If my friends were to vote as to my mental state, they would unanimously declare me deranged. Perhaps “deranged” is too strong a word. My friends are more circumspect and charitable. More likely they would suggest that given the endless winter, I have become addled.
Come October, I will walk El Camino de Santiago. From Paris, I will take the train south. My destination is St-Jean-Pied-de-Port where I will have a good sleep, pick up my pilgrim passport, and climb the Pyrenees into Spain. It is unfortunate that the first day will be my most arduous. I’m OK with walking; climbing is entirely a different matter. Climbing (backpacked like a beast of burden) will be a serious test. Will I make it? Will I keep my sense of humor?
The ‘Way of St James’ is a thousand-year-old pilgrim route through northern Spain that leaves Roncesvalles and heads west to Pamplona, Burgos, and Leon. The pilgrimage ends at St. James’ shrine in Santiago de Compostela. Not content to walk 500 miles, I have agreed to walk on to Finisterre, a site of particular interest. (During the American Revolution, Congress sent John Adams on a mission to obtain funds from the French. His leaking ship put in at Finisterre. From that point on the Atlantic Ocean, Adams and his two sons travelled The Way of Saint James in reverse.)
Having never seen me in church, you may well wonder why I would devote five weeks to walking. I am, after all, not much of a hair-shirt person. Nor do the remains of St. James hold any allure. Will I be serving penance? I don’t think so.
Unlike the pilgrims of the Middle Ages, on arrival, I do not expect forgiveness of my sins. My sins are mine til death do we part. They may haunt me, but living with them makes me more tolerant of others’ short-comings.
The Church of yore was more exacting. I quote from the Codex Calixtinus, an illuminated manuscript which served as a pilgrims’ advisory in the 12th Century “It [the pilgrimage] takes us away from luscious foods, it makes gluttonous fatness vanish, it restrains voluptuousness, constrains the appetites of the flesh which attack the soul, cleanses the spirit, leads us to contemplation, humbles the haughty, raises up the lowly, loves poverty.
I will walk for any number of reasons. First and foremost, what better way to celebrate my 70th birthday? A second reason would be my getting fit prior to the journey. Reasons three, four, and five would include meeting fellow pilgrims, soaking up the landscape, and visiting sites of historical interest. Undoubtedly I will have ample opportunity to practice my Spanish, sample the local cuisine, and drink the local wines.
The Spanish make a distinction between tourists and pilgrims. It is no surprise that pilgrims are more highly though of. Tourists receive their certificate of completion written in Spanish; Pilgrims are awarded their certificate in Latin. How cool is that!
Needless to say, I want my “Compostela’ written in Latin. Forget all those temporal reasons for walking. I can do better. I can be more spiritual. I look forward to having the time for introspection. I expect I’ll review my life choices. I will certainly ask myself what I am doing with the rest of my life. I will probably reflect on ‘unfinished business.’ I would hope to be a better person at journey’s end.
We are advised to leave our toys at home to increase the probability of living a more reflective life. I can leave the watch. I can leave the phone. But I don’t think that I can leave my camera. The theory behind leaving the camera is that I should be immersed in the totality of the experience, not focused on bits and pieces. I see their point, but surely I need to look at more than the path beneath my feet.
The training begins. Every book I’ve read reminds the reader to take needle and thread to treat blisters. Directions involve threading the needle, soaking the needle and the thread in antiseptic, running the needle through the blister and leaving the thread within the wound.
Am I inspired to train? You bet.
If you haven’t watched The Way with Martin Sheen and Emelio Estevez, you might like it. You can stream the movie on Netflix. Briefly, Sheen and his son are estranged. On the first day of his walking The Way, the son dies crossing the Pyrenees. Hoping to understand/reconnect with his son, Sheen walks The Way himself – depositing the son’s ashes as he goes.
- Write about a trip that you took or a trip you would like to take. Where did you go? What did you do? Were you the same person at the end of the journey as you were at the beginning?
- Reflect on a spiritual journey you may have taken.
- Write a fictional piece in which a talkative, social person goes on a spiritual retreat that involves one week’s silence.