John O’Donohue, in Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong, said that, “Ideally, a human life should be a constant pilgrimage of discovery. The most exciting discoveries happen at the frontiers. When you come to know something new, you come closer to yourself and to the world. Discovery enlarges and refines your sensibility. When you discover something, you transfigure some of the forsakenness of the world.” When Sandy and I walked the pilgrimage of El Camino de Santiago in Spain in 2013, we were touched by how frequently we would meet up with people we had seen days or even weeks before. We enjoyed talking with our companions on the way, learning what they had experienced since we last talked and how the journey was affecting them, both physically and spiritually. We had a similar, though deeper experience during our travels last summer.
When we crossed the border into Ontario, we stopped at the provincial welcome center. Travel-themed messages were etched into many of the walkway paving stones leading to the center. One made a lasting impression on me: “The young set travels for the education; the older travels for the experience.” That thought resonated in me as we continued our travels through Ontario, North Dakota, Montana, Alberta, Idaho and Washington.
In Spokane, I had a reunion with fellow “pilgrims” that I had been with in Europe fifty years earlier while we were spending a year of college in Florence, Italy. I wondered how I would be able to connect with college friends I had not seen for half a century. What happened could only be described a mystical experience of our constant pilgrimage. For the whole weekend, I felt deeply connected to everyone. Memories that had lain dormant somewhere in my mind burst forth as though they happened last week. The years and travails that grayed our hair and lined our skin seemed to me to melt away.
Most remarkably, the reunion was unlike any other I have experienced. Absent were the attempts to impress one another and to dwell on all the things we had accomplished. We simply enjoyed each person’s experiences and progress along the way through life. Three months after the reunion, I am moved each time I reflect on our time together; and I am filled with gratitude for being with such wonderful friends.
When we pass on from this life, if it turns out there is a heaven, I’m reasonably certain it will be a lot like that weekend in July. Thank you, friends. Travel well; and I’ll see you at the end our journey.