My brother recently visited the Cross of Iron, which is along the pilgrimage route of El Camino de Santiago in Leon, Spain. His wife had wanted to do this for years and they had an opportunity to go there, spend 26 days walking the Camino (part of an 800 km route). This pilgrimage, the “Camino de Santiago,” is the third most visited Holy places on the globe third to Jerusalem and Rome. My brother is a scholar, for lack of a better word. When he decided to take this trip I am sure he did much research to find out The who, what, where, when and why of it all. He is also spiritual, I’ll not get into that here, as it would take years to tell the whole, but suffice it to say, he respected the pilgrimage, though he does not hold to modern church traditions. He and his wife read about the Cruz de Ferro and packed small items to leave there at the food of that monument.
A brief history of this monument: The place where it is located is the highest point for miles around. The pole was placed here at least 1500 years ago. Tradesmen would use this place, which is also located practically under the Milky Way (stars), as a guidance point as they traveled from Europe, through France and Spain on down to Portugal. At some point, (and please forgive me for not knowing the entire story, I am attempting to be brief and my brother took 30 minutes to tell me these things, so I will leave a lot out), the Roman Catholic Church wanted to build a great cathedral to Saint James, the brother of John, the beloved disciple of Jesus. In order to build it, they needed stones, so, since people made this pilgrimage to visit the bones of St. James (who was beheaded by Herod the Great), they were instructed to bring stones with them to be used in building the great Cathedral. The church set up locations where these stones could be deposited, in lieu of carrying the stone all the way due to the weight (and the lack of modern transportation 1500 years ago). Years before the pilgrimage began, this place had been used and the pole had been erected here on the highest point in the area so that it would guide travelers. Once the pilgrimage began, a cross was placed on top of this pole.
Now, in modern times, people visit this Cruz de Ferro (Cross of Iron) to lay something down, usually stones as was an already established custom, but also lay down emotional stones, such as bad habits, or heart ache over passed love ones, or ill family or friends, or abuse that had occurred in their lives. The types of burdens that have been laid there are as many as those who have ever visited.
My brother and his wife, knowing this, took things with them. His wife took a stone and wrote on it the names of her family. She took a piece of paper with a prayer for her mother who was gravely ill and also a childhood necklace her mother had given her and she laid them on this huge mound of stones at the foot of this Iron Cross. My brother took a small stone he had gathered from near the Atlantic Ocean, a smooth “pocket stone”. He placed it there. He also took a dog tag with a photo of my son etched on one side and my son’s name and birth/death dates on the other side depicting how my son, a Sergeant in the US Marines, who was Killed in Action in 2010. His death, still is raw in all our hearts. He thought that he had lost this dog tag. I had given it to him almost 10 years ago and he dropped it into his duffle bag (quick travel kit) that he uses regularly for quick informal trips, but it had slipped under the floor of the duffle bag (that piece of cardboard covered in plastic that rests on the bottom of the duffle bag to help stiffen it up and keep its shape). The dog tag had slipped under the cardboard and was hidden from him. He knew he didn’t lose it, but he just didn’t remember where he had put it. But, knowing that he was about to go on an international trip, knowing he would fly (which was seldom for him), he decided to totally empty his bag to make sure he didn’t have any pocket knives (we collect, don’t judge me), or other “contraband” knowing that TSA is very picky and customs is even more so. He found some weird items, but above all, he found this dog tag. This was no trivial item to him. We all felt tremendous loss when my son died. He had missed the dog tag over the years, but it was simply not ready to be found yet. Here again, I won’t go into my belief about “circumstances” vs “the sovereignty of God”, but I believe it stayed hidden for such a time as this.
Anyway, he was thrilled to find it, and my brother, who HATES necklaces and never wears them, immediately put the dog tag around his neck for this trip.
As they got up before dawn on one of their 26 days of walking (mind you, he’s almost 60 years old at this time), to get to La Cruz de Ferro at sunrise, as it turned out, there was a HUGE cloud hugging the top of this 4900 ft high mountain. It is what it is, clouds happen and they couldn’t delay their journey. The walked to the Iron Cross and the cloud had lifted enough for them to see the top. His wife went up first and laid her items at the foot of the cross, said her peace, her prayers, then came back down the hill.
