Thursday, August 01, 2013

the courageous way

A few months ago, Charlie and I rented the movie, "The Way" through Netflix.  We both agree that it was one of the most powerful movies that we've ever seen. Here's an excerpt from the movie trailer,
Martin Sheen plays Tom, an irascible (definition here, yes, I had to look it up!) American doctor who comes to France to deal with the tragic loss of his son (played by Emilio Estevez). Rather than return home [with his son's remains], Tom decides to embark on the historical pilgrimage "The Way of St. James" to honor his son's desire to finish the journey. What Tom doesn't plan on is the profound impact that this trip will have on him. Though unexpected and often times amusing experiences along "The Way", Tom discovers the difference between "the life we live, and the live we choose." 
Soon, I'll post more pictures and commentary about my trip to the magnificent arctic last week. But before I do, I must mention that last week on July 24th, while I was far to the north in Canada, I heard news that there was a fatal train crash in Spain.  What I learned from the news reports is that the train was laden with people, many of whom were headed to the gathering in Santiago de Compostela to celebrate the Feast of St. James the Apostle which occurs every year on July 25th.  This is the very city that Tom, in the movie, ended up in following the grief pilgrimage that he embarked upon following the loss of his son and the gaining of a new perspective on his own life.

For days, weeks, and now even months after Charlie and I watched the movie, we have discussed the message that it carried directly in to our hearts.  In a nutshell, that message is to cherish what you have. Life is short, unpredictable, at times torturous, but most of all, it's beautiful. And we are incredibly blessed to be here ... even with all of its sham, drudgery and broken dreams.


I work with a man named Felipe. He is in our Procurement group and before I first met him, people told me that he was very matter-of-fact. I'd been warned before I went to my first meeting with him that I needed to be prepared, organized, and efficient.  I had one opportunity to make a first impression and if I expected to garner his cooperation on a billion dollar project that would consume me for the next two years, that first impression had better be a good one.

So I met Felipe. And as people had predicted, he was very matter-of-fact. But I was organized and prepared and efficient.  I met with him several more times and each time, there was no indication that Felipe was anything more than an up and coming Procurement Manager for our corporation that had no time for small talk.   But then one day, while I was meeting with Felipe, another of our co-workers popped their head in to our discussion and asked how my children were doing? And Felipe, who had been intently focused on suppliers and budgets and all other things business-oriented, sank back in his chair and I watched a warmth wash over his face as he inquired, "Yes, please tell us, Jennifer ... how are your children doing?"  

What I learned in that very moment is that while Felipe is a remarkably successful business man, Felipe is first and foremost, a family man.  So I told him that my children, my then six-year-old triplets and four-year-old singleton, were doing very well. When Felipe heard that I had triplets he bellowed, "TRIPLETS?! YOU HAVE TRIPLETS?!" and then he roared with laughter at what he proclaimed to be "an incredible blessing from God!"  He was then compelled to share a bit about himself as he pulled out several pictures of his family, his beautiful wife and two equally beautiful children and he positively beamed with love and gratitude for what he considered to be HIS blessings from God.

Even though Felipe was soon promoted to a new role and I finished my project with a new Procurement manager, from that point on and to this very day, whenever I see Felipe around campus, he will greet me with a happy smile and a big hug as he excitedly inquires, "Jennifer, tell me! tell me! How are your beautiful babies?" 

Earlier this week, I was on a business trip in North Carolina.  While I was there, I learned that Felipe and his wife, Ana Maria, and their 17-year old daughter, Christina, had traveled to Spain on holiday to meet Felipe's son, Santiago, who had just completed the 500+ mile Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage. I should mention that Felipe's family are devout Catholics and Ana Maria works with the Diocese in nearby Arlington.  So while their son, Santiago, awaited at the train station to greet his family in Galicia for this joyous occasion, the train carrying his father and mother and younger sister, derailed when it's speed exceeded twice the limit on that stretch of track.

