Hawaii: Party Like a Millennial

Photo Hawaii

You’ve got to love those millennials. They work hard and they play hard. They are fiercely loyal to family and friends. I’m not sure when they actually sleep, but they always look as if they have just walked out of the pages of a trendy fashion magazine, with not a hair out of place. They have an air of confidence about them and are sometimes blamed for being a bit too self-absorbed. Given the fact that they are the first generation to have so much technology at their fingertips, they are not entirely to blame.

According to Forbes Magazine “…No generation has been as publicly reviled, praised, misunderstood and analyzed as the millennials. And, with good reason. By 2025, millennials (also known as Gen Y or those born in the 80s and 90s), will make up the majority of the workforce…”

Having a millennial for a son and getting to know his wonderful group of friends so well, I feel as if I can speak with knowledge and can safely say that they are a powerful force to reckon with and that I would like to be a millennial when I grow up.

So, it was with much excitement and delight that we (Mr. Wiz*, JC* and I) accepted the invitation to join Big A*, his best friend, Casey and his wife, Hannah, on a trip to Hawaii. The trip would coincide with the Maui Invitational, a basketball tournament in which their alma mater, Marquette University, would be participating. As luck would have it, Casey had lived in Hawaii for a time while growing up, so he would be our official tour guide.

I have to say that I felt flattered that they would want to include us on their adventure. But, then again, JC (aka Nanny and affectionately renamed Nene during this trip after the state bird, the Hawaiian goose) was the titleholder at the beer pong championships held during Marquette’s Family Weekend, back in 2011. Mr. Wiz and I were just riding along on her coattails.

Never having traveled together, we soon found that we were all on the same wave length and really enjoyed each other’s company. The six of us were a well-oiled machine, flying from island to island, making our daily plans and then heading out each day.

In Oahu (Honolulu), we strolled Kalakaua Avenue (Hawaii’s answer to New York’s upper Fifth Avenue) and stopped for a drink at the Moana Surfrider, the island’s elegant, historic hotel. As we listened to the live Hawaiian music, we watched the lovely dancer and the palm trees sway in unison. We toured Pearl Harbor and shed a tear for the lives lost that day. We left our hotel at 6 a.m. to hike Diamond Head and watch the sun rise. Nene opted to explore around the hotel instead and we teased her that she missed all of her favorite things: uneven terrain, plenty of steps and drizzle once we reached the top. Big A did all the driving in our rental car, Casey was the navigator and Hannah was the culinary consultant, making sure we did not miss any of her favorites. We shared in Casey’s excitement as he made sure we saw all the sites, including where he had lived and where he went to school. We jumped in the waves at his preferred beaches, ate at his favorite restaurants and gasped at the amazing views from the lookout points he liked the best.

Kauai is known as “the garden isle” and our hotel, the Kauai Marriott Resort, lived up to its expectations. The exquisite art and sculptures shared the peaceful harmony with the lush grounds and gardens. We fed the koi fish at their early morning feeding in the hotel’s pond. We toured the island by car and agreed with Casey that the charbroiled burgers at Dwayne’s were the best we’d ever had. After visiting the lighthouse and another of his favorite beaches, we strolled through the little town of Kapa’a. We snorkeled off a catamaran and were surprised to hear Capt. Jim thank Hannah over the loud speaker for reminding him to play the theme from Jurassic Park when we passed by its filming locations. There was not a peep from our fellow passengers when the captain asked if anyone could name the state fish of Hawaii. Big A enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame and won a T shirt when he was able to answer the question correctly and respond with humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa.

In Maui, while Nene and I stayed poolside (I actually broke my own record, making 12 consecutive trips down the big slide), the others were up early to attend the Marquette basketball games. Fortified with a breakfast of champions, POG Mimosas (passion fruit, orange and guava juices with Champagne), they cheered for their team, who ultimately came in third. We met more of their friends later at the Marquette luau.

On our last day, back in Oahu (Honolulu), we started our turkey less Thanksgiving with a bloody mary brunch, one last swim at the beautiful Lanakai Beach and a short drive to some last spots on Casey’s list.

