Bill’s Blog Journal

We can only do something for the first time, once!

This past weekend I had the opportunity to travel to the annual Gathering of the American Pilgrims of the Camino in Black Mountain, NC. Interestingly I accompanied, Steve, who I only met after following his blog, during his 2016 Camino, which was responsible for my 2017 Pilgrimage. We are now best of friends.

This was only my second Gathering but I have to note that the YMCA facility hosting this years event, is a huge step up. The location, in the mountains, just outside Asheville is stunning. It was fun to see friends from two years ago and a few from my Camino.

It was interesting to notice a few contrasts between my 1st and the 2nd. I can clearly remember walking into the 2017 Gathering in Atlanta very nervous as I did not know one person, plus this Camino business was a huge departure for me. I had so many questions about food, equipment, blisters….. My main concern was how to survive walking 1000 kilometers without getting hurt or lost.

The most notable change, for me, was a new depth of conversations. Clearly people are changed by Pilgrimage.

My recurring thought was about firsts. Notably that – you can only do something for the first time once. What will my second Camino be like? Will I be able to find the energy and motivation to accomplish all that is necessary to make it a reality?

Many of the presentations made me nostalgic to return. I know I can never go back to that first experience. I will never regain my virginity.

Perhaps my most important lesson from the weekend was the reminder to “say yes to the Universe” and trust that if I find myself led to another Camino, it too will present new joys, pains, people, and lasting memories. It will become my 1st 2nd Camino.

Stay tuned…

Buen Camino 👣

A Very Merry Christmas & Blessed New Year!

As I am sure I’ve said before “my life has been transformed by the Camino” making for an interesting year, to say the least. I am in the Netherlands for Christmas with Charlotte and her family. And I may well be staying until March. What I have not posted here before is that on October 25th we visited the Cathedral in Chartres France. We walked the 800 year old labyrinth. When we reached the center I proposed and she said YES!

We have decided to wait a year before planning the wedding date and deciding where we will live. I am sure that there are many challenges ahead. Fortunately, the Camino helps one learn to meet each challenge as it comes and to not worry so much about the future.

I have spent a large portion of the year working on a new book, A Field Guide to Labyrinths of Connecticut and Rhode Island.  So I bought a drone and visited 60+ labyrinths over the summer/fall photographing and walking each one. Now comes the hard part of creating the text and layout. Stay tuned… My hope is that the book will make people aware of the number that are available to them nearby.  I know that they have transformed by life in the past two years, since I walked my first labyrinth.

During my time here I expect to restart work on another book, Love Stories from the Camino de Santiago. I already have a number of other’s stories and hope to add others throughout the year. I believe that this will prove to be a wonderful book. (If you know of any stories please let me know or have the people contact me). I we be attending the American Pilgrim of the Camino annual Gathering in March which may provide a few additions. With luck it won’t be too long before I have the opportunity to walk in Spain once again.

One more wish for the New Year is that our paths will cross so we may visit and share our stopover a cup of coffee. Till then… Buen Camino 👣💕👣

One Year Ago….

I feel compelled to write today as it was exactly one year ago that I arrived in Lourdes France to begin my Camino. Even then I had come to realize that the Camino begins before it begins. Now I understand how it also continues after it’s finished.

I remember clearly how daunting was the prospect of walking 1,300,000 Steps each one, to me, new ground. Not to mention facing 10 weeks traveling in France, Spain, and, Portugal only speaking English, and American at that!

I met my first Camino buddy, Timothy from Ireland, on the bus to town from the airport in Lourdes. He just dropped by one week ago to visit me at my home.

Yesterday I was surprised to receive an email from Denis, from Toulouse, who I met my first day walking GR 78. He gave me invaluable instruction on how to navigate the trail. I not only ran into him later on but enjoyed a wonderful visit with he and his family in Toulouse just before I returned to the States.

Happily I still have occasional communication with others I met along the Way. Of course, An & Meike, who were my guides and amazing companions for 9 days. Barry from Canada who walked together with me the last two weeks. I was blessed to meet Linn from Germany who always managed to appear at the right time, when a friend was most needed. And for cooking a special dinner for me on my birthday.

There were so many other wonderful people I was blessed to meet. Too many to mention but I am very grateful for our time together.

From the perspective of a year past I see now that I was called to walk the Camino exactly when I was in order to meet Charlotte. 💕 Our relationship has grown with each visit across the “pond”. While I expect I’ll spend much of this winter in the Netherlands we are both refraining from projecting too far into the future. We are putting to use one of the valuable lessons from the Camino – just taking each day as it comes.

Thus the Camino continues to provide. And with good fortune we will be able to return to walk again before too long.

