Dying

I’ve passed so, so many graveyards along the Camino…

…as well as all the tombs in churches and the memorials to pilgrims who died along the Camino. That’s a lot of death to witness… and to process…

My nephew, who died of cancer when he was only four, is my symbolic companion along the Way; I carry his symbol around my neck. I’m also carrying my mom, my dad, my mentor, even my dog… the list goes on.

It seems to me, beyond the symbols of dying all along the Way, the entirety of a pilgrimage is an act of dying. It is very much like journeying to the center of a prayer labyrinth.

Have you ever prayed a labyrinth (my favorite one back home is in the upper gardens of the Grotto)? The idea is that you slowly journey to the center along the maze of dying… every step unloading your burdens. The very center is the resting place, the tomb, the place beyond the struggles.

Now, the Camino has a few added wrinkles to the dying process’s: time and pain.

You can walk a prayer labyrinth during a lunch break, not so with a pilgrimage.

That time creates both pain and process to root more deeply the dying. My feet are actually dying. I’m not sure my pinky toe will ever recover. My age is descending upon me with each passing day. My pace slows each day. My hubris is being destroyed. And my muscle groups: back, shoulders, hips, legs are all asking to be traded to another team.

The resting place of this dying way will be the Church of Santiago, the pilgrimage’s ending. That will be my tomb.

I can only guess what will be left of my corpse when I arrive. I have already left so many tears in the dirt and between the stones of the path beneath me. I have spent hours lamenting my losses, my regrets, my failures, my hurts (those I have been given and, more mournfully, those I have inflicted on others.)

When you walk a prayer labyrinth, you get to (after sitting a while in the tomb) walk back out along the maze’s path and ask the Divine to bring resurrection, new life… to refill the emptiness with something alive.

This is the part I am afraid will never happen.

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