I have told this story before, and I promised at the outset of the Camino that at the end I would tell the whole story. Somewhere along that journey, the story faded into my past and no longer became as central to my life as it had been for so long. As they say, time heals all wounds and the Camino definitely helped with the healing process as well. I have changed a name in the story, because while I am open about my life, I realize everyone else does not share the same openness. The story of the rocks is a happy story, but also a sad one. The story of the rocks is the story of the most amazing gift I have ever been given, and the story of a reminder I thought I would carry with me till the day I die. It’s not a long story, but it shaped me, it changed me, and in the end, it saved me.
I was given the most amazing gift I have ever given on a warm summers day sitting on a beach with my Owen. At the time, I was house sitting in Vancouver so that I could spend a few weeks with my son. Owen and I had spent our time swimming, playing Lego, exploring the UBC endowment lands, and of course going to his beloved Science Center. The day I was given my gift was the day my mum was set to arrive from New Zealand to spend some time with her grandson, and of course, with me as well. Owen and I had driven out to a beach near Tsawwassen to pass the time while we waited for my mum’s flight from Auckland to arrive. We had been exploring the beach, as a dad and a young boy will do. We threw rocks at the ocean trying to skip them, found nice shells, and dug a trench that kept collapsing - the usual stuff one might do with a young boy at the beach. I remember at one point Owen had taken a particular fancy to a crab shell he had found. We played with it for some time, but funnily enough, no matter what we did the “sleeping crab” did not want to eat any of the seaweed we tried to feed it. We laughed together, as we always do, and I got lots of kisses, tickles, and the amazing hugs he gives me that warm my heart. Owen decided that we should collect some rocks to take back to “Daddy’s new house”, so we scavenged the beach picking out stones that had unusual shapes, sizes, and colours and he insisted they all be carried in the pockets of my cargo shorts. It was quite funny actually, as my shorts were slowly being pulled off by the weight of the rocks but I did not care because I was happy and Owen was having fun. After awhile, I took a break from rock collecting while Owen kept at it, and I sat on a log and watched him as I love to do. The look of intensity he gets, and the simple satisfaction of life when he is working at something always amazes me. I sat there, watching him, enjoying time shared with my precious son. I have found it so hard to be apart from him – by far the hardest and most painful experience in my life, so I truly treasure the brief moments we do have together. So, I just sat there, soaking up everything about the moment. I remember sitting on that log, thinking about things and all that I had been through that brought us to that beach. I was thinking about me living on the other side of the country from my son, who I love more than anything. I was thinking about all the things I miss and all the events in his life I would miss and how much he would change from visit to visit. I was thinking about how much I missed him when we were apart and how I cried after he hung up on Skype every night. I was lost in thought, but not unhappy, for I never am unhappy when Owen is close to me. Those of you that have seen us together understand. Every father has a bond with son, but there is something about the distance that has made our bond so very special. Suddenly, I looked up and Owen was in front of me, looking at me, deep into my eyes. Next, something truly magical happened. I do not think I will ever understand how a three and half year old boy could come to do something like this, but Owen looked at me and was holding a rock in his hand - a smallish, flat, black rock. Owen passed me the rock, and said to me, “Daddy, this is a magic rock for you. I love you.” I started to cry. Suddenly, Owen rushed into my arms and gave me the best hug of my entire life and kissed me and told me not to cry. Well, I would have held onto him forever in that moment but three and a half year old boys tend to get bored easily so after awhile, he let go, and wandered off. I sat there and I stared at the rock, the most amazing present I have ever been given. Owen came back to me then, and he had another black rock in his hands. That rock, was a bit larger, but the same colour as the first. Owen gave me the rock, and said, “Daddy, this is a magic rock too. This one is for Kate. Please give it to her for me.” I started to cry again. Those of you that know the whole story know why - because Kate was the only woman I had ever loved and her and I were apart and I knew in my heart we would never be together again. After I went home that summer I carried the rock Owen gave me everyday. I still do. I carry it everywhere I go, and whenever I miss him or feel the pain I feel because of the distance between us, I squeeze it or rub it, and I know in my heart I have done the right thing. I know in my heart that Owen loves his daddy, and that he always will. My rock that has become polished with time, because I hold it, squeeze it, and rub it so often. It is the best present I have ever been given. Holding that