I’m still not sure how we were able to keep up with the younger three of the group as they ate and imbibed their way through each day. Casey made sure that we tried all of his favorite Hawaiian specialties. I may have shied away from the Musubi (Spam sushi), but I eagerly ate the poke (seasoned raw ahi tuna), edamame (seasoned soybean pods), purple sweet potatoes, butter fish and pork. Casey made a special stop to make sure that we all tried one of Hannah’s favorites, Meat Jun, a thin, batter fried steak. At breakfast, I tasted the Loco Moco (rice, beef patty, eggs over easy, brown gravy and avocado) and feasted on macadamia nut pancakes and fried rice with eggs and Portuguese sausage.

Sometimes forgetting that lunch had already presented itself with a mai tai opportunity, it was Nene that would remind us each day that cocktail hour was approaching. Our biggest dilemma was where and when. We finally realized that we should be buying some wine in order to save on expenses, especially when most of the group were gathering around the fire pit for nightcaps each evening after dinner.

A group meeting was called one late morning before a flight to discuss what was to become of the two bottles of wine somehow leftover. While ideas ranged from pouring the contents into plastic water bottles, drawing straws and having the loser pack the wine and check their bag to just giving it away, Casey came up with a simple solution: let’s just drink it. We all stepped into action as Hannah, who, after asking for plastic cups each evening had a special relationship with the bar staff, ran for cups, Nene and I secured a lovely table with a view, Big A found us six chairs and Mr. Wiz retrieved the ever-present corkscrew from his shave kit. As luck would have it, we were three white wine and three red wine drinkers. We toasted to Casey and the fact that his MBA was important, not only to his career, but to his cognitive decision-making skills in the cocktail category. Nene slept all the way and said it was the fastest 45-minute flight she had ever experienced.

During this trip, we were introduced to some interesting millennial rituals. One night at dinner, we shared a novel experience called credit card roulette, whereby everyone at the table throws their credit cards into a bowl. Then, with lots of fanfare, the waitress picks out the cards one by one. The last one left pays for dinner.

Based on my personal observations, these bon vivants live fast and get all they can out of each day, only slowing down for social media updates. They are hard wired for this life and consider its pace natural. And while I need complete silence in order to concentrate, I know that we all share that same joie de vivre.

While we all wished we could just keep island hopping until our credit cards exploded, all good things must come to an end and our airline tickets dictated that it was back to reality for us all. As we said our goodbyes, I couldn’t help but smile to think that the only Gap that existed between our generations was that we would choose to shop in-store, while our three millennials would always purchase online.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Me, Myself and Eye

Photo Eye Mask

I am not a movie star, but I sleep like one. To me, there is something glamorous about an eye mask. At bedtime, when I put it on, I feel like I am in an old black and white movie and having just put down my cigarette holder, I rearrange my silk dressing gown, slip under the silk sheets and after my close-up (in full hair and makeup, of course), put my eye mask in place and prepare to dream in Technicolor.

It’s a fact that when your brain senses darkness, it produces melatonin, the sleep chemical. Your chances of falling and staying asleep are improved when you block out the light. What I didn’t realize was that the eye mask has myriad uses.

I’ve been trying to sit still and learn to meditate and it’s helped me to concentrate a bit more. If I am tired and have a lot on my to-do list, a few minutes in the dark seems to revive me. If I wear it while sitting outside, I notice that my other senses become a bit heightened. My mask and I have traveled together and it’s never let me down on a flight; combined with my neck pillow (and ear plugs in case of emergency); I have been known to fall asleep before the plane even takes off.

What is it about that small piece of fabric and elastic that is so gratifying? I think it may be the human equivalent to turning something electrical off and then on again to get it working. It’s a way to reboot ourselves. Our lives are inundated with the sights and sounds of a nonstop world. Sure, you can close your eyes, but that doesn’t guarantee the total darkness that the mask provides. It’s just you, the mask, the darkness all-around you and a lovely feeling of well-being.

Lately, when I have something to sort out, my mask and I huddle together and in a few short minutes, I feel recharged. It’s my mind’s little clubhouse, a solitary refuge, and such a simple antidote to our complex life. It’s easy to find the humor that only an eye mask can bring when I suddenly strap it on during a family discussion that I do not want to participate in.

I propose we initiate a World Eye Mask Day where everyone puts on an eye mask at the same time, sits for a few minutes quietly and then sees things again in a whole new light.

 

 

 

The Patients with No Patience

 

Photo Patience

The same nightmare haunted me. A patient was being pushed into an operating room, when the gurney came to an abrupt halt. The patient was told they would have to wait there, right in the middle of the hall, until the Director of Medical Staff Administration completed their physician’s temporary privileges.

