A friend’s shared spiritual journey 

El Camino de Santiago is a spiritual 780 km pilgrimage through the basque sections of France and Spain and across all of northern Spain. My friend Judy has been planning to walk the Camino for over a year, and she started on September 2.

She stopped by my work a few weeks ago and brought me a mala bracelet, with meditation beads. 

She has the same mala bracelet and told me she would wear it on the Camino. I was not familiar with mala bracelets but she told me they are similar to rosary beads which I am very familiar with, having been raised Catholic – we even made our own rosaries in kindergarten. I have been meditating for 25 years and meditation beads are a comfortable addition.

Judy asked me to pick out a mantra we could both use. She sent me a website that teaches you how to pick a mantra.  I read through it and realized my mantra has to be my core values: love, connection, and hope. I asked her if that would work for her camino and she thought it would be perfect. She said she would be thinking of me the whole way.

She also told me about a movie called The Way, available on Netflix, that is about the Camino de Santiago. Here is the description from agoodmovietowatch.com:

In “The Way”, an American doctor, Tom (Martin Sheen), travels to Spain to identify the remains of his deceased son (Emilio Estevez, also writer/director) who has died while traveling “El Camino de Santiago”, the famous pilgrimage across Northern Spain. Once there, Tom unexpectedly finds himself inspired to continue his son’s journey, sprinkling his ashes along the lengthy expedition to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, home to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great. Along the way Tom gains several unlikely traveling companions: a Dutchman (Yorick van Wageningen), a Canadian (Deborah Kara Unger) and an Irishman (James Nesbitt), each of whom has his/her own personal reasons for making the pilgrimage, with each adding various degrees of of drama and humor to the proceedings as well. A touching and inspiring film marred a bit by some unnecessarily roughly-hewn characterizations, but overall a pleasant experience with a warm feeling of adventure and camaraderie throughout.

 We enjoyed the movie and got a real sense of the spiritual nature of the Camino. It made me cry to realize that a friend would share her journey with me in such a special way. Here's a Facebook post from her on September 8.

The day after Judy posted that picture I had an early follow up appointment at UCSF due to my cough (and worry about my diaphragm) and continued weight loss. Much to my surprise, my lungs worked fine in the most important tests. It was decided that my cough could be reactive airway or reflux. The doctor prescribed an inhaler and said if that didn’t work I could try Prilosec. The dietician also is looking at my caloric intake and mau increase the calories in my feeds.

It turns out using the inhaler for just a couple days has pretty much eliminated my cough. I am monitoring my weight at home and we will watch it for a couple weeks and if I lose weight I will get a higher calorie formula.

We brought our 15 year old son along to the UCSF appointment and he was mostly bored but he hugged me every time we were alone in the room.

Another highlight of our trip was having dinner with Sarah Coglianese and her family, who graciously invited us into their home. Sarah and I have a lot in common besides having ALS. We both grew up in Oak Park, Illinois and both went to Oak Park and River Forest High School although I graduated 18 years before her, we both did a Wednesday paper route that involved going door to door to collect subscription money, we both love writing, and we both used to love running. 

It was impressive to see their home which was totally remodeled to make it wheelchair accessible. But even better was the conversation with Sarah and Rob and the way Andy got along with 6 year old Scarlett.

I went to high school with Sarah’s aunt, who often posted Sarah’s blogs on Facebook. I avoided reading them until I started having symptoms, and then her blog really helped me.

Even with my nebulous spirituality, it’s interesting to contemplate that Judy’s journey could be influencing my outcome, of course along with all the other prayers and positive thoughts people are sending me. And it all goes along with love, connection, and hope. Thank you.

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