June 27, 2020
As I stepped into the patio this. morning, flocks of house finches and other small birds who had gathered at the new pigeon-proof bird feeder, scattered into the sky like flung confetti. I felt a bit like St. Francis, with his bird companions.
Recently thoughts of “companions on the way,” upon which I reflected in an email sent from my Spanish Camino in 2010, have returned during this time of social isolation.
While I sat in the sun beside the cathedral in Santiago, “along came a French couple I´d met several times during the walk. We finally exchanged names and emails. I had been reflecting on the importance of companions on the pilgrimage and on the road of life. How unexpected they sometimes are, and how important. I thought about how no one goes with us all the way. Some remain with us longer and become dearer, while others are with us for a short time, but may be no less dear and important in their own ways.”
Some companions are with us for most of our lives. Some we would not have not chosen but seem to have been chosen for us. There are some whose names we recall frequently and some whose names we have forgotten. Some we mourn for having left us too soon, and some we will leave too soon.
Jesus said to his disciples, “Where I am going, you cannot follow,” which is what happens when our loved ones leave us. He also said, “My peace I give to you,” and “I will be with you always.” But the disciples were left alone, nevertheless.
Each of us must ultimately walk alone. Our companions on the way may sometimes be thorns-in-our sides and sometimes treasures. Some are soul-mates, and others are people with whom we just happen to be thrown together.
Eleanor from our cancer care-givers writing group wrote to me near the beginning of my 2010 Camino, that the entire group sent me energy and prayers during the silent meditation before writing. I had forgotten this until I re-read those emails. Perhaps it was their energy that kept me going during those first difficult days? Most of the members of this group are still part of my life. We gather every so often to talk and write. We have moved beyond the challenges that faced us as caregivers and we now live new lives and face new challenges.
I have three friends from high school – who were not my closest friends from those days – with whom I regularly keep in touch. Three of us, including me, have lost spouses. I treasure the continued presence of these companions from my youth, even though I have been blessed with a new husband with whom to share these late-life years.
Today is the birthday of my two children, born four years apart. Their father Ed died when they were in their early twenties. They remain my companions in joy and grief as I share in their achievements and their sorrows.
Anne, my amazing library assistant, became one of my closest friends. After a more than year-long struggle with cancer, that she chronicled with grace and insight through her CaringBridge account, she died suddenly at the end of April this year.
It has been hard to write about her. I’ve tried to write about objects that remind me of her, like a beautiful bar of soap with the image of a bee with translucent wings pressed into it. It is quite a marvelous construction. I can hear her exclaiming over its beauty and ingenuity. She gave this beautiful object to me, her friend, and now it sits beside my sink, used often during this time of frequent hand-washing, reminding me every day of her friendship and her love of life and beauty.
Oddly, it is often when I am walking that seemingly unconscious triggers call forth memories of friends and family, as vividly as the videos and pictures that also bring those long-gone to life. They are indeed with me always.
I am reminded of special kindnesses, even fleeting ones, often from strangers. Sometimes a smile, a touch, a helping hand, or a sympathetic ear means so much. On the other hand, a curt dismissal, an insult, or a refusal to help diminishes me.
It is easy to take out our frustrations on others, to blame to criticize, and to consider ourselves superior. But that is not the way to promote harmony in this world that is already so full of hostility and hurt and so much in need of healing. Anger begets anger, love, love. So, let’s be thankful for our companions on the way, and try to respond both to those who hurt us and those who treat us with kindness, with love.
The birds, too, are our companions, even the greedy doves we try to keep from devouring the food set out for the smaller ones. The pigeon-proof feeder allows the doves to scavenge the seeds spilled on the ground. We no longer shout and wave our arms, scaring off the little birds as well as the doves. All of our lives are happier now.