That Director used to be me and temporary privileges were what kept me up at night. Even though there were 568 physicians on staff, there were times when an unusual or complicated procedure called for the expertise of an outside physician. Since the physician was not on our medical staff and therefore, was not credentialed, there was a protocol to be followed that involved license verifications and a criminal background check.

The problem was that everything was always last minute and I was in the middle; between the impatient inpatient, the guest doctor at our facility who wanted to get in and out quickly and the lengthy internal process that required accuracy. Frustrated, I would wonder to myself: wouldn’t you want to know if the doctor operating on you last practiced in the back room of a hookah lounge off the New Jersey Turnpike in downtown Secaucus? Apparently not.

Everyone involved in this scenario could be diagnosed with having no patience, which is defined as “the capacity and endurance to accept or tolerate difficult circumstances calmly without complaint.” When I think about it, do I even know anyone who is patient?

Except for the Dalai Lama (whom I do not know personally), it is hard to envision someone that goes through life grateful for the extra time for internal thought that standing on a line brings, that is thankful for the ability to view new surroundings when a detour takes them out of their way and that is appreciative of the new relationships made when having to call their cellphone provider every month to ask them to refund the same amount that is constantly being overbilled.

What choices do we have? We can either let patience get the better of us or we can realize that in this big world, patience will always be the slow boat to China while we are all be clamoring to board the Orient Express. Maybe we can meet patience somewhere in the middle?

Lately, I’ve tried to do just that. I’ve hoodwinked patience into thinking that the outcome was what I really wanted all along. I’ve resisted getting angry or upset when life zigs rather than zags and when I look back, those zigs made for some interesting experiences.

I’m not ready to go cold turkey and throw open the doors of my local motor vehicle department for the ultimate challenge, but somewhere in between there is the new me that can look a harried customer service representative right in the eyes, smile and say “…Oh, is it my turn already?..”

 

Frame Your Own Pictures

Picture Frame Pictures

She was so delighted with the print she had purchased. It reminded JC* of a favorite vacation destination. She would prop it up against the walls all-around her home, looking for just the right spot.

I was the one that decided it needed a permanent home. I devised a scheme to sneak it out of her home in a bag of magazines that I was picking up, and delivered it right to the frame shop, agonizing over the perfect frame and just the right mat colors that would perfectly complement the print.

While it was a loving gesture and I was excited to present her with this surprise birthday gift, I realized later that it really was not my picture to frame; it was hers.

In a recent Ted Talk, author Anne Lamott reminds us “…We can’t arrange peace or lasting improvement for the people we love most in the world. They have to find their own ways, their own answers. You can’t run alongside your grown children with sunscreen and ChapStick on their hero’s journey. You have to release them. It’s disrespectful not to. Help is the sunny side of control. Stop helping so much. Don’t get your help and goodness all over everybody…”

I am a recovering helper. For every dollar you have, I can add in my two cents in order to assist, guide, advise, suggest or lend a hand. When I like someone, I have a tendency to go overboard and when I love someone, I can drown them in the H (help) word.

It is said that helicopter parents got their name from the yuppie moms and dads that were overprotective and took an excessive interest in their child’s life. There’s a delicate balance between involvement and smothering and Mr. Wiz* and I tried very hard to remember the difference. When our only child was younger and was starting to make his way onto the world stage, he needed us to be his attentive audience, not be standing backstage delivering him his lines. Anne Lamott was right; that would have been disrespectful. You do your very best and then set them free. But, between us, a quick spray of holy water while they are walking out your door or a dose of mom mental telepathy never hurt anyone.

Back then, Big A* and I came up with a code word. Anytime I was exhibiting an inclination toward being overzealous, he would whisper the word “Despacio” in my ear (Spanish for slowly) It was my que to slow down. This worked then and even worked recently, when I almost fell off the wagon.

I’m sure that by now my family and friends all know that I am there for them. I will try to control my controlling tendencies (hidden under the guise of helping), but there may be times when I veer off. One Hallmark card commercial viewed at a particularly sensitive moment may trigger an outpouring of unwanted and unwarranted assistance.

