Dance in Peace My Friend

Every year for the past six years, I have had the opportunity to lead a group on the Camino de Santiago from Portugal to Spain. People participate in this trek for various reasons: to be in nature and enjoy the beauty of the Camino landscape, or for the pure sport of walking in the woods along the Galician Coastline. Some walk with a purpose: perhaps to mourn the loss of a loved one and begin the healing, or to have hours alone with their thoughts to find solutions to problems, or to work out the next step in their journey.

My purpose has always been to be a conduit to the people who walk the Camino and connecting them to the magic of the trail. However, this year, my 150-mile trek became very personal. Early on a misty morning, on a hillside beyond the gates of a church in Santiago Spain, I spotted a beautiful purple flower in a pile of leaves and pine needles laying on the side of the road. I walked over to the flower assuming it had been left over from a funeral procession that had recently passed. I picked the flower out of the debris and asked my son Gino who was walking with me, to string the stem of the flower through the zipper of my backpack. He asked, “Why?”

I didn’t have an answer but felt it was important to carry the flower with me.

Much later that evening, my son and I were having dinner and I received a text from an old friend asking me to call. I looked up at my son and said knowingly, “my friend Jason died.” The benign text triggered without warning, the words that came out of my mouth and I knew I had spoken truth. I loved Jason for so many reasons, but in recent years I had been practicing tough love and much time had passed since we had shared a conversation. I started to cry and shared my grief with Gino, explaining that the last time Jason had reached out to me I didn’t respond. My heart was heavy and I was consumed with guilt for not having been a better friend.

Jason’s addiction was his demon and his demon took his life, but Jason was not defined by his demons. He was defined by his heart which was bigger than a tractor. Jason would give you the shirt off his back and the last nickel in his pocket. After my divorce, when I needed a place to live temporarily, he provided one. He was a dreamer, always scheming up ways to make the world a better place. He was a voice for the homeless, the marginalized and the forgotten. He was an activist for the LGBTQ community. He made things happen and led by example having climbed Everest, Mount Kilimanjaro, the Singalila trail in India and the Inca trail in Peru. He made these adventure trips at his own expense for the purpose of raising money for Smile Network, to bring Smiles to the faces of children, hundreds of surgeries in fact, were financed by Jason.

As Gino and I talked of Jason, a sudden calmness came over me. The tears stopped flowing and the aching and shame I felt ceased. I was reminded of the flower I had found earlier that day. A single flower. Purple was Jason’s favorite color.

I knew the flower that had appeared on the road was Jason’s doing. It was his way of telling me he was in a better place, that we were okay and that he understood my practice of tough love and that we were still friends.

Jason loved to dance and I am certain he is happy and dancing amongst the angels this evening. 

Dance in Peace my friend.