Thank you all for your friendship and support. Buen Camino 👣

“How is it possible?”

I’m sitting at JFK waiting to board my flight to Amsterdam which will be my 4th flight there since November. When I made my plans last year to walk the Camino de Santiago I fully expected that would be the extent of my travel for sometime. I had not been out of the country in many years and certainly had no future plans. Instead the gates have opened to new worlds.

Meeting Charlotte in Spain has been transformative. I am enjoying getting to know her and her two boys Wout, and Mace. Also learning a bit about the very interesting history of the Netherlands and of Dutch culture.

We have discovered ourselves in an improbable and geographically challenging relationship. The day we met we both sensed that we already knew the other. Charlotte often remarks “how is it possible?” From a former life? Destiny? We may never know. Does it really matter?

There are many coincidences. The three Charlotte’s in my life. Our homes, interests, lifestyle and especially our sense of humor. I think is is best not to question only accept the reality of our happiness.

I have been feeling called to return to the Camino. I miss the walking, people and the time alone with my thoughts. I found a connection with life I only remember glimpses of as a child. A life to be lived in the present without fear.

I am tentatively planning to return to Holland in October to celebrate Charlotte birthday and our one year anniversary the following day. Then I will travel to begin my Camino from Porto Portugal to Santiago de Compestella. With luck Charlotte will join me in Santiago to celebrate my 70th birthday and to walk for a week to Finnesterra and Muxia. (This is a difficult request because it means she will miss celebrating Wout’s birthday which is the same day as mine!)

I will once again dedicated my Camino to raise money for OI, Osteogenesis Imperfecta and the other Charlotte in my life. Due to the efforts of this organization and researchers my grandniece Charlotte has begun to walk!

So please stay tuned for info on another fun fundraiser this Fall. (And thank you all for your generosity last year)

Update.

UPDATE: sorry for not posting regularly about the progress of the Love Stories from the Camino book. I have been very busy with my own Love Story and pulling together a labyrinth book.

I’m happy to report that the Love Story is moving forward nicely. A number of stories are in and others are in the works. I welcome additional submissions especially stories of siblings or parent/child adventures on the Camino. Buen Camino

Please contact me at bill@hotchkisspublishing.com

Guided by Our Lady of Lourdes..

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“I am discovering that I am being guided by Our Lady of Lourdes.”  Now that is something I would never have imagined myself saying!  So what is going on you might ask?

Spring of 2016 I found myself being drawn to the Camino de Santiago and was well on my way making plans to walk the French Way starting in Saint Jean Pied du Port just as my new friend and Camino mentor, Steve, had done that spring.  However, my plans took a turn one day when Steve, after lunch in Litchfield, CT., took me to meet his good friend Father Bill at the Montfort Retreat Center . It was here that I discovered the beautiful Lourdes of Litchfield Shrine featuring a wonderful reproduction of the Grotto of Lourdes, France.

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This triggered childhood memories of learning about the many miracles attributed to the Virgin Mary and the water from the springs in Lourdes.  And of course the classic film “Song of Bernadette”.  When I got home I consulted a map to see just where in France Lourdes was located.  It was only about 2 1/2 inches (150K) from SJPP so I made the decision on the spot to begin my pilgrimage walk from there.  Little did I know that this would be both the most beautiful portion of the trip but also the seven days walking through the Pyrenees would be the perfect training ground for the next 800K of the Camino.

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As many of of you know that halfway through my Camino I met a wonderful woman from Holland.  I am now on my third visit with in her home village of Dongen.  A week ago we discovered that there are historical plaques about town on the Broederpad (Brothers Path), a 7K walk through the village commemorating the good work of the Brothers of Our Lady of Lourdes.  During their 130 years in the town they helped the disabled and homeless.  The last of the the Order left in 2009.  The plaques also pictured many of the buildings which once stood at the various sites, most have been replaced with apartment buildings.  One plaque showed a reproduction of the Grotto shrine built by the Brothers.  We assumed that it too had been torn down and we could find no record of its existence online. Yesterday while walking a part of the route we investigated behind an old chapel and discovered the remains of the original Grotto still intact and undergoing renovation!  How is this possible we asked ourselves with big smiles on our faces.

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A few Google searches revealed that there are many replicas of the Grotto throughout the world.  We even found one a few days ago on our visit to The Hague.  A church there had a meditation chapel which featured an indoor version of the Grotto.  Is this all coincidence?  You may decide for yourselves.

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I am looking forward to warmer weather when I will return to complete this circle with a visit to Lourdes of Litchfield.  I will attend the same Sunday mass at the Grotto which began my journey last fall with a very special Pilgrims Blessing from Father Bill……