Since When am I a Pilgrim??? – Camino minus 31 Days

One month from today, I will finally begin a journey for which I’ve been preparing, at least mentally, for the past year and a half. I will begin walking the camino de Santiago de Campostella, in Spain.

I had never heard about the Camino until a year and a half ago. One night in November 2011, I was supposed to go with a friend to see a movie in a new part of the town to which I had recently moved, Hampton Roads, Virginia. At the very last minute, she couldn’t go. However, since I was already prepared, I went by myself.

The movie was a recently released movie titled, “The Way,” starring Martin Sheen, who was a special favorite of mine because of an act of personal kindness he once did for one of my family members.

The story tells of a father, played by Sheen, whose adult son dies at the start of  the son’s walk on the 500 mile Camino Frances, a route which goes across all of northern Spain and is one of the most ancient pilgrimage routes. The father decides to continue his son’s walk in his memory, perhaps as a penitential act for his earlier father/son clashes with the young man.

Along the way, he meets people who are doing the Camino for their own reasons.  Several of them inexorably join Sheen’s character and  form a Camino “family” and each ends the journey with his or her own personal discovery – some exceeding expectations and some, frankly,  not.

The movie was not the very best movie I had ever seen – it had flaws. However, the story called to me in a way no story had before (yes, I know it’s a cliché).

I have no big demons in the closet to exorcise, I have people I love and who love me (as best I can gauge, LOL). On balance, God has been good to me, my family, and my friends and I believe He is always on our side. I am content and comfortable.

But this movie about these people on a long walk stirred up a curious desire in me to follow in their footsteps. I wanted to get what these actors in a movie had gotten! Yes, I knew it was fiction!! Yet, an inner voice called and refused to be dismissed!

I secretly decided to plan this trip. But how does one explain to family that one wants to go on what is, essentially and foremost, a pilgrimage? That word has such a weird connotation in today’s world. Freaky.

I don’t consider myself a religious nut. I enjoy going to Church now as an adult. As a kid I had found Catholicism simple and undemanding. As a young adult, however, it became more and more boring, disagreeable, and irrelevant.  Recently, I find that I disagree with the Roman Catholic Church on many issues.

So, now, I have a hard time explaining why this very Christian activity is something that I feel compelled to do. I don’t know how to “do” or “make” a pilgrimage – I’m not sure what that even means. What is the difference between a pilgrim and a walker? Expectations? Desires? Backpack size?

After six months, I shared my plans with my DH (Dear Husband). Of course, he was perplexed yet, bless his heart, totally supportive from the start. For me, sharing this goal with other people was an important part of finally committing to the Camino. Telling my family about my plan was the nail in the coffin of committment.

Yet, as soon as I started to share, I started getting the questions, questions, questions. What is it? Where is it? How will you get there? Who are you going with? How long will you be away? It is how long a trip!?? By yourself??!! I’m sure many thought (although too kind to say out loud), aren’t you a little old for this?

And, the most difficult yet most obvious question – why?

If I tell them that I’m doing it for fun, to get in shape, I would get some admiring smiles, like telling friends you plan to run a marathon (although many would suggest there are easier ways).  But that wouldn’t be true.

So I tell them it’s a pilgrimage, and I get very strange and uncomprehending looks, as if they suddenly see something weird and uncomfortable in me that they never suspected before.

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