I love the convergence of Halloween, All Saints and All Souls this time of year, as summer moves into fall.
In the Celtic tradition, this sequence of days at the turning of the seasons is considered a “thin place” when the veil between our everyday world and the world of the divine is especially thin.
I found the whole Camino to be a series of thin places, as if All Saints was stretched out over the north of Spain for the month of October. I had a series of unexpected moments when I was touched by the beauty of nature, history, art, and fellow pilgrims. I also had several mysterious encounters that brought me close to loved ones who had died.
When I was resting and icing my ankle in the Albergue in Astorga, a Scandinavian man about my age checked-in, and visited with me for a few minutes. He was a quiet person whom I later saw contemplating chess moves in the common room.
He seemed familiar, but I knew I hadn’t met him before. Then it dawned on me that he looked just like my cousin from Sweden, who had died in the 1980’s. If he had lived into his 50’s he would look a lot like this man at the Albergue. I realized that I had not thought of my cousin in any serious way for many years. Seeing his “double,” made me remember him with fondness.
A similar thing happened when I was walking one day, and noticed that my companion reminded me of someone. She was forthright, and very down to earth. We had a fun day together. Later, I realized she reminded me of a relative who had passed away suddenly last year.
She and I had been close, but never seemed to make time to see each other. I regretted now that we had only seen each other for holidays. Spending the day with my Camino friend was like having some of that unstructured time I’d missed with my dear relative.
In 1996 my brother, my only sibling, died at 35 under sad circumstances. There was mental illness and alcoholism involved. By the time he died, we had not seen each other for a long time.
All along the Camino someone had posted Tom Petty lyrics on the backs of traffic signs, and on mileage markers. It made me laugh because my brother had been a Tom Petty fan. It made me remember a good memory of my brother as an adult. There were times as I was walking alone that I felt a closeness to him, that he’s in a much better place. Happy.
These experiences brought me to tears. They were tears of sadness, and loss. Perhaps I had not really grieved for these dear people? But also tears of joy and awe. Maybe the Camino presented me with enough time to have an open heart so that I could feel more deeply, and could remember my loved ones in a fresh way.
Tears of amazement, too. On the other side of the veil, my loved ones are alive in the Lord—I saw their reflection briefly in my fellow pilgrims.