Yes, I know I have written about the Camino before, and my longing to make an attempt. It is different now, it is real. Two weeks from today will be my first day on the Camino, and from everything I have heard and read, one of the toughest. My destination that day is at the end of a 15 mile walk and 3,000 ft climb, and right now the snow is described as ‘knee high’ at Roncevalles.
The closer I get to leaving the more questions I get. The questions I hear range from the incredulous, “You want to do WHAT?”, to the obscene, “Are you out of your f@#*ing mind?” and finally, the hardest to answer, “Why?”
I have so read so much about the Camino over the years that all the stories, pictures, comments, and quotable lines run together in my memory. Somewhere I remember reading “you don’t know why you are doing the Camino until you are done, and then you can’t explain it.” I have had the similar experience of trying to describe what my Marine experience was like: civilians who have never done it can’t understand, and fellow veterans already know.
Some things are becoming clearer to me. A former pastor asked me “why?” and the first thing that popped out of my mouth was “to listen” and he seemed satisfied with that answer. I thought about it, and it seems a good answer. Daily life, even retired daily life, is cluttered with little things to do, and a constant white noise that never seems to go away. A little time out might be in order.
My current pastor gave an impassioned homily yesterday about how saying the rosary, or observing certain rites and rituals, or even going on pilgrimage (looking straight at me), were not the things that led to a good Christian life, and I quite agree. I am not doing this journey to become a better person, but perhaps to look at the person I see if I take a good, hard look.
My motivations might seem a collection of paradoxes. I am not pushed to go because of my past or anything melodramatic. Rather I am called, and I have never felt so strong a call to action in my life. I am not running away, I am running ‘toward’. I have no idea of what I am running towards, and that is as it should be, or it wouldn’t be a journey of faith. I communicate with pilgrims past and future, and they all describe the feeling as being called, so I am not alone. It is not ‘sensible’, and yet following the deepest longings of one’s heart seems eminently sensible to those who have done so.
Perhaps the best paradox is that they say “the real pilgrimage begins, not ends, when one arrives in Santiago.” What that means is another thing I can’t explain.