So, just in case you see me running toward you with outstretched arms and that tender look in my eyes that says “…I am here for you…,” just return the hug and whisper “Despacio” in my ear. I will get the message.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 

 

 

The Dickster

Photo DicksterHad she missed the bus? I stood outside the movie theater with a view of the bus stop, waiting for JC* and watching the buses go by. She knew the stops and times by heart, so it was unlike her to have made a mistake. My thoughts were disturbed by the nagging horn of a new, shiny, black car parked right in front of me and as the passenger window automatically rolled down, I was surprised to see a smiling JC inside.

Astonished, I approached the car as she happily said “…This is Richard, He was kind enough to give me a lift…” I must admit, I liked him as soon as I saw him. It wasn’t just because he was trim and tan, with a well-coifed head of white hair. There was something about him that reminded me of my dad; he exuded an inner confidence, a swagger about him. I’m sure that JC had noticed it too.

I said a quick hello as she jumped out of the car and they said their goodbyes. After our usual greeting of a kiss on each cheek, she assumed we were going straight into the theater. “…Oh, no…“, I said. “…There is no way I can watch a movie for two hours without the quick version of what just happened…”

She smiled coyly as we found a place to chat. Last night, she had attended a Cinco de Mayo Dance with a friend of hers. Richard had asked her to dance and after a few dances in a row, stated assertively that he was taking her to dinner Saturday night. Always the savvy New Yorker, she declined politely, not comfortable going on an outing with a complete stranger.

After much conversation, Richard’s son intervened. He had invited his dad to the dance in the hopes he might meet someone and wound up to be the one who finally brokered the deal:  JC would choose the restaurant and Richard would meet her there.

After a few more dances, exchanging contact information and making their final plans, JC assumed she would not see Richard again until Saturday, so was surprised when her doorman said he was in her lobby the next afternoon. The giant bouquet of roses hid his smiling face and the light kiss on the cheek surprised her. She explained that she was on her way out and he offered to drive her to the movies.

From then on, her life was a constant soiree of cocktails and dinners at lovely restaurants, movie dates, afternoons at the race track, all commencing with a dozen roses. Just as I had done so many times in the past when I had a date, she would model her outfits for me and together we would choose just the right accessories.

It was Mr. Wiz* who brought us both back to reality. He had a devotion to my mom and always felt very protective of her, especially since my dad’s passing. The first evening that we double dated, he hardly spoke and I could see that he was taking it all in. The next day, he announced to me bluntly “… There is something about Richard that I do not like. He’s a con man…” Mr. Wiz was too good a judge of character for me to dismiss his opinion. And after all, what did we really know about Richard?

Fortunately, at the same time, JC was starting to have her doubts. As much as she wanted the fairytale to continue, she was too clever not to notice the red flags that slowly would begin to wave right in front of her eyes. Richard mentioned how he missed home cooking and hinted that dinners at home (her home) would be much more romantic. He suggested that if she purchased the racing channel, they could watch the horse races cozily at home (her home). He would allude to the fact that living together (in her home) would be the ultimate happy ending.

Some people are born with a certain magnetism and allure and create illusions that can carry them through an entire lifetime. Richard was one of these people. Seeing that his demonstrative performances were not working on JC, he set the stage for his reality. Yes, he did live in that condo in that affluent town, but he was only renting a bedroom from a millennial that constantly traveled. Yes, he was a crossing guard, but he did it for the salary and not to volunteer. Yes, it was his car, but it was leased and he could just about make the payments. And yes, Saturday nights, he did look like he had stepped out of a Polo Ralph Lauren ad, but that was his only dress outfit and he carefully took care of it.

Richard was perplexed. Why was his usual strategy not working this time? Little did he know that his scheme’s demise occurred when he casually mentioned that JC would have to share her closet with him when he moved in. No one gets between JC and her closet. If life were a chess game, his one last aggressive move of a one week deadline to make a decision was checkmated on the spot by JC’s response: she was not looking for a roommate.

And so, marked the departure of the Dickster, my nickname for the handsome hustler who chose the wrong woman to dance with on Cinco de Mayo.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Girls Only: Nashville

Photo Nashville

It was actually JC’s* Idea. Since Mr. Wiz* and Big A* would be totally absorbed in the Formula One Races in Austin for the weekend, she thought it would be a great idea to introduce my sister, Maria, and me to the Nashville she had fallen in love with on her first visit.

