C -80. Why, oh why?

All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware ― Martin Buber (Austrian philosopher, 1878-1965)
A warning – some of the comments in this post are going to be quite personal, and some may even cause some degree of offence (which is not my intention, but exists as a possibility).  Here’s a bit of a paradox.  I’m primarily writing this for me, hence the personal content, and I’m well aware that in posting this online I’m presenting it to a worldwide audience, at least theoretically.  Doing so gives me the potential for feedback and personal growth.  And I have somewhere in the back of my mind that I may turn these scribblings into a book of sorts, so I wish to record my ponderings as they occur.  Let’s begin …
 
My pre-Camino preparatory reading has fallen, very roughly, into two areas.  The first I will call the logistics – all the stuff (there’s that word again) to do with what to take and what not to take, where to stay, how to get to and from, what to eat, how to speak the language, what to do if the pack is too heavy … the list goes on and on.  The second area is easier to ask and I think harder to answer – it’s the simple question of “why?”.
 
Underneath the simple whyare some layers, questions such as where did the idea come from in the first place; what do you hope to achieve, or find; is there a gap somewhere seeking to be filled?  In some way these questions are linked back to the thinking which sits behind my last post, and in other ways they precede that post.
 
And because these questions are gently flapping around inside my head – like prayer flags on a mountain top on a calm day – I thought I’d allow a stream of consciousness to flow which might go some way to answering them.
 
Some 40+ years ago I first saw the movie Man of La Mancha, based on Miguel de Cervantes’ 400 year old book Don Quixote.  Peter O’Toole, as Don Quixote, was captivating, magical, brilliantly mad.  Sophia Loren, as Dulcinea, was beautiful, fragile.  The central themes of the movie revolve around matters of chivalry, decency, compassion, good versus bad, optimism, improving the world.  I was struck.  It spoke loudly to my then idealism, an idealism which has never much lessened in me.  Not long after that I was in New York.  Most young blokes in New York in the 1970s headed off to the wild side – not me, I went to Broadway to see, wait for it, the stage version of the Man of La Mancha.  Somewhere in that time the seeds were planted to go to Spain, to follow that impossible, quixoticdream.
 
Fast forward a couple of decades.  At some point in the 1990s I recall reading Paul Coelho’s The Pilgrimage, although its content has long faded into the cob-webbed recesses of my mind.  It must have had an influence, although in truth I cannot consciously recall the detail.

And then at the earlier part of this century I found that I was starting to get some more time (and resources) to travel.  Visiting Spain seemed to bubble to the general surface some time in the last decade.  A little later the more specific notion of walking El Camino emerged.  Then along came Martin Sheen’s and Emilio Estevez’s fabulous movie The Way.  I loved this movie, and then even more so their joint autobiography Along The Way, released a short time after the movie, and thoughtfully given to me by a friend.
 
I will digress briefly here.  Along The Way tells the story of these two men both in their own and in each other’s words, as well as the story of the making of the movie.  More importantly (to me) it tells the story of their relationship with each other, and it served as a very powerful reminder of the relationship which I am saddened that I never had in such a way with my own father.  I am clear in my mind that I am not planning to walk the Camino as way of somehow working through issues to do with my relationship with my father; conversely though the Sheen/Estevez stories brought the Camino alive in a special way and certainly has greatly heightened the excitement and anticipation I have for my forthcoming walk.
 
And until now I have struggled with another aspect.  To me, the word pilgrim has always had strong religious underpinnings, and I am clear that I do not want this to be, or indeed seen to be, a religious undertaking on my part.  As with so many people of my age I was raised with some elements of a Christian upbringing.  And then during my first marriage I flirted with Catholicism for a series of very complex reasons almost nothing to do with the church.  And indeed that was a (not the) contributing factor for the breakdown of that marriage, and as a result I have little to do (and wish to have little to do) with Catholicism these days.  There were some painful learnings along the way as I sought to really understand what this period of my life meant, and how I had got to where I then was.  I have evolved to the point where today I can comfortably declare my atheism, and the freedom to live life which that brings.
 
Does that then make me a hypocrite to undertake an endeavour which has not just religious but strong Catholic roots?  If I am looking for an adventure should I not simply return to the Himalayas, and to the Mahāyānan Buddhism of that region, which demands no mono-theistic belief system?  Well, thankfully, no.  A little bit of research has helped me out.  The word pilgrim comes from the Latin peregrinus meaning foreign, and indeed in Español the word for pilgrim is peregrino/a.  And the Oxford Dictionary has come to my aid, defining (inter alia) a pilgrim as a person travelling to a place of particular personal interest and that a pilgrimage as being a journey to a place of particular interest or significance(these being also in addition to the definitions with a religious orientation).
 
So, foreigner and traveller I will be, as I have often been in recent years.  And that also sits very comfortably with my heritage.  My great grandfather, James Campbell, was an extraordinary traveller – I have on my desk relics from his own travels to the Himalayas, places where quite coincidentally I would travel nearby to some 125 years later (and that was just a small portion of his amazing exploits – his were more extensive journeys than many people attempt even today).  His father, Matthew, travelled from his native Scotland over 160 years ago to start a life in the gold-rush town of Ballarat in the then Colony of Victoria, and both he and young James were present at the Eureka Stockade, a place absolutely central to Australian culture even today.  Norman, my grandfather, travelled to South Africa and India, and indeed my father Tony to England, and again I have mementos of each of those trips, albeit that each of those were in times of war and therefore of a fundamentally different nature.  And as I write this my daughter is almost four months into a post-university world tour.  Even though the reasons differ, over many generations we are each one of us foreigners and travellers.
 
And yet none of which fully answers the “why?” question.  Having overcome the religious hurdle I had placed in my own path, the answers to the “why?” have become clearer.  Sitting here, today, I will say that the answers are some melange of: first and foremost, to enjoy myself, to have fun, to go on an adventure, and then; to test myself both physically and mentally because by my standards an 800 kilometre walk is quite an undertaking; to delve into the Spanish culture (linguistically, architecturally, gastronomically); to spend a very different type of special time with Janet, about whom I have written in my previous journals; to put myself outside the routine of my normal day-to-day life (such as it is) and see what happens; to write it all down as both a reflection of my journey and a record for my future enjoyment and that of others.
 
And as Buber hinted at there’ll no doubt be other reasons hidden outside of my awareness.
 
Am I over-thinking all of this?  Probably, but no harm done – it’s been a useful exercise and reflection, and in any case in many of my readings others have said that the planning, both physical and mental, are very much part of one’s Camino.
 
So I am now happy to be called a pilgrim, and, having completed these words, I have moved to a place whereby I will now be comfortable going to the Pilgrims’ Mass at the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, at the completion of My Camino, for the sheer spectacle of the swinging of the botafumeiroif nothing else.
Buen Camino.

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