I am learning the cycles in Spain. When and how personal income tax is filed. How to file quarterly business taxes. Our annual car tax. And now, how to file our house and farm property taxes.

Back in May, I received a letter in the mail telling me that this first year I would need to pay it in person at the bank. After this, they will take it directly from our bank account by December 15th each year. The guy at the Concello told me they would send me the notice in September with the amount and directions on how to pay it. September came and went. No notice. So this morning I made my way to the ayuntamiento (town hall) and enquired after the missing notice. They were very nice and promptly printed me out a copy. The guy had remembered me from my visit before, asking about it, as we are the only Americans living in these parts, and most other people know what they are doing. We NEVER know what we are doing. And everyone here knows it.

We own four pieces of land. Our taxes are divided into parts based on land use. Where our house sits is €226 per year. Our farm lands are a total of €36 per year. Crazy! I almost laughed when he gave me the invoices to pay at the bank. In the US, just our property taxes every year were more than our total annual mortgage and homeowners insurance here in Spain. Our annual taxes now are less than my kids monthly summer allowance for doing chores. I promise you, we will never leave this place.

Afterward, happily skipping down the steps of the town hall, I decided to treat myself to a coffee. I chose a cafe across the street that I have not been to in more than five years. The last time was with Emilie in July 2017. As you would expect, it hasn’t changed a bit. I ordered a cafe con leche and sat down.

Our town is on the Camino. Seven months a year it is crawling with pilgrims. But, this month it has slowed waaay down. Each day, less and less pilgrims are walking. But there was a young guy sitting at the table next to me as I set my coffee down and promptly dropped my papers, then my phone, then spilled my coffee on myself.

‘Oh no!’ I exclaimed, trying to set the coffee on the table. Then bending down to gather everything. The young guy hopped up to help me and I thanked him.

‘Where are you from?’ He asked. Clearly, my spontaneous outburst was in english.

I told him and asked about where he was from. I have had this conversation with so many Pilgrims in the past four months it seems weirdly normal. This particular conversation would be anything but. Then, I asked where he started his Camino. His boots and pack looked pure long hauler. And his pack had things hanging from the outside. Flip flops and other things. The longer you walk the less you care what anyone thinks. Its about convenience for you. Not fashion.

He had started in St Jean and was just three days from Santiago. ‘Not a lot of pilgrims. I heard after Sarria it was crowded.’

I laughed. ‘If you were here a month ago you would be walking with 2000 of your closest friends and a loud speaker with music. Now, just a few hundred.’

He nodded. ‘I am glad there are fewer people. I need the time to think.’ And then, he told me his story.

He was an addict – he listed all his drugs – and he has been clean for six months. ‘Even on the Camino.’ I congratulated him as the Camino can be a big party. Breakfast beer is a thing. But he had resisted. And now, his Camino was coming to an end. And he was struggling with what was coming next. I told him he wasn’t alone. It was a common feeling. But his fears were different.

‘I have hurt a lot of people back home.’ he told me. His face registered a sadness that struck me through the heart. I grew up with addicts. I know the the kind of pain he’s inflicted. I let him talk.

‘I haven’t seen my parents in two years. They don’t know I’m clean. The last time I went to their house to ask for money, my father kicked me out. He told me not to come back.’

I waited. Then ‘Were you asking for money for drugs?’

He nodded ‘Yeah. But I said it was for my car. They wouldn’t give it to me. I said some terrible things to them. My Mom looked scared of me. But I was so angry I didn’t care.’

‘Addicts do that. Usually what they accuse other people of doing, is what they are doing themselves. Deflecting.’

He was sniffling and tears in his eyes. ‘Yeah. I told them they gave up on me. But it was me who gave up on myself.’

Talking to this kid was striking a little too close to home. My heart was racing. I drank my coffee and tried to gather myself. ‘Can you call them?Tell them that you’re clean? You are walking the Camino and you want to turn things around.’

He looked at me with such sadness and shook his head. ‘I tried to call my Mom from Leon. To tell her how sorry I am. To tell her I’m off the drugs. I’m better. I’m different. But she wouldn’t answer.’

It was a moment before I realized I was holding my breath, and let it out. ‘I imagine you know their address.’ He nodded. ‘Maybe write them a letter. Own the things you’ve done and said. Be completely honest. If you have an addiction counselor I am sure they have talked to you about laying things bare. Taking full responsibility.’

He waited a beat before answering. ‘I’m afraid.’ He whispered.

‘Afraid of what? What’s the worst that could happen?’

He wiped his eyes. ‘That they would turn away from me. After everything I have done, that saying I am sorry, really sorry, wouldn’t be enough. And then I would know that all the things I’ve done can’t be undone. That I really am alone.’

His honesty was so raw.

‘Do you want to try?’ I asked him.

He nodded. ‘I’ve written that letter in my head every day since St Jean.’

‘Have you ever actually written it down?’

He shook his head.

I wondered if I should take a chance and go further. Then, I decided I would. ‘You told me what you’re afraid of. What do you think your parents are afraid of?’

He frowned. ‘I never thought about that.’ He said.

‘Maybe you should. Your broken relationship with them isn’t just about you. No parent has a child and wishes for the day when they have to turn away from them and never see them again. When you have children, you pour everything you have to give into them. You have broken their trust and broken their hearts with your choices and your behavior. Believe me when I say they have grieved for you. Bled for you. Worried until they made themselves sick. Perhaps, after two years those wounds have healed on the surface but they are still open underneath. If you look at it from their perspective, you used to have all their love and trust, unconditionally. And now, you will have to earn it back. Probably, over a very long time. If you aren’t willing to put in the work, do yourself and them a favor, don’t contact them. Opening that wound again isn’t something they will easily risk.’

He was openly crying now. I reached over and squeezed his hand. When he got it together a bit I smiled, trying to reassure him. How was I in this conversation with a complete stranger? Oh yeah, the Camino. That’s what it always does. Deep sigh. Then I asked him to tell me something good about himself. ‘One thing you are proud of.’

He reached into his bag and pulled out a sketch book. Inside were the most beautiful ink drawings. One of the pictures was of his parents smiling from the page. They looked happy.

‘Did you draw that from a photograph?’ I asked.

‘No’ he said. ‘From memory.’

Now I was crying. ‘Maybe, if it’s too difficult, you don’t need to start with a letter. Just send this drawing. They’ll understand.’

I watched as he ran his hand over the faces of his parents. Like he was using invisible ink from his fingers to outline their faces, once again.

It was time for me to go. I went up to the counter and paid for our coffees. Then walked back to gather my things, as he repacked his pack. ‘Don’t forget to be kind to yourself. And remember, we are all worthy of redemption. Even you. Especially you.’ He smiled up at me. Then stood and asked me for a hug.

Driving home, I thought back over our conversation. The profound sadness in this young man. And I sent up a little prayer for the moment that letter arrives at the home of his broken-hearted parents. For a little crack of light to break the darkness that this family has lived through. Large enough that the three of them can walk through it, together. I was serious in what I told that kid. I truly believe that each of us are worthy of redemption.

10 thoughts on “Redemption

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