The most frequent response to my telling someone that I am going to walk a 500-mile pilgrimage (other than the raised eyebrows) is, “Why would you want to do that?” Follow-on questions are about food, weight to carry, places to stay, dangers along the way and so on.
I would be relieved to find a pat answer for my commitment to this journey, but I don’t have one. Reflecting on my last blog, I believe it has to do with the statement that “old men ought to be explorers.” Being an explorer is not the same as being an adventurer. Explorers record what they see and experience; then they bring back to the community a story of their travels and, usually, a map.
Adventurers, on the other hand, go to exciting or unusual places; but they don’t bring back much beyond 500 pictures they want to show everyone who wasn’t there to see what they saw. I have had many adventures: growing up in the high mountain desert country of eastern Nevada, going off to college a good distance from home, spending a school year in Florence, Italy, a combat tour in Vietnam and living in many states and communities. All of those things happened to me–or at least I walked through them.
But the pilgrimage along the El Camino de Santiago de Compostela is my response to a calling voiced by one of my favorite teachers/authors, the famed mythologist Joseph Campbell. Campbell wrote that we all have a mythic calling to go on a journey and “report back” to the community. And the community seems to long for the stories. Homer’s Odyssey, the Chronicles of Narnia, the Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, the Hunger Games, and even Star Wars draw so much attention and so many followers partly because they tell the great stories of mythic journeying.
I’m not planning to climb Mount Mordor with some hobbits to drop a ring in the molten lava. I am seeking a truth about the story of life to pass on to my children and grandchildren. Besides, as our good friend, JoAnn said the other day, “Someday your grandkids are going to be saying, ‘Let me tell you what my grandparernts did’.”
We are not bringing back a t-shirt!