The capital of Tennessee, Nashville, seems to be changing its tune. Still known as the Country Music Capital and as Dolly Parton’s stomping ground, there’s now an energetic hum to the city.

It was one of seven U.S. cities to be chosen to begin a Google for Entrepreneurs Tech Hub Network. Innovative companies are finding its environs a less expensive, friendlier alternative. Foodies flock there in search of the next great new restaurant. New luxury hotels are springing up while historic buildings and neighborhoods are being revitalized. The city’s new slick sophistication remains in harmony with its long-standing southern charm and welcomes you with open arms.

We can’t wait to put on our cowboy boots and see the town, but it’s too early to check in to our hotel. We leave our luggage at the front desk and decide to reconnoiter in the lobby and plan our day. As we are chatting, we notice a well-dressed woman walk toward two of our suitcases, grab their handles and start walking out the front door of the hotel.

JC and Maria sprang to action! They jumped up and ran after the woman, who halted immediately when she heard Maria yell “…Hold it right there! …” There is something about a New York accent that means business. As little girls growing up in a suburb of New York City, we were trained to always be attentive to what was going on around us and to take care of ourselves. On our 18th birthday, our dad gave each of us Mace spray in the size of a lipstick container to carry in our handbags; an emotional right of passage that gave my dad great comfort in knowing that messing with his daughters would result in stinging eyes and being splashed with blue dye.

Apparently, I was the only one that noticed the well-dressed woman’s name tag. So, as the third member of this Keystone Cops comedy, I began running behind them to make sure that they did not tackle the hotel’s manager.

While it took us two days to be able to make eye contact with the hotel staff, our convulsive laughter set the tone for a great time together. Surprised, yet undaunted to find out that neither Maria nor I had any sense of direction (what other sisterly secrets would be revealed?)  JC took over the navigating and we were off.

We enjoyed a free outdoor big band concert at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. We were startled by the sweet-faced youth of Johnny Cash while he was stationed in Europe during World War II in a special exhibit of private photos shared by his family at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Germantown, originally established by European immigrants, has the same vibe as New York’s Greenwich Village and we still cannot decide which entrée was our favorite at Henrietta Red: the braised lamb with pole beans and polenta, the scallops with pistachios, beets, Granny Smith apples, kale and couscous or the cauliflower steak smothered with hazelnut, scallions, shitake mushrooms and nicoise olives.

According to JC, there were two things not to be missed while in Nashville: a mansion tour and an evening at the Grand Ole Opry and she surprised us by planning both. How President Andrew Jackson progressed from a 14-year old orphan to a man of so many accomplishments made his mansion, Hermitage, even more impressive. Though built around the same time, its décor was so much more modern than the Victorian design of the Belle Meade plantation. Known for its horse breeding, racing and deer farm, the original 5400-acre estate became a tourist attraction. So much so that on occasional Sunday mornings, the lady of the house would sneak out and post a hand written closed sign on the front gates for some needed peace and quiet. Touring the homes, then having the time to walk the grounds made the docents’ stories come alive.

It was a Tuesday night and there wasn’t an empty seat in the house at the Grand Ole Opry. A new band, Lanco, was introduced and we wondered how they felt playing for the first time on that famous stage. We tapped our feet and sang along with Trisha Yearwood and Kelsea Ballerini and were surprised to see all 4 foot 6 inches of special guest, Brenda Lee “strut her stuff” around the stage.

One of Nashville’s biggest draws are the country music honky-tonks on Broadway. While many cities have an area where bars and restaurants line the streets and the musicians play loudly on a stage, open to their patrons inside and to the street, Nashville does it with a style all their own. It’s more fun than seedy and everyone from families to seniors to bachelorette parties and every age group in between share in the revelry.

We seemed to be drawn to Nudie’s Honky Tonk daily. Named after Nudie Cohn, a famous clothing designer (think Elvis’ gold lame suit), the historic building houses many of the costumes Nudie designed, rare music memorabilia and Nudie’s $400,000 Cadillac El Dorado hanging from the wall. But, it was the music and the great bands that transfixed us. We danced and sang at night and then found ourselves back during the day. By the way, each time we’d arrive, JC was quickly led to the dance floor by another admirer!

