More than ten years ago, I went online to track down a friend I hadn't seen in years. At the time, I was new to the whole Internet search thing. I don't think I'd ever entered the name of a person I knew as the criteria for such a search. I clicked on a few buttons, read a few screens, and found myself reading through a series of questions each one of which I answered with a resounding "Yes."
The questions read something like -
Have you always felt like you don't see the world the way everyone else does?
Have you dreamed of...? Do you ever wish that you could...?
Do you feel drawn towards...? Have you always imagined that you would...?
Well, all the questions were in Spanish, so I answered "Sí."
And at the end of all those questions was this statement: "Tienes compañia."
You've got company. You are not alone.
"Sign me up for that company," I thought.
A few paragraphs later, my spirits sagged: "Not so fast, Gail. These questions are aimed at men who are considering dedicating themselves to becoming Jesuit priests."
Once I got over my disappointment, I pressed on in my search and found my long-lost friend. We renewed our friendship and have been in regular contact since then.
Ninety minutes after taking off from Barcelona two weeks ago today, I landed in the city of Valladolid - and there he was, that same friend, awaiting my incoming flight. With the customary kiss on each cheek, we began what would be the most important 48 hours of my journey. It was with this friend that I was about to learn that not only do I need compañia, but I already have it. Everywhere we went, everything we saw, every conversation we had reminded me, showed me, proved to me that no matter how lonely I feel, no matter how convinced I am that I am all alone on this life journey of mine, I am not alone.
Anyone who knows anything about me knows that one of the greatest joys of my life is being alone. Solitude. Going to sleep and waking up alone in a hotel room makes me giggle with glee. I jealously guard "my alone time" every day. Packing a small bag of clothing, an even smaller pouch of cosmetic supplies, choosing a fistful of pens and journal with thirsty and empty pages - just the thought of going through that preparation process makes me smile both inwardly and outwardly. Waiting in the line at the security checkpoint, emerging on the other side with my boots, my computer, my jewelry, my boarding pass, and my dignity all layered in gray plastic bins, finding a seat near a window in the airport, and flipping to the first page of my journal while I await my first flight... now that's my version of an afternoon delight. Until this most recent journey to Valladolid, I thought that solitude, being alone was the quickest way to peace and strength and renewal for me.
In the middle of a long conversation about spiritual exercises, faith, the Scriptures, and other topics that he knows I love to discuss at length, my friend said: "Gail, tú necesitas sentirte acompañada.¨ You need to feel accompanied. You need to know that you are not alone. Tears immediately flowed. I was glad it was already dark, so he didn't see me wiping them away. "Sign me up," I thought.
Banana trees with their branches intentionally intertwined; they are pruned and cultivated in such a way that each tree is connected to the ones on either side of it. Apparently these trees, when in full bloom, form a canopy over the sidewalk, providing a wonderfully shady walkway during the summer's hottest hours. In the winter, the trees look gnarly and bare. I hope to be able to get back there during the spring or summer in order to see and experience the fruit of their interconnection.
Even the trees get it: "tienes compañía." You are not alone. Sure, each tree can provide shade by itself, but the effect of connected trees, the power of a community of trees is much greater.
One of us drank coffee. The other drank chamomile tea.
One of us dispensed words of wisdom. The other listened attentively, tearfully, gratefully.
One of us led the way. The other followed.
I would like to think that for those 48 precious hours, we both felt closely accompanied.
The best part about being in Valladolid and Burgos - in rain and shine - was learning a simple and profound lesson: I was not alone; I am not alone; I will never be alone. I was heard and seen and welcomed - and I don't mean in the physical sense alone. My laughter, my tears, my stories, my silence, my questions, my doubts, my escape routes, my utter lack of contentment, my insistence on photographing every meal and cup of coffee, my copious note-taking - everything that I am, everything that I carried in my backpack and in my soul pack, it was all welcome.
The hands that were pierced back then are the same ones that hold me now.
He knew the sorrow of feeling alone and understands my sorrow.
This is the view from the office window of my dear friend.
My bed was overseen by the Virgin and her child and that child grown up and nailed to the cross.
I was not alone, not even when I slept.
Valladolid can be a gray and rainy city; it certainly has been during my two visits there.
So when the sun broke through the clouds, I pulled my camera out quickly and captured the beauty of the sky above that ancient city.
SalTerrae - "salt of the earth" - the Jesuit editorial press in Valladolid.
If you read and understand Spanish, their website
The museum of sculpture in Valladolid. I wanted to stand and stare at those arches all afternoon,
but the statues and alterpieces inside the building were what we had paid to see.
And they were worth far more than the price of admission.
The plaza mayor in Burgos, Spain.
Looking out the window of a restaurant in Burgos.
My friend thinks I am sick - stricken with a progressive, aggressive, and terminal case of "Spainmania."
After 25 years of acute symptoms, I have no choice but to agree with his diagnosis.
I dream about Spain. I write about Spain. I talk about Spain to anyone who will listen.
I spend inordinate amounts of time looking at my photos of Spain
and reading the journals I have kept there.
But if Spainmania is a disease, I do not want to be cured.
When I returned to Charlotte last Monday, I pulled out the devotional book I read each morning, Jesus Calling
. Because I hadn't taken it with me to Spain, I decided to flip back and read through each day's offerings for the days I'd missed. These are the first three sentences for February 14th, the day I arrived in Valladolid. "Give yourself fully to the adventure of today. Walk boldly along the path of Life, relying on your ever-present Companion. You have every reason to be confident, because My Presence accompanies you all the days of your life - and onward into eternity."
In other words, "Tienes compañía."