as a lean, mean physical and spiritual wanderer when we met, I remember sharing with you something really personal . . . and that surprised me; so you must have been special.

I admitted that my Camino walk was a pilgrimage, planned as a 100-mile trek for my son, Matt, who had died. I was determined to succeed . . . facing ahead, always on the lookout for signs of the correct trail, one foot in front of the other, and absolutely resolute about reaching Santiago and the Cathedral, with Matt tucked securely in my heart. While we talked you gently slapped my ideas around just enough to help me see that I might be taking my pilgrimage a bit too literally, maybe even too seriously.

Though it’s been three years, I remember your words: “The Camino is a university of life.” I’m a teacher so I jumped all over that, and even listened more than I talked. Here’s what our conversation said to me then . . . and now: whether I’m walking the Camino’s extensive byways, or navigating the various pathways of my own daily life, it’s a big mistake to believe there is only one right path, or just one ideal, foolproof way to walk. Each wanderer’s way, whether small or large, will always be a leap of faith, a trail yet to be blazed, choices to accept, stuff to leave behind . . . one footstep at a time.

The time came to retie shoes, rearrange backpacks and turn toward our separate ways. But, then, there you were with one more gift. You reached into your backpack, found and opened a volume of verse by the Spanish poet, Antonio Machado; you had figured me out and knew I would let the poet’s words speak to my heart:

“Wanderer, your footsteps are the path, and nothing more; Wanderer, there is no path, the path is made by walking. By walking one makes the path, and upon glancing behind One sees the path that never will be trod again . . ..”

Not long after, we both walked on . . . moving at different paces toward our next destination.

Simon, here’s what I know to be true today, thanks to our Camino time. Whether I am wandering in a foreign country, or trying to navigate patiently and responsibly in pandemic mode, or figuring out how to walk with others for gracious, overdue change in a racially-unjust world, the twisting, turning choices I make, the joys I let myself celebrate, the obstacles I’m able to transcend, and the courage I find to continue forward, live within each one of the footsteps I decide to use to clear my path ahead. I make my own road by walking, one choice at a time.

So, thanks, Simon. You helped me get here. I'd love to hear that you are still safe, healthy and happy.


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