A Golden Hour

Nature, inspiration, being human.

I have finished my Camino journey, and am now in an airport hotel in Paris, enroute home, but my heart is somewhere back in Spain.

My eyes are still taking in that first crisp morning, when dawn was breaking over the hills of Galicia. There was fog, and fresh dew, and the occasional call of a rooster, or songbirds, or a dog barking in the distance.

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It was still dark, but you could hear the sound of your breath, and your shoes crunching on a dirt path, and the approaching soft clicks and steady rhythm of pilgrim hiking poles. “Hola. Buen Camino” they would say quietly as they passed you up the hill.

We passed stacked stone walls, and fences with barbed wire, and apple trees, and old barns. The whole of the journey was still ahead, but I wanted to suspend time.

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Looking back on it now, I think my destiny changed on the train to Sarria. Or maybe it’s the only one I’m ever walking towards.

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Cloud break over Sarria. Photo credit: Gary Salmon

 

 

I had an amazing experience last week.

I was packing my vehicle, for the return leg of my solo road trip from Canada to Arizona, where I had been visiting my Aunt.

“You must see the Grand Canyon on your way home,” she said. “It’s only a few hours north from here.”

North. I was planning to head west, to take the most efficient route home. I had such a long journey ahead of me. Additional days for sightseeing would only add more miles, expense and personal energy to my trip.

But the Grand Canyon. Could I pass up an opportunity to see something “grand” that has inspired so many generations of people, stories, film and art?

Knowing life holds no guarantees, knowing I may not ever come this way again…I decided to take an alternate route home, and made an extra effort to see for myself, what my Aunt (and many others) encouraged me to see.

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The Grand Canyon exceeded my expectations. I knew it would be beautiful, but I didn’t know the impact it would have on me.

When I first stood at the railing and laid eyes on its magnificence, I gasped and cried openly. It was so incredibly breathtaking! More than I ever could have imagined. Tears flowed down my cheeks.

It was awe-inspiring. And I felt so emotional.

I wept for the opportunity to see this natural beauty in my lifetime, and I wept for the bittersweet circumstance that my husband did not live long enough to see it with me. I was seeing this beauty alone.

Yet, I was not alone.

And not because there were other people around me, taking photos and hiking the trails and enjoying winter picnics.

It was because I felt a sense of connection to something greater than myself.

Something vast, timeless and transcendent, that shifted my perception of the world. Something that was here long before I was ever born, and will remain here, long after I’m gone.

When you experience a great loss, you know the deep, inconsolable pain of losing that connection. And how it is a long, personal journey to recreate a new life, after that loss.

An experience of awe may be something to momentarily lift you from your grief, and remind you of the life force that is still inside you. That you are still here, and there is still beauty in the world to experience.

You can find nature’s beauty through travel, but you can also experience a sense of awe from your own backyard, looking up to the night skies, seeing twinkling stars and constellations that have been there for thousands of years.

Nature offers endless moments to experience a sense of wonder, which cost absolutely nothing, and are ever changing:

  • A soft pink sunrise, or a blazing sunset.
  • The glowing full moon rising over the landscape.
  • A rainbow suddenly emerging from the clouds.
  • Lightning within a storm.
  • Ribbons of dancing northern lights.
  • A meteor shower.

Many people who experienced the awe of last summer’s total solar eclipse, felt profoundly moved witnessing such a rare and special celestial event.

You can also experience moments of awe through beautiful legacies created by other human beings:

  • A soul-stirring piece of music. (My personal favorite is Clair de Lune by Debussy. Especially while listening under moonlight.)
  • An inspired, passionate speech.
  • An iconic work of art.

Even if you can’t travel to Florence to look up at Michelangelo’s sculpture of David, you can still go stand at the trunk of a large, wise old tree, and gaze skyward. An ancient tree is a masterpiece of nature.

You can also simply be present with your Self. Through the stillness of meditation, you might have a very moving, spiritual experience.

If you are feeling lost or disconnected in this unfamiliar place of life after loss, I encourage you to step outside in the world — your world — and actively seek out something awe-inspiring to awaken all your human senses.

You may feel uplifted, a sense of reconnection, or greater purpose.

You may even come alive.


This post was originally published as a guest author contribution on SecondFirsts.com, a website and community devoted to inspiring people after loss.

Here it is, already Christmas Eve.

I’ve already left behind beautiful Florence, where I filled my broken heart with gold: iconic art, like Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, and Michelangelo’s sculpture of David.

