Recently I saw a movie in which a father walks the Camio de Santiago in Spain for his son who died on the trail. He meets several people who impact his journey in different ways. Twists and turns leave the father profoundly changed on a very deep level.
I pondered people making a physical journey to a foreign land, leaving their lives behind for a bit, dropping from sight for whatever reason. It doesn’t seem to matter if they are rich, famous, young or old, have great faith or little to none. Some people need to physically make the trip, stripping themselves of the familiar, engaging in an experience larger than their lives.
I went on a similar journey. It was a mind- and life-altering experience. With the distractions of my life removed, I immersed myself into the journey, the places and the process.
I reﬂected on the paths we walk in our lives, who we walk with, where those paths lead. I thought, too, of how our lives can be a journey: how we travel, ﬁnd companions along the way, lose things and people, ﬁnd others later on. We make mistakes, take inaccurate turns; realize we’re in the wrong place; discover things about others and ourselves we never knew; forgive others, forgive ourselves, lose our way to ﬁnd it again. We can be waylaid by addiction, love, comfort, despair, insanity. We can sometimes lose the thing we think we value most and ﬁnd something even more precious, yet never expected. And when we reach the end, we ﬁnd we are changed. Then we ﬁnd we’ve not reached the end of anything.
I realized I’ve walked pilgrimages in the past, walk now in the present and will walk in the future. Until that realization, I had no idea I’d been doing that my entire life. I called it…school, marriage, death, divorce. But life is just that, a journey on which unexpected things happen. My walk has been interrupted by deaths, moves, and people joining or leaving the path. I’ve walked it for all sorts of reasons: with others, for others, with purpose, no purpose, in faith and despair, even stopping for a while — the list constantly changes and evolves.
On traditional pilgrimages, a “passport” is stamped at each stop along the road — offering veriﬁcation that the person traveling has “been there, done that.” Mine has been stamped along the way — proof I’ve been there and done that by graduation, marriage, divorce, funerals, friends made and lost, gray hair, heart broken and imperfectly mended. Those stamps proclaim I have passed that way and am still walking. Sometimes it feels as though I walk through a foreign land, among people who are not my people, speaking a language I neither speak nor understand. There was a long stretch when I’ve walked with no particular purpose, in darkness with no map.
And in that darkness I’ve groped my way, unaware of or even capable of hope, faith or trust that there would be a room in which to rest or a place at the table. But I have been welcomed by someone holding a lantern aloft patiently standing by the door to a safe haven. Later, I’ve come to know darkness was a kind of gift, too. It showed me how to trust and have faith.
As surely as there have been dark times, there have been periods of incredible, soul-piercing brightness, astounding grace, amazing forgiveness. There may not have been a parting of seas or a blinding light from the heavens, but they were just as profound and just as full of wonder.
We each walk our path alone even in the company of others because our experience is different; our perception and interpretation of our life’s events is uniquely ours. We support others. They support us. We cannot walk their path for them. We can only watch with love.
We are all on that camino, that road, that way, and in the deepening shades of evening, the glow of our souls are soft dots bobbing, moving, creating beads in a gleaming strand winding around a mountain, a never ending succession of lights, ascending…always ascending.