Only in Nashville can you be sitting on a park bench one minute and then see Kenny Rogers ride right by you in a golf cart the next. We agreed that was a great way to end our visit. We chalked up our newfound feeling of relaxation and our mother/daughter/sister bonding to all that dancing and to singing “Sweet Home Alabama” multiple times together at the top of our lungs. Those southerners really know how to have a good time.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 

The Camino, the Dog and the Girl

Photo Camino Dog

I wondered why she needed a service dog, but it’s not something you ask someone. On the Camino, dogs were a novelty. He was the star of the show, receiving so much attention. Head down and the ever-present cigarette between her fingers, she remained out of the spotlight, answering every question about him with as few words as possible. She was petite and cute, but there was a toughness about her that told you that this was someone you did not want to mess with. When she did look up, I noticed that she seldom smiled and her eyes were devoid of any sparkle. They were hauntingly dark and piercing, as if they held secrets that were not discussed in polite company.

We seemed to be on a similar pace and ran into each other almost daily. I made sure that I greeted her every day with a smile and a quick “Hola” or “Buenos Dias” so as not to interfere with her solitude. While others around her were sometimes talking and laughing together, she and her dog always walked alone. He was her best friend and the way they interacted brought a tear to my eye.

One morning, I noticed that the dog was walking right next to an older woman, rather than his master. Out of character for the girl, she asked the older woman if she was feeling all right. Without too much explanation, she briefly mentioned that her dog was able to sense low blood sugar in humans through his sense of smell. The woman brushed it off, thanked her and continued on.

When I saw her the next morning, I asked about the older woman after my usual morning greeting. I was surprised that she actually seemed to want to respond and spoke with more emotion in her voice than I had ever heard before. Luckily, the woman was staying at the same albergue (hostel) as she and her dog. As soon as the older woman sat down on her bed, she passed out. Realizing that the dog’s diagnosis was correct, the girl was able to get help for her immediately and, by dinner time, the woman was feeling better. Another example of how the Camino provides.

Our relationship reverted back to my daily one word acknowledgments until one evening the following week. I was sitting outside at a café, enjoying a glass of red wine and she asked if she could join me. Startled, I agreed and hoped that we would not suffer those long pauses of discomfort when conversation does not come naturally.

I can’t recall what actually happened next. I may have commented about the day’s terrain, but all I remember is that she started to speak. And when she did, the words came like an avalanche; spilling out of her so rapidly. It was as if they had filled her up, swelled to capacity and finally exploded. She hardly seemed to breathe as she told a captivating story of her life: the military, a college education, promotions, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), an honorable discharge, her service dog, the Camino.

I was lost in her words, my mind racing to keep up with her story. It took all I had in me to not interrupt. I had so many questions, but this was her moment. What if digging deeper put her over the edge?

When she abruptly stopped speaking and took a deep breath, we just looked at each other for a moment. She looked different; her posture seemed less rigid, her expression was softer. I was unsure of what to say, but when the jovial group of pilgrims that I was to meet there joined us, she hurriedly said her goodbyes and she and her dog left.

A few days went by and I wondered why I had not run into her. I was glad to see her the following day, smiled and gave my usual greeting, but she did not smile back. “…I have to leave…” was all she said in a flat tone. She explained that the pads of her dog’s feet were scraped and bleeding and he couldn’t walk anymore. She had tried ointments, but nothing had worked. She knew he would stand by her side regardless and just keep going, but this was the right thing to do. She was confident they would return next year and pick up where they had left off.

She then put one finger on my arm and whispered “…Thank you, my friend…” I returned the one finger touch and replied softly “…Buen Camino…” It was the first thing that came to mind, but I meant it in the bigger sense. I had so much more I wanted to say, but at that particular moment, words did not seem appropriate. For her that small gesture of intimacy was at the same level as the “Heimlich Hugs” that my Spanish grandmother was famous for and I knew I would always cherish the fact that she chose me to share it with.

She and her dog were gone the next day. Unlike others you might meet and connect with along the Camino, we did not exchange contact information. I thought about her a lot. I wondered why I had been chosen to be the one to interact with her. In this brief relationship, who was the student and who was the teacher? Just as in the military, I questioned if the Camino was breaking me down and rebuilding me from the bottom up in order to make me a better person.

For days, I would hear pilgrims say out loud “…Hey, where’s the dog?..” and I would answer that they went home, each time hoping to myself that they would find a place in the world to call home and that that there would be another arm for her to put her one finger on.