If I'd read any of the news articles that were scattered about the internet last week, I would have immediately recognized the name - and the face.  But for whatever reason, I had no knowledge that my friend and his family had been on that train, until this week. What I learned this week, is that Felipe suffered a broken nose and broken ribs.  His daughter, Christiana, suffered a broken leg. And Ana Maria, Felipe's beautiful 47-year old wife, was one of the two Americans (and one of the 79 people) who died as a result of her injuries sustained during the derailment.


It's interesting because when I heard the news last week about the crash, I felt sadness for the victims - especially given my abbreviated knowledge of the area and St. James Festival.  Why, this past weekend, my family lit candles at church for those who were affected by the tragedy.  But when I later heard that MY friend and "his blessings from God" were on the train ... well, it felt like I'd been punched.  The sorrow that consumed me was almost crippling. Since then, I've learned that Felipe is doing remarkably well - given the circumstances. He has reverted in to the focused manager that is organized and efficiently executing a plan for his family's return to the United States. But more than that, he is exerting his unwavering faithfulness in God and has become a model for those who know him - including many of the senior executives in our corporation.

It just makes me wonder how can I continue to be devastated when my friend is giving thanks for the time that he had with his wife? 

Coincidentally, last night Charlie and I watched the movie, "Courageous" and that movie (also) hit us so, so hard. (We're turning in to a bunch of cry babies.) If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend that you do and as you tightly clutch your box of Kleenex, allow yourself to be amazed by the awesomeness that is Javier, The Snake King.

I'm not sure when or how it's happened, but as we inch our way through our middle-aged years, Charlie and I find ourselves overwhelmed and grateful by the inspiring - and often heart wrenching - stories that we hear regarding the unsurpassable human strength that is fueled by faith.  When tragedy strikes and we wonder how it is that the survivors can actually survive (let alone breathe) - what we see is that so many people demonstrate "the way" with a grace that is unfathomable.

At 42-years of age, faith is finally the biggest tool in my tool box of life.

And it's in large part to unintentional teachers ... like my dear friend, Felipe.


  1. Dear Jen,

    I have been reading your blog since the trips were 2 and this is the first post that hit me like a ton of bricks and made me cry.

    My mother is from Ferrol, which is just north of Santiago de Compostela. I have been to Iago (as the city is called in the local dialect, Gallego) many times. It is an inspiring place on so many levels, from the cathedral to the pilgrims to the presence of thousands of youth and academics because there is a huge university there as well.

    My two younger sisters walked the Camino in 2000. They actually started in Lugo and it took them 18 days (my cousins who live in Ferrol have biked the Camino from its official start which is in France over the Pyrenees). They met people from all over the world in their travels (including a number of agnostics and atheists) and still tell stories about the challenges and wonderful experiences they had while they were there.

    When she heard about the train crash, my mother called her sister in Pontevedra (a city in Galicia south of Iago) and they both could not stop crying, even though they did not know any of the passengers who had died or had been injured. And then my mother called me, to say "I love you" and "be careful on your drive to work today".

    Blessed are they who understand the relatively short length and fragility of our lives on this Earth for they will experience gratitude and joy for the time they have had.

  2. Beautiful writing, Jen. I have read your blog on and off through the years. We share the same blessings (great husband and children) and struggles (not enough time in the day and challenging children) in our lives. This was one of my favorite posts by you. Your friend, Felipe, is blessed to have a friend like you. Jenn

  3. My heart just sank as I read your words. I'm so sorry for your friend's loss. So very sad.... prayers for Felipe and his family.

  4. Oh no. Jenn, I'm so sorry. Please let your friend know that I'm in Texas praying for him and his family. She is beautiful...too young to be gone.

    (And he is grieving deeper than you...just might not show it well.)

  5. I know you are going to miss your little man when he goes off to kindy. But this picture made me think of you with your 4 little ones. (I've been reading your post since 2007, and absolutely love it!)