Sunday, May 2, 2010
Getting Ready to Go Again: The Camino, Part II
There are two seasons for a pilgrim: walking -- and dreaming about it. I'm in the dreaming phase, which may be as delicious as actually walking. A colleague confessed to envy. If he were the one leaving, I'd be envious too.
I roll on my tongue the names of the towns we'll pass through: Toulouse, Gimont, Auch, Oleron Ste. Marie, Cette Eygun, Jaca, Santa Cruz de la Seros, and finally Pamplona. Could any of these be as luscious as they taste?
I study Jan's Gear List, graciously supplied by one of the planners of the trip -- and compare it with a growing pile of stuff in the corner of the room. Would I be happy to shoulder these things across the Pyrenees?
With Jan, Jan's Gear, Jan's daughter and two of his friends, I leave on May 17th to walk the Camino -- again. I tell people this, and they seem surprised: "Didn't you already do that?" I explain that there are as many roads to Santiago as to Rome -- and for the same reason. Like Rome, Santiago was a pilgrim's destination. Routes to Santiago spread all over Europe like a spider's web with the city at its center.
This time we'll begin on one of the outer whorls of the web, starting in Toulouse and picking up a route known as the Chemin d'Arles. We don't have time to walk all the way to Santiago, but my friends have mapped out a route that ends where Lisa and I began our trek in September: Pamplona. In fact, we'll spend the final nights in Spain where Lisa and I started out, a pilgrim hotel on the plaza of the mysterious Virgen de la O.
I feel like I'm completing a circle I didn't even know existed -- and in a Holy Year at that.
The year 2010 ranks as a special year in the Roman calendar, and from all parts of the web, thousands of pilgrims will be making their way to Santiago. Even though we're leaving before peak season and taking a less well-traveled route, the closer we get to Santiago, the more crowded the path will be. Indeed, the press of pilgrims, dirty, sweaty, grumbly pilgrims, will mean we're on the right track.
In September, Lisa and I got lost only once -- and it was not very lost and right outside Santiago. We must have been deep into conversation, because it took a while before I realized that no one else was around us. We were walking alone -- and that was the signal we were on the wrong track. In fact, we'd gotten lost in some park being prepared for a papal visit in 2010, so we weren't far off the beaten path. But there were only construction workers around us. Not pilgrims.
The workers helped us get back on track. Within a few hours we were in Santiago, waiting in line with a crowd of tired, happy pilgrims to get our credentials. We were surrounded -- no, swarmed! -- by pilgrims. From our various starting points, we'd made it to our common destination.
I was reminded of the metaphor one of the Desert Fathers, Dorotheos of Gaza, used:
"Suppose we were to take a compass and insert the point and draw the outline of a circle. Let us suppose that this circle is the world and that God himself is the center: the straight lines drawn from the circumference to the center are the lives of human beings....Let us assume for the sake of the analogy that to move toward God, then, human beings move from the circumference along the various radii of the circle to the center. But at the same time, the closer they are to God, the closer they become to one another; and the closer they are to one another, the closer they become to God."
The dear Dorotheos must have been a frustrated mathematician turned eremite.
Writer Tobias Wolff condenses his insight: "If you're a Catholic, the world's a very crowded place." He telegraphs the vivid presence of a communion of saints whose lives seem more real than our own. From the great beyond, they offer direction and a love that cannot die. He testifies to the camaraderie of fellow travelers whom we meet along the way. Along the gritty streets of this world, they accompany us -- with a smile, a shrug, and a "Buen Camino!"
I can't wait to walk: bring on the crowds.