Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

Links to the Camino de Santiago pilgrimages are on the navigation links to the right of the web page.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Camino de Santiago - Going Alone, Together (Preparing #3)

Some have asked me why I'm going alone on this pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago. Perhaps they're not accustomed to traveling alone, particularly in a foreign country.

Well, first some background information. When I did my study abroad back in college, I learned to travel on my own. Sure, I traveled some weekends with my mates to various parts of the UK. Most of the time, however, I took it as an opportunity to explore odd locales by myself. After the end of my study, I backpacked through Europe for a couple months. On all these trips, I usually stayed in youth hostels, with the occasional stop in a bed and breakfast or hotel.

So indeed I met many people, but my particular journey was always personal, always my own. Yes, I could spend the evening or day with another person or group, but we all had our disparate adventures. We learned to cooperate and also be self-reliant.

Most of those journeys were in towns and villages. I'll be walking distances approaching marathon lengths. Daily. Will I be able to do so alone?

Most people travel with others. I've been speaking with the Rev. Canon Joanna Satorius of the Los Angeles Dioceses of the Episcopal Church about her very recent Camino walk. She traveled with a friend in a semi-together, semi-apart fashion. They stayed at the same places but spent most of their walking time apart, only to meet up once again at the hostels or hotels.

As I talk with these friends old and new who have experienced or been exposed to the Camino de Santiago, I understand that people drift in and out of one's journey on a daily basis. There's some continuity, as you pull ahead or catch up with others and find yourself staying at the same albergues. Much of the time, you bid adieu and walk faster or slower than someone, never to meet again.

My professional life has moved in a similar pattern. I've traveled millions of miles by plane, train, boat, balloon, taxi, car, subway, and air trams. People - fun people, loving people, hostile people, quirky people - drift in and out of these experiences, creating countless memories.

And all of us experience transient friendships outside of the work world. In fact, it happens so often that when we are blessed with lifelong friends, it's surprising and notable. We cherish the BFFs in our lives.

But the movement of people in our daily world is the norm. We can't control who comes and goes into our lives. Some move on when we're not ready to go, others won't be keeping pace with us. You come together, possibly travel as one for a distance, then realize that it's time to move on.

I found myself in this situation with my prior partner. We met young, were together for a total of 18 years, and despite our efforts, drifted apart until it made more sense to go on our own. I never saw myself leaving that relationship. You'd think that my experiences traveling as a young man would have given me some insight into how relationships ebb and flow like the tide. But instead, I was devastated.

I resist the notion that we must accept that people move on. The romantic notion of a true love seemed not just an ideal but also a real possibility. I've since moved on and have now married my current husband. I can't imagine being emotionally separated from him and aspire to a lifetime together. It's bucking the trend that I've described, but we're giving it a good try.

So why go alone on this pilgrimage if I'm predisposed to traveling through life with someone? Moreover, why carry expectations that I actually will meet possibly lifelong friends?

Perhaps the Facebook world has opened my eyes to possibilities of transient yet lifelong friends. I've made friends in so many countries, and there continue on via Facebook or in email. It's a miracle of connectivity across borders and political divides. We all grow from connections we make to the world.

Of course, part of my journey is supposed to be about looking inward, seeing some aspects of my spiritual life and direction that I need to find. Traveling alone offers more time to reflect and ponder with an introspective eye. We all grow from connections we make to our true selves.

When you're alone, you can stop and smell the roses. If you know me even slightly, it also means stopping to take a photo. Or several photos. From different angles.

I take these photos not merely to record my memories. The photos are also, I hope, artful captures of an emotion or sentiment that strikes me. A photo doesn't merely speak more than a thousand words; an artful picture evokes words, scents, images, sounds, and textures. Traveling alone allows me to focus on what I'm feeling so that I can properly capture those sentiments in the picture. Afterwards, you can contemplate and pray upon those thoughts and emotions.

On your own, you make important decisions about your direction on your own. You decide how far you can go, how to motivate yourself, when to stop, when to eat, when to start once more.

But a life isolated is also possibly a life limited, and a transformational journey on a secluded island only offers so much insight.We are social creatures, intended to collaborate and to share.

We're in community on our journeys of faith. We may not travel together far, or to great distances, but that fleeting emotional touch, that understanding, that sharing - they all create an expanded vision of the world and of Creation.

So whether you're reading my blog daily or on occasion, I invite you to walk together with me, both alone and together. Let's interpret our journeys through our own unique eyes, and share what we've learned. And then walk on.

Thank you and bless you for joining me on this transformational journey.

I leave Los Angeles on September 10 and land in Spain September 11.

Please walk with me by donating to Episcopal Relief and Development

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Prior blog postings regarding the the Camino
Camino de Santiago - Introduction (Preparing #1)


  1. Mel,

    My wife Karen and I were inspired by the movie "The Way". While Karen (retired) would have jumped at the opportunity to be a peregrino, I did not have the luxury of the time off required of the trek. We discussed the possibility of bicycling as a compromise, but practicality won out and instead we drove the Northern route. While our experience was in no way comparable to that of a pilgrim, I must say that our trip was fabulous, and the memories of the vistas, culture, and topography are a treasure - and I dare say they gave us an appreciation for what you are about to embark on, and I eagerly look forward to following your journey.

    1. Hi Peter,

      Though I've known about the Camino for decades and had it on my bucket list, I too found it difficult after my college Eurohiking trips to spend that much time away from work and family. The arrival of an AARP card sort of motivated me to act upon this pilgrimage not only while I still can, but more importantly while I won't chicken out.

      When "The Way" came out, I was floored. It captured for me the diversity in reasons for taking such a journey. It seemed as though everyone had their own reasons. More moving that even that point, I found it touching that everyone's goals either changed or were revealed to be merely canned reasons meant to mask deeper objectives.

      I'm not sure where I am on this spectrum, but I'm curious to see if my perceptions and aspirations going in will resemble the realities after the Camino.

      I appreciate that you and your wife were both moved. In ways similar to my blog post here, you viewed and followed the road to Santiago de Compostela together and separately, as one and as two. May your journey always be filled with beauty and inspiration together.

      Thank you for following me on my pilgrimage. Feel free to also follow me on Facebook, as I will be posting photos there after the trip.