Timeless, elegant Firenze.

I admired the Field of Miracles in Pisa, and walked the timeless cobbled streets of Lucca.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is a truly beautiful building.

I spent time in a medieval castle, and listened to Gregorian chants in a thousand year old church.

San Miniato al Monte, Florence, Italy

And oh, how I have been enchanted by the soulful ringing of those ancient church bells, echoing across the hills and valleys. Calling me to my own life.

What I had before, in all the other chapters, seems like a soft, sweet dream.

There is only this page now, this day. And in the hardest moments, only these words: step forward, find joy, bring all your love with you.

The sweeping view from Piazza Michelangelo.

This morning on the beach I noticed an unusual piece of junk.

The sea had given back this rusted, antique Remington typewriter.

Oh, the curiosities that came to mind!

Maybe a writer had tossed it overboard in a moment of frustration.

Maybe a storm swept it in from a foreign land.

Maybe it was Hemingway’s.

The typewriter was in recognizable but poor condition.

There were only a few keys left, but by some mysterious coincidence, the two initials that held the most significance to me. What are the odds!

I plucked them off and put them in my pocket.

It seemed to be a message from the universe: keep on writing. Or keep on loving. Or both.

I promise I will.

Dear Jim,

How did it come to be a year since you left this earth? Somehow I have moved forward through these days and weeks, building my own new life, one hour at a time. Moving towards a life re-imagined, that I can’t quite envision yet. Maybe you can see it. Maybe you see me looking ahead to the sun coming up over the horizon now, a little more often than looking back over my shoulder, to where the moon and stars have set.

It’s been such a very full and tiring year. I am 50 pounds smaller now. I can’t tell you how hard I’ve worked on life responsibilities. I went soul-searching in Ireland, then decided to take a sabbatical from work, a true leap of faith. Isn’t it ironic — I gave a talk on decision-making just months before you died…and now all life decisions and consequences are mine to fully own.

I’ve changed in so many other ways this year, too. I’ve learned to be more resilient, more brave, yet more open and vulnerable to let others in. I’ve learned that when hearts break, then mend, they grow in capacity to love. Mostly I’ve learned to love myself. In the absence of your great love and belief in me. Or maybe, in the ongoing subtle presence of it.

You are always in my thoughts, but today I find myself remembering the many times we went bird-watching. These are among my most cherished memories: quietly observing you, immersed in the natural environment, listening and watching for signs of birds in the marsh or flickering in shrubs, grokking nature.

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During these times, you became Jim the naturalist, Jim the educator. And in these moments, I became your student. You inspired questions and celebrated my discoveries. You shared your incredible knowledge, experience and passion with me. You were Essential Jim. And I basked in the light that radiated from you.

Whenever I see a bird fly overhead, I always think of you. Sometimes I think you are the bird. If that is true, I can only imagine your joy to be soaring over this beautiful earth. I hope you can see me. And I hope you are proud.

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First day of spring…this was Jim’s favourite day of the year. I can’t believe he’s not here to see the plum tree blossoming.

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I won’t see him outside with his scope, watching for migrating birds. He won’t be sitting on the deck in his old green chair, a pair of binoculars in his lap, bright eyes and keen ears tuned to the trees and wind.

He is missing spring.

The sight of his empty chair hurts so much, I bought a new chair this week, yet I can’t bear to part with his old one yet. This is the paradox of grief.

Jim bought me a camera one spring. He said my creative side needed expression. I shyly put the camera strap around my neck, and took this picture of a nuthatch. Many springs and thousands of photographs later, this first one is still my favourite.

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I have so much beautiful music I haven’t listened to since Jim died. I know it will stir up memories from the deep center of my heart, where all the pain surrounds. But I want to reclaim this music, so it can continue to wrap around my new life.

Camino by Oliver Schroer was our beloved Sunday music. Oliver walked the Camino de Santiago in 2004, composing songs and playing his violin in churches along the way. His music is aching, soulful and pure. I listened to it, cried, and listened again and again until I found a place of peace.

Oliver Schroer

Losing someone you love is a very interior process. It feels I am walking my own Camino. A long, mostly solitary, personal spiritual pilgrimage, to find and create new meaning from this life ahead.

Oliver wrote there is both wonder and struggle on the trail, as you get to know the earth one step at a time. “There was a time in our lives before the Camino, and there is a time after it.”

As for the time during it, there is an ancient Camino word “ultreia” to encourage all of us pilgrims: go farther, go higher.

 

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