Today, something happened that reminded me that there are no coincidences. That we are connected, all of us, inextricably.
It’s easy in life to imagine our experience is unlike anyone else’s. We hear each other’s stories and we tell ours. And they can seem unrelated. But there will be glue, somewhere, that ties them together like the threads of a cosmic tapestry, of which we are all part.
As I have said often on this blog, I like listening to other people’s stories more than my own. There is a person who has read this blog for a very long time. She often comments on my random musings. And sometimes we exchange private messages. She is warm hearted, unwaveringly supportive, and generous. After I posted about a Pilgrim giving me a few euros to pass on to a needy Pilgrim, she reached out. She wanted to do something similar. Not from herself, but in the name of a friend of hers whose funeral from which she had just returned. And she told me his story.
Her friend, Todd, was an extraordinary person who lived a life helping others. He worked with those incarcerated in the US. And he was dedicated beyond the 8-5 of his daily work life. Helping these men while in prison and after, at times going beyond his brief to help them rebuild their lives. One such recipient of his care and his work spoke at his funeral, reiterating what Todd had meant to his life. Seemingly everything. Crediting Todd with his 25 years of remaining out of jail, and for helping him build a life filled with a wife, children and a home.
Hearing this story moved me to tears. And my blog reading friend wanted to send me some money via Venmo in Todd’s name to pass on to Pilgrims who might come up short. I was touched but, sadly, as I don’t live in the US I can’t set up a Venmo account, and I let her know. But, I had another idea.
Every day, I have Pilgrims come up to the food truck who have no money. They are walking the Camino and relying on the kindness of strangers as they make their way to Santiago. I give away coffee and sandwiches, a lot. These are some of my favorite Pilgrims. Humble people. And this friend from the blog wanted to help these Pilgrims, as well, but to no avail. So, in honor of her compassionate, kind friend, Todd, I set up a Todd’s Kindness Jar. Each day, the tips from Pilgrims will go into the the jar. And for those who can not pay, I will reach into the jar and cover their meal.
Today was filled with American Pilgrims. My last customer of the day was an American woman. We got to talking. She had just stopped because I spoke to her at the gate in my American ingles. ‘Hello’ stopped her in her tracks. Coming in the gate, she bought a very American iced tea – handing me €3.75 – much more than the price of iced tea. I smiled and thanked her, putting the two euros into the till. Then I told her I would put the remainder in Todd’s Kindness Jar. Jenny looked surprised.
‘Is that your husband’s name?’ She asked.
‘No’ I told her. Then I explained about Todd and his memory celebrated by my blog friend. About his work with those incarcerated. Her eyes got wide.
‘My father was incarcerated in San Quentin prison on a life sentence.’ She said. Then, she went on to tell me the story.
Her father had been born in Russian controlled post-war Germany. He lost his family as a toddler, was starved and abused as a German child, under the guise of Russian revenge for a war that decimated Russia.
Her father eventually made it to Canada where he met her mother, married, and had she and her brother. And the family eventually moved to California. Something triggered him one day. She never knew what, and he killed her entire family when she was just six years old. She was the only survivor, and hospitalized for a year, recovering. All while her father was sentenced to life in prison.
This lovely woman told me she had dedicated her life to studying mental health, focusing now on elder mental health in honor of her grandmother who was killed with her mother and brother. She has taught psychology at some of the top universities in the US. But what she found helped her the most was learning gratitude from her adoptive mother- a friend of her mother – after she was released from the hospital.
‘I found a way through it. Through lingering cognitive impairment. But I learned to be grateful for the life I have. And I learned how to forgive.’
Jenny has traveled to Poland – the town where her father was born is not in Germany now – looking for the seeds of what happened to her family. But she met dead end after dead end. Yet she is now at peace and is walking the Camino for her 60th Birthday.
When Jenny turned to go I hugged her and thanked her for sharing her story with me.
‘I didn’t plan on it. But when you told me about Todd working at the prison it just flowed out.’ She said, before smiling and waving goodbye.
Neither Todd nor my blog friend know of Jenny. But, today, because of them she told her story to me and it touched me deeply. How such a horrific trauma was transformed into gratitude in the heart of a beautiful soul. And it reinforced my belief that the threads of each of us weave around and through each other in ways we can’t possibly imagine. Today those threads from across the globe crossed each other on a small farm in rural Galicia. From thousands of miles away. Because of a kind man named Todd and a few coins in a glass jar.