2 : the course traveled from one place to another : route
My original plans were changed. I had planned to visit my mom over fall break instead of braving the Thanksgiving traffic. I had planned to actually take a fall break. Then we moved. And needed to take days off of schooling for that. So we worked straight through fall break. I had planned to teach Monday and Tuesday of this week. Then I realized late last week that we (perhaps mostly I) desperately needed a true break, not some abbreviated-short week-jump in the car and drive six hours-drive back-resume normal life week. So I scrapped the plan.
This meant that yesterday morning my slate was blessedly clear. The only commitments were speech therapy, choir and ballet, none of which started until 2. One thing I love about free days are the tangents I'm allowed to take. I had a few things on the must do list (make sweet potato casserole, fold laundry), but when a friend mentioned El Camino de Santiago on Facebook, I decided to spend part of my morning watching a movie about this pilgrimage. My daughter A joined me about a half hour into the journey and together we watched four broken souls seek solace, companionship and healing along the way.
The movie tells the story of a father (Martin Sheen) who receives a call that his son (Emilio Estevez) has died in an accident in Spain. Stunned and devastated, he flies to retrieve the body. While there, he decides to make the pilgrimage his son had started - a pilgrimage that has been traveled for more than a thousand years. At some point during the movie, it struck me what a strong metaphor this movie is for life. I want to arrive. I want to be done with the pain, the uncertainty, the peeling back layers and layers of myself and waiting to reach who I am supposed to be. I want to be there - wherever there is.
But the journey is what really matters. Because the journey is what transforms us. It's where we meet fellow pilgrims who have similarly blistered feet and who don't know exactly why they are walking but keep going anyway. The journey is where we put one foot in front of the other and begin to slowly relinquish the illusion of control. We may know where our next step will land us, but that is about it.
There are many ways to take the journey. We can gripe and complain our way up the mountain, missing the vistas looming to our right and left. This is just as true whether you're on an actual mountain or at the Kroger gas station.
This afternoon, B and I stopped to fill the van up with gas before tomorrow's trek south. She wanted a Sprite, so I went with her to the window to pay. While she was counting out the correct change to pay the worker, a guy came up behind us and said, "I need a receipt for pump 2." The worker very politely said, "I'll be right with you, as soon as I finish helping them." The guy in line behind us proceeded to yell at the worker about how poorly the gas station was managed. His grievances went on and on and his voice rose higher and higher. "Awkward," B commented with the inflection only an eleven year old girl can give this word. "I feel bad for him," she said more seriously. Curious about whether her sympathies lie with the unsatisfied customer or the station attendant, I asked which one. She went on to say she meant the worker. "That's a job I'll never have," she said - which brought laughter and commiseration from me.
We spent part of the ride home talking about how the customer made the guy behind the window feel. It's not a fun job this guy has - he sits in a little box for hours, helping people from behind glass. It can't be pleasant. But he was pleasant to us. Patient with B as she counted out coins. Wishing us a happy Thanksgiving even as someone else yelled at him. Should the angry man have been able to get his receipt at the pump? Perhaps. Should he have been so unkind to the person in his path? No. B was right - it was awkward. We all have the choice to be a fellow pilgrim who eases the way for others or one who makes the journey more laborious simply with our presence.
Each of the pilgrims in the movie were taking a pilgrimage for different reasons: to lose weight, give up smoking, cure his writer's block, mourn his son. Yet those were only the surface reasons. The real reason for each and every journey? Healing.
No matter who you are and where you are journeying, that's what we all need. Every single one of us. Healing. And we can't heal ourselves. We can only listen to our bodies and souls, give them what we think they need - and wait for the Healer.
I would like say openly that this sucks. I want it to be different. I want a one time immunization against the pain of being human. But it simply doesn't work that way. And I am not willing to sit down and watch the other pilgrims pass me by. People do that, you know. They drop their backpacks on the side of the road and sit down, unwilling to move beyond their comfort zone, their particular addictions, their ways of coping, the things that anesthetize them. They opt out of life. And that is a choice we all have available to us. Sometimes I even use that choice: I read an entire book on Friday. It was classic numbing out. But I don't really regret it and I'm not doing it every day, at the expense of my family and friends. I want the healing, so I will keep walking.
The way is not easy, but it is beautiful and so very worth it. In recent days I have found the journey overwhelming. So I've tried to picture Jesus walking alongside me as I go, pointing out the things worth seeing, holding my hand during the rocky parts, giving me a lift when the climbing gets hard. Sometimes this helps. Other times, not so much. I still feel alone. But I want to even then look for the beauty that shows me the way.