One day I hope to walk the Camino de Santiago, a Catholic pilgrimage that dates to medieval times. The journey typically starts in southern France and ends in the province of Galicia in the far northwestern corner of Spain. The Romans called it Finisterre, Latin for Land’s End. It’s a tumbling, green, rugged coastline swept by ocean gales. Even more fascinating is the blend of Iberian and Celtic cultures that characterize the people of Galicia (you can hear bagpipes there). What I think I would treasure the most, however, would be the encounters with fellow travelers and with the hosts who staff the refugios along the way. Refugios are hostels reserved just for those making the voyage to Santiago de Compostela. For many of the hosts, it is a labor of love to welcome strangers into their hostels, to feed them, and to provide a clean bed. Algún día quizás. Someday perhaps.
Most of you reading this, whether you know it or not, have been a refugio for me, for the boys, and for Alicia when she was still with us. Yes you, dear reader. And this in spite of creed, nationality, color, sexual orientation, political persuasion, socio-economic status, or any other label that we try to define ourselves with. The unifying theme was love and a desire to offer a place of comfort to desperate people in need. When we were tired along the way, when we felt our feet couldn’t carry us any longer, when our backs were burdened from the load we had to carry day and night – reader, you were there, keeping the lantern lit for us. When I was at the end of my rope, torn between supporting my family with work or remaining by her side full time through treatment, money was sent our way. Vacation time was generously donated. When I couldn’t think of planning meals or going shopping, food was provided. When it was time to bring her home from the hospital for her final weeks with us, a clean home was waiting for her. Dedicated family members came and stayed with us to ease my load as her caregiver. When I had forgotten how to laugh, or even smile, friends came and took me out for times of brief but sweet respite. Shoulders were cried upon. Ears were lent. Prayers were offered. I have a box overflowing with beautiful cards and sentiments, all of them precious to me. So many kind words and loving thoughts were shared through so many avenues. But most important of all, reader, is that in being a refugio for us, you gave us the most precious gift of all – time. We were able to take refuge in your hospitality, a cool retreat behind whitewashed walls where the dusty road is kept at bay. In the end, that was all that really mattered. Time to be with each other, time to properly care for her in the way she deserved, time to remind her that while we could not bend the arc of her disease, we could still go with her each step of the way. Priorities have a way of coming into vivid focus when faced with circumstances beyond your control.
Dear reader, I have the best intentions of writing ‘thank you’ cards for all of the words and deeds that buoyed us. However, I’m reminded daily of my limitations. My legs feel like lead and my head is full of cobwebs. I struggle to find sleep and, when I do, I wake in the late watches of the night. Most days, simply showing up and going through the motions is enough. So in the meantime, please accept a tear-filled, quaking, loving expression of gratitude in the language spoken on the Camino. Os agradezco con todo mi corazón. Lo recordaré para siempre. Os amo.