When she returned, my brother went up. He had his stone to lay there, as a token of thanks to this hugely spiritual place where thousands had traveled for 1500 years or more. They say that travelers on this pilgrimage will ask 2 questions of you as they pass. The first, why are you doing this? (Many walk simply for exercise, others it is a spiritual pilgrimage, or often penance for their sins.) The second is “Have you had your Camino Cry yet?” It is said that no matter why you came, that the magnitude of the holiness, or perhaps through viewing the emotions of those around you if you aren’t particularly spiritual, will make you realize the magnitude of the Holiness of what you are actually doing, causing you, too, to cry at some point. The cathedral(s) are truly magnificent, of which I have to take my brother’s word on the subject as I have not witnessed it . . . Yet, but I plan to and believe what my brother tells me.
So as he took his stone to deposit it at the bottom of this pole with a small Iron Cross at the top, he wanted to leave the stone without placing it specifically, but to toss it and let it fall where it may to be forever there with the history of this place. Then, because the pole was full of other momentous left there by others, he looked up high to find a nail. He rotated around the pole a bit and found a nice high nail to place the dog tags where it would hopefully hang for a long time and be undeserved by other pilgrims. There, on this worldwide platform, he laid my son’s memory down. The memory and dog tag is no longer lost, well, not lost without memory of where it is any longer. It is lost to my brother now as he no longer has it, but my brother laid it down, lost it, so that it, too, could stand as a reminder. It’s not lost, he doesn’t have it, but he knows where, exactly, it is.
Our town and state as well as the United States as a whole and the State of New Mexico, town of Belen, have all honored my son for his willing sacrifice for laying his life down for us all, but now, all pilgrims who travel down El Camino de Santiago, who come across La Cruz de Ferro along the way, will also know of his sacrifice.
La Cruz de Ferro is a place to lay down burdens. Even though I have never been there, and quite possibly may never go, my heart feels that it is attached to that dog tag which is attached to the Iron Cross and my burden is officially lighter. The story of this place, actually called “The Cross of Iron standing beneath the Dancing Stars” (Milky Way constellation) by tradesmen 3000 years ago, now a destination along a pilgrimage for the past 1500 years, is now an incredible gift for me from my brother, placing my son’s image there so that the world may know of his sacrifice.
Whether or not the bones in the cathedral of Santiago are actually St. James’ or some other martyr from Christendom, doesn’t matter. The fact that someone gave his life for his faith is not lost on me and my son. My son LITERALLY gave his life for his friends, family and country as well as world-wide Christendom. He believed in his cause, not due to patriotism alone, but he felt Called of God to serve as a Marine. He made sure his men knew that and on the day he died, he literally traded places with another man, not knowing what was ahead, but he changed places and ten steps later, he was dead and the man he had changed places with was a live. Did he know this? I don’t think so, but that man is alive today because of what my son did. My son’s squad is here today because of his sacrifice. As a result of this bomb, other bombs were found and defused which saved more lives.
When I got that news, the day he died, my first question was this: “Why my son”. I heard God immediately answer: “Why NOT your son?” If a choice had to be made for someone to die that night, who am I to think my son is invincible? If not my son, who? If I could have chosen someone to die that day, who would I have chosen? Knowing the spiritual status of his men, I would have had to choose my own son because the others were not ready to die. They weren’t right with with God through Jesus Christ. As I saw how other Gold Star Mothers fell apart when we met at Camp LeJeune for a memorial of our fallen sons and daughters, I couldn’t imagine placing that burden on the others whose Marines came home safely. I consider myself a strong person spiritually, but I was shaken to the core and my whole belief system changed in that moment. I didn’t lose my faith, however, if you think about the story of the “Grinch that Stole Christmas, his heart grew 10 times that day”, my heard was enlarged so much that I can’t imagine getting to that great depth by any other means than having my son’s life taken. My son died for ME! To help ME grow spiritually. For me to realize just how much more God is than the tiny box I had placed Him in.
Now, with my son’s dog tag hanging on La Cruz de Ferro in Spain, all the pilgrims will be able to see him and MAYBE, just maybe they will look him up online and see some of these articles attributed to his legacy. His name is US Marine Sergeant Garrett A. Misener KIA 2010-Dec-27 Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
If you don’t understand the Sovereignty of God, please take some time to discover it. It is undeniable.