Sunday, 9 May 2010
My bags are packed and I hope to be in Santiago tomorrow. But the volcano has sent up another cloud and yesterday many airports in the North of Spain were closed. I’ve been sending information gleaned from websites to friends in Santiago who are trying to get home. However we’re all getting used to the possibility of disruption and if my flight is cancelled tomorrow I’ll simply go when the airports open again. I’m much less anxious about it this time. If there is a point I wonder if that’s it. I wonder if every now and again Mother Nature delivers a slap to the human race to remind us we are not in charge no matter how much we think we are. Sometimes no matter how hard we plan it just doesn’t work out the way we think it will.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot this week. In last weekend’s posting I tried to express my view that there are many kinds of pilgrimage and although we walking pilgrims can think of ourselves as a cut above the rest, those who travel to Santiago by plane, coach or car are often pilgrims too. Pilgrimage, it seems to me, is a state of mind rather than a mode of transport. But my observation brought a sharp reaction from a couple of people who wrote to me. Their view is that rather than spiritual thirst the huge increase in numbers of “pilgrims” to Santiago this year is largely due to the selfish, grasping motives of the Spanish tourist authorities who for purely commercial reasons are heavily marketing all things Camino.
However I have no doubt it was forever thus and that in medieval times the growth of pilgrim numbers led to commercial exploitation. Wherever there is demand the market will respond. Maybe next there will be a chain of McPilgrim restaurants along the Way offering a menu of a Big McPilgrim with large fries and a coke all advertised by a living St James. Oh wait a minute isn’t that the lomo and chips that appears universally already?
Peaceable Kingdom. We can embrace new groups like the Peterborough Pilgrims who are unequivocal in their Christian approach to pilgrimage. They may not be for everyone and they may step on a few toes to begin with but we should applaud their motives. They like many others are the signs that amid the money, profits, and self seeking, pilgrims with good hearts still walk.
This week I got a letter from someone I haven’t seen for quite some time. In a quiet moment a few years ago he shared that he had always wanted to journey to Santiago and that one day he set off for France in his car. He parked at St Jean de Pied Port bought a walking stick and set off over the route Napoleon. The rain came on. His feet were sore. Halfway up he decided that this was not for him. Back in his car he set off for Santiago. He reached the destination. There are those who would say he isn’t a pilgrim but here is an extract of what he wrote to me this week. You decide.
On Monday I’ll be 70 – becoming an old guy now – adjusting to the slow unfolding of life. When I was young, I couldn’t understand how anyone would give up the chance of excitement – to potter in a garden; makes me smile to remember. The swallows returned this week – suddenly the fruit trees are in full bloom; the terracotta Bhudda smiles from its new niche and I’ve started planting sweet peas and the like. The rewards of manual work and closeness to nature are much undervalued. I find myself absorbed.
Often, when I’m gardening, a tall gaunt woman passes – a toff – ages with me but more mobile. I’d guess, from her face, that she is familiar with ‘the grave and constant’ of human suffering – but her spirit seem undefeated. She usually has the smell of strong drink about her – sometimes glides past in a beatific state of drunkenness – but we always exchange smiles; seasoned travellers who know that the only path through life is the one we make with our footsteps.
The Tao Te Ching was written 2500 years ago – we don’t really know by whom. 81 short chapters – timeless wisdom on the art of living in harmony with the way things are. There are at least 30 current English versions – the one I mostly use is by Stephen Mitchell. In chapter 67, it says: ‘‘I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion’’. I’ve decided that these are what I want for my 70th birthday – to help me navigate the remainder of my journey."