You had an enquiring, open mind to everything and were always willing to engage with people and things you could not readily identify with – going into what you called your ‘visiting anthropologist’ mode. So, although you knew nothing of it yourself, you would have had time for the Camino.
You were an atheist, but you came to respect my beliefs, and were alive to all forms of self-knowledge. How can a gay man retain allegiance to a Church which has such a terrible record of persecution and oppression, not just to homosexuals but to women, you asked when we first met? Yes, but it’s not quite as simple as that, I said.
Two years after you died, I walked the Camino. I told no one the real reason why. I raised money for a good cause, it was an adventure and it was a wonderful, challenging, experience. But one main reason was to draw some kind of line under my grief.
You changed my life. Our relationship had no recognition in law – civil partnership, let alone same-sex marriage, were unknown when you died, shortly after your 40th birthday. But in the final weeks of your life, I became so aware that our souls were united that in the grand scheme of things, as you might have termed it, any piece of paper was superfluous to what really mattered. You might have enjoyed arguing over whether that grand scheme could, perhaps, be called divine.
With me on the Camino, I took a stone with a hole in, which we found on Brighton beach once. About half way through my Camino, I placed it on the huge pile of other stones at the Cruz de Ferro, on a fresh, bright June day. This was a way of leaving a little bit of you, and my sorrow, behind. For as you well knew and understood: Such is Life.
Sitting on a hill alone, in the most beautiful scenery imaginable, an hour or two later, I acknowledged the watershed I had just passed. You always cried easily – your Slav blood, you would say – and I didn’t, but that day, well I did. You understood life’s transience – “We’ll all be dead soon!” you’d say, in your jocular, good-humoured Northern way, cajoling those about you to make the most of life and its opportunities. Over 20 years later, I continue to get inspiration from you and your watchword: Courage!
And when I hugged the Apostle’s statue at the end of my pilgrimage – for such it was – I was not hugging you, but embracing life again, with all its manifold, bittersweet joys and sorrows.
You would have understood that, too.
With all my love
Sincerely, a pilgrim