The double entendre of this post title is intended. Standing in the shelter of a threshold I can look back to history as well as gaze forward into the unknown with expectancy. No longer hovering before the threshold, I took the step forward. I’m actively preparing. But the next big move is placing that first footfall on the dirt of the Camino Francés.
I can’t tell you exactly why I decided to walk the Camino de Santiago. When I think about it, I realize thoughts of the Camino had been hovering in the background for years—but without any aspirations or inspirations. I may have read a book about it way back when. I do note that I used the term “pilgrim” as a thematic metaphor in my first book Calling Our Spirits Home. It’s not a word I could recall using before writing that book and haven’t since until now. But maybe in its use a seed was already germinating. Now I’m about to become one in an official sense. Soon I’ll receive my pilgrim’s passport, which will be stamped along the route.
Here’s what cinched it for me. Last August I spent two one-week sessions back-to-back as a Vaughan Town volunteer in Spain. My sole job was to have conversations in English, most times one-on-one, with Spanish business professionals who were learning the language. It was somewhat akin to those speed-dating venues, albeit no romantic search intended, except each one lasted an hour with serial partners every day while we were all sequestered in lovely locales. After a while I got quite bored with telling my own background, and they were sick of telling theirs. So I took that opportunity to do a little research, asking each if they knew anything about the Camino. I was surprised to hear that a good number of them had done it, even more than once. And, to a one who had done so, they greatly encouraged me to do it, too. I was pulled to do the Vaughan Town adventure and knew there was a reason. Aside from returning to Spain after many years and having a great time getting to know Spaniards, I believe I needed to hear their encouragement. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t be at the juncture of this 500-mile foot journey.
Legend has it the tomb of St. James was found by a hermit in 9 A.D. after a vision led him to the site in the Galicia area of northwestern Spain, now Santiago de Compostela. In the months since my decision to go, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on this pilgrimage that goes back to the Middle Ages: the meaning of it and the multitudes who have gone before me, people searching for something or forced into it through Inquisition-ordered penance, better than being burned at the stake no doubt. The journey was a difficult one dealing with uncertainty and extreme hardship. Yet they went. Many didn’t make it home. Such extremes don’t exist on the Camino today. But it remains a multi-leveled challenge. A visit to any of the online pilgrim forums will tell you that.
Why do people continue to go? Why am I going? There’s something about pilgrimage, the holy places and those who go there with intent. There’s an energy that builds over time and remains resident in the very earth of a place. I think about the millions of feet that have traveled over the very places I will place my own. And I know I will feel, at the visceral level, the hopes, dreams, pain and joy—all those aspects of the human condition—that remain resident there as I slide my footsteps into theirs and uncover my own similarities and discover the gifts of the Camino.
This is what I’m holding right now, as I’m resting in the shelter of the threshold, considering what’s ahead.
My old friend Oscar Panizo and I are undertaking the Camino together. He’s the perfect companion on this journey. Oscar acted as translator, support and fellow space-holder for years in my spiritual travel programs in Peru. We’ve already experienced many flavors of pilgrimage together: the full range of ecstatic to difficult. We know we can depend on each other and have similar temperaments. We’ll officially begin the Camino on May 7 in St. Jean Pied de Port on the French side of the Pyrenees. But I think we’ve already begun.
To be continued…