Confession : I am a True Pilgrim.
Photo by Bill Bennett
I’m not entirely sure myself what it means to be a “True Pilgrim” — except that it’s not something that you can ever decide for yourself, but only be recognised as, by other True Pilgrims.
I do know that I can instantly recognise another True Pilgrim when I see one, though, even when he might not know it himself yet.
As I didn’t myself when I was told.
It’s a strange status and position to be in — humble, yet humbling ; responsible, yet free ; truthful, yet tolerant.
The True Pilgrim cannot, frankly, be defined nor understood, though I certainly have my own silly old understanding of the idea …
But it’s certain that the True Pilgrim is only met along the Way as a strange & providential oddity.
Coming usually to share some manner of strangely purposeful and meaningful wine and good times with you and curious transient sympathy ; but sometimes more.
He can be your strange elsewhere friend and our own more abstract love along the Way of Saint James, perhaps the one who never compromises with his own Way, but certainly the one who will NEVER compromise with yours !!
Though probably, in practice, just that weirdo pilgrim guy over there you can’t wrap your head around.
I am, for my sins, just such a pilgrim — one imagines the men of Purgatory, perhaps, or the Exodus, to try and understand this continuing presence of ours along this Path — but you would be wrong to think of these matters in mythical & biblical story terms only !! These are the works and worries of every foot pilgrim over every kilometre of the Way, and we are not called to ignore them.
We are called to embrace and love and transcend them.
I have a project to walk from my home Parish to Arles, then Andorra, Toledo, Fatima, Santiago, Saint Jean Pied de Port, Lourdes, Arles, home.
This is a CRAZY idea from pretty much any rational perspective, I mean 4000-4200 Km and so on …
So it’s not a matter of when — but if — it’s still very hypothetical, though it’s the logical conclusion of several things that have been brewing in me since the 1993 Way that I made with some Parisian friends, and ended up making me into the pilgrim that I am.
Surprisingly — and he has a lovely tendency to surprise me in the best of ways — it’s my godfather’s idea originally, as such.
His understanding of the Camino is astounding for one never having set foot on it, better IMO than most pilgrims themselves.
And though neither he nor I really understood what he was actually suggesting to me at the time, my thinking now is that I’ve finally realised that if I’m ever to do the return pilgrimage as such, then not only does it need to be all the way, but it also needs to be after pilgrimage all the way back here ; and by consequence both in the same all-the-way foot pilgrimage. Anything else would be half-way from my perspective, because from the “purist” point of view, you can’t just chop the Camino up into convenient bite-sized portions for this sort of purpose. (though others who do just that for other purposes do very well indeed)
Scary of course, but at least I know now since the 2014 Camino that the “reverse” Camino is something I can actually handle psychologically — it’s far easier to handle solitude in anticipation of company than transient company in anticipation of solitude, and it’s taken me 25 years to get my head ’round that difficulty, but that’s done.
It would take FAR more organisation than I’ve ever had to create so far in the previous pilgrimages. Also, not even thinkable until well after I’m installed back at my old/new place with that GREAT view etc. over Monte-Carlo. Plus some training etc.
The most beautiful thing about this is that I’m now more seriously thinking of our Parish altar as the End of the Camino than I ever have before — the perspective of walking home from such a Pilgrimage back to the altar of our own Parish church is strikingly powerful.
But crikey — Six. Months. (or more) ; and only Fatima to Santiago in the midst of it with typical pilgrims that I might hope to see more than just once only then gone forever !!
Well, maybe a few compañeros for a few days near Arles hmmmmm ….
Lots to think about …