Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Walking the Way

This may seem a bit random, but with my birthday tomorrow (25 is terrifying) I've been doing some re-evaluating and made some decisions about what I'd like to do with my life by the time I'm 30.  There's the usual suspects like marriage, children, and home ownership, but there's one other thing that's been on my mind in a heavy way for the last few months.

When I was about 12, my dad bought me a book from a used bookstore. He hadn't read it and didn't really know what it was about other than what he read on the back cover but that summary merely told him that his middle school aged daughter would probably like it. At the time I was obsessed with historical fiction (specifically the early English Renaissance/Tudor dynasty but I was also loving ancient Egypt and American Colonial stuff) so he made a good call. 

That was 13 years ago and I still have the book. My copy is worn and tattered and close to falling apart but I still have it. It's the story of a teenaged girl and her betrothed (just returned from the Crusades) whose parents arranged for them to join their estates in order to lend stability to their region (there was also an issue of money). In order to help them bond before their marriage, their priest sends them on Pilgrimage from their home in England, across the English Channel, through France to Paris and then west to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. Their journey takes them a few months and (because it is set in the year 1300) they face many obstacles including hunger, injury, injustice, and threatened kidnapping. It's an exciting story about imagining people complexly - especially people we think we know or who we've known a long time - and over the course of the story the two main characters eventually come to view their impending marriage as a way for them to unite their communities and do good for the people they will be responsible for. It's a great story even if - as a Catholic - there are moments that are a teensy bit problematic. Some comments are made that are critical of the Catholic Church which make it obvious that the author does not think highly of Her. (I just reread it and these comments don't feel obvious to me, but I may be biased because I love the story so much.)

In any case, I've read this novel probably close to a dozen times in the years that I've possessed it. I just reread it again about 2 months ago and this is where things get a bit weird.

I finished reading it and was in this kind of book hangover (the kind you get after reading something wherein you're still living and breathing the stories and characters) and I started thinking, I wonder if people still make pilgrimage to Santiago. Spain has been on my bucket list for years anyway, maybe when I finally go someday I'll stop in Santiago... And there the train of thought ended for a while. 

Until it came back when I was babysitting and saw clearly a scallop shell in their seashell collection. This reminded me of the scallop worn by the pilgrims on the road to Santiago. The thought of someday going to Santiago became an internet search that turned into a dream on my Someday-Maybe list.

1896, Author Unknown, Public Domain Image {{PD - 1923}}

There were other little things: scallops for dinner, the feast of St. James the Less (and talk of St. James the Greater) in my Confirmation class, conversations with my mother about the book and how much I still loved it, and so on.

Then. On the drive up the mountain for my sisters' 2nd year Confirmation retreat, I rode with a young man I knew of but didn't know well. We got to talking about our families and family history and it came out that my family ancestry traces back to Spain and that I dream of going there someday. He said Spain is also on his bucket list because of a movie he'd watched recently. The film, he said, was about a man whose son (somewhat estranged) went to Spain and died on his first day there. So the man had to go to Spain to retrieve his son's body and chose to cremate the body. Then he decided to do the walk through Spain that his son had planned, all the way to -- 

Here I interrupted and asked him ecstatically if the movie is about the man walking the Pilgrim's Way to Santiago. We shared a look of awe at God's timing and bringing us together and we got very excited because yes, this film was all about the Camino, and yes, we both had been daydreaming about someday-maybe going on pilgrimage. We spent the next hour of our drive talking about the film and I told him about my book and this shared dream became a strong bonding point for us. 

After the retreat weekend I went home and found the film on Netflix. It's called The Way and stars Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez and I've watched it 3 times since Christian told me about it and I cry every time. The film tells a complicated story about love, loss, redemption, anger, and how sometimes, grief looks like a really long walk. It is secular but shows reverence for the Pilgrimage and the people along it and the Church and isn't sappy at all. I recommend it. I plan on buying the DVD so I can watch it with my mother. The film was actually inspired - in part - by a book by a man who walked the Way, called Off the Road. I'm currently reading it. While I think the author is a pretentious jackass, the book is pretty good so far.

All of this transpired about 2 months ago and since then I've done lots of research. I've been reading lots and lots of travel sites and doing lots of math and I've been praying about it a great deal.

I think I'm going to Spain in 2 years.

Church of Santiago, Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain. By Vasco Roxo.

I've calculated that it will cost me (at a very rough estimate) about $7,200 to get there, complete my pilgrimage, and get home. Airfare is going to be the most costly part of this adventure and there is also the issue of having at least 1 month's worth of rent and things covered ahead of time because walking the Way (all 500 miles of it) takes about 5 weeks. I'm budgeting 6 because I'll want to spend a couple of days in France getting used to the time difference and then I'll need a few days once home to take care of tidying my house and sleeping and generally recovering.  

All in all, I'm going to have to save about $300-$320 each month if I'm going to head to Spain in May of 2017.  That's my goal: 2 years. Two years to save the money, work out the logistics, dream, plan, and train. Yes, train. My intended path goes from St. Jean-Pied-de-Port in France through northern Spain to Santiago in Galicia. That's just shy of 500 miles. To do that in 35 days (with rest days, of course) I will need to practice walking up to 25 miles each day while carrying a 15 pound backpack. It's a lot more likely that I'll be doing 15-20 miles each day but I'd like to get comfortable walking up to 25 miles a day. I imagine the next two years will be good for my health, as well.

So that's my dream as I turn 25: spend the next 2 years saving and preparing so that within days of my 27th birthday I will be on a plane to Spain (more likely to France then a bus and a train to the Franco-Spanish border but you get the idea). I've made out 24 little envelopes which I intend to fill with cash earned babysitting, house sitting, dog walking, and parts of my paychecks and each will be put into a jar. I've used the image below to decorate the jar as a bit of motivation.  24 months, almost $7,500, and 500 miles. 

I think maybe part of not being afraid of getting older involves taking a very, very long walk.

Some European pilgrims on the road to Santiago de Compostela
by Oula Lehtinen (cropped by me)

Happy birthday to me!

See you in Santiago,

*Author's Note: All the images in this post - with the exception of the purple one - are from Wikimedia Commons and are either in the public domain or used under the GNU Free Documentation License. The original authors have been credited as requested and the Wikimedia source page has been linked to. I have no legal claim to them and make no money from them.*



  1. That is such an awesome goal! I'm excited for you!

    1. Thank you! I'm super excited - 2 years feels like forever but I know it's going to go by in a flash...

  2. I'm so excited for you. I had never heard of Compostela until I saw The Way last year, but now I'm mildly obsessed with it. I dream of walking it someday when my kids have all moved out. In the meantime, I'll live vicariously through you! :) And pray for you too,

    1. Thanks, Micaela! I really enjoyed the movie, and in the last 3 months I've been completely obsessed with all things related to the Camino - my nightstand is stacked with a variety of books on it. I hope you do get to go someday; and thank you for the prayers!

  3. What a great story! It's funny how things all come together sometimes. Have you told Christian of your plans yet?

    1. Thanks! He and I keep missing each other at mass! That coupled with the fact that I've been going to a different parish lately has made it hard to get in touch with him but I really should make more of an effort and let him know. :)


Your lovely comments make my day!