rock has saved me in the dark moments, reminded me of the amazing times I have shared with him, and, in the end, that rock always brings me back to him. His gift has saved me. But, this is not the story of the rock, it is the story of the rocks. And the second rock, well, that is a bit harder to explain. At first, I held onto the Kate’s rock because I hoped that one day the phone would ring and we would talk again like we used too, the endless conversations where we fell in love. I hoped that our love would conquer all, and in the end, we would be together like she said we would always be. Much like my beloved Notebook, I hoped that in the end, Kate would come back to me. As time passed, I slowly realized that was never going to happen, Kate was never going to come back. But, I kept her rock. Kate’s rock became a reminder of the mistakes I had made. For, after we were over, I made promises that I intended to keep. Promises to Kate, promises to Owen, promises to myself. And, her rock became a reminder of those promises. It reminded me of the changes I wanted to make and the things I never wanted to do again. And, that in itself, that was a good thing. But, I came to realize Kate’s rock was also an anchor. As much as my rock saved me and brought me back to Owen, Kate’s rock held me to the past. It was a reminder, and it did make me make better choices, but it also held me to her. And not just her, but everything. That rock symbolized my past, but also the mistakes I continued to make. That rock symbolized the madness that was the past few years of my life. That rock became something that I could not let go of. That rock was my past. That rock was an anchor. So, I decided to walk the Camino de Santiago, and at the end, cast Kate’s rock into the ocean at Muxia and finally let go. Well, I’ve always been one for grand gestures, but the Camino? Crazy. Walk 382 km just to throw a rock into the ocean? Well, it was the best decision I have ever made. I carried Kate’s rock every step of that journey, and Owen’s rock too, of course. There were moments when I wished Kate would call and tell me not to throw her rock into the ocean. There were moments when I wanted to run to get rid of the damn thing. Most of the time, I just could feel the weight of it, feel the weight of my past. So I carried her rock. At the start in Porto I put the two rocks at the foot of the cross and I prayed for forgiveness. Every cruce along the way, I stopped and prayed. Those that know me know I am not very religious , but it became a religious journey for me. The pain in my legs and feet helped – as an Italian friend I met on the Camino said, its not the Camino until you really feel it… well, I felt every step, and I could feel the rocks, one an inspiration, the other a burden. In the true spirit of pilgrimage, the other rock, Kate’s rock became my cross. And I carried my cross. 242 km in 39 degree weather to Santiago de Compostela and I did collapse in front of the statue of St. James when I got there and I did pray. And when I prayed, I held onto Owen’s rock. But, that was not the end of the journey, the end was Muxia and the ocean. So, I put my shoes back on. My feet were bleeding at that point, on a daily basis. I had lost feeling in my left leg with 120 km ago. But, I had to carry Kate’s rock to the end. I had made a promise. So, I carried the rocks for another 120 km to Muxia. I can honestly say I felt every step. At the end, it was everything I had imagined and so much more. At the end, I walked down to the rocks in front of the Church of Barca, and I felt the weight of it all leaving me. I climbed onto the western most rock, as so many pilgrims had done before me, and I held Kate’s rock one last time. And then, I threw it out deep into the Atlantic. It was time to let go and forget. It was time to move on.
I am sorry to those I hurt in the past. I never meant to. I loved my son more than anything and I simply could not leave him, in spite of what my heart said. And then, I realized I had to leave him, and again, I had no choice. I am sorry to those that have been hurt more recently, but the after shocks of what happened almost destroyed me and made into a person I never wanted to be. And, because of my pain, I reached out and caused pain in others. That I never meant to do. Honestly, every decision I have ever made has been because of love. Those that really know me, know the truth in that. It is why I feel the way I do, teach the way I do, and fly home to my son every 6 weeks even though it is bankrupting me. And finally Kate, you. You were my first love, my first real love. Indeed, I can honestly say that before you, I had never been in love before. You were my everything. I told you I would love you forever, and I did believe that. But, that promise I came to realize goes both ways, and while I said that and meant that, you never did. You said the words, but they were just words for you. I live the Notebook, you want the Notebook, and you will have it, and so will I. But, it’s not us. I know that now. Kate, your rock is in the ocean now. It’s finally over. And, I am glad. Because I know now my true love lies in front of me, and it is not you. I have no malice in my heart, no anger, and no regret. It simply is not you. And now that your rock is gone, the past is gone. It is finally time to move on and let go. All that remains is my rock. And me. The best present I have ever been given.