Saturday, January 26, 2008

the journey of a thousand miles

Harking back to yesterday's blog, there is another Chinese proverb that is often quoted in reference to the Camino, the one that goes: "The journey of a thousand miles (or whatever the Chinese sages measured distances in) starts with a single step."

I well remember the single step that started my first journey to Santiago. It was in the wrong direction. I had just received my credencial, my pilgrim passport, from the office in St-Jean-Pied-de-Port. It was after noon and I was dying to start out. I stepped into the SJPP's steep main street, the track of the Camino through town, looked both ways, then began to walk - up.

Well, naturally. I had to cross the Pyrenees. The obvious way was up. So I strode through the historic gates of Saint-Jacques and out into the country, breathing deeply, feeling pilgrim energy surging through me. I had walked for a bit when I saw something - a sign? a yellow arrow? approaching pilgrims? - that indicated pretty clearly that I was going the wrong way.

I didn't turn around immediately. I didn't want to be recognized as the wrong-way pilgrim. Instead I stopped and gazed out over the valley, as if that was why I had come out here in the first place. It was one of those times I really wished I smoked. When my vanity was placated, I turned around and strode right back through the gates of Saint-Jacques, past the pilgrim office and down to the bottom of the town, noting as I went that sometimes you have to go down before you go up.

Once I'd got myself pointed in the right direction, I was pretty much okay the rest of the way to Santiago.

message to eileen (and a happy Burns Day to all)

I just received an e-mail with an interesting question and a lovely quotation. Sent an e-mail in return. Got it back with notification of a "permanent failure" in the delivery. How terrible to have no hope; to be doomed to permanent failure. And what's worse, the person who sent me the e-mail would be left thinking me too lazy or callous to answer her question.

And that's when I remembered MY BLOG! Hopefully, Eileen will pass through here sometime and see my response to her question. (Let me know if you do, eh?)

So here's the message:

I have been planning to go [on the Camino] for the past 8 years...and still holding back. Some say, \"When the student is ready, the teacher will come.\" Wonder if it ever was the case for you the first time you set your heart out to walk El Camino.

To which I can reply (having counted it on my fingers) that it was a full nine years from the time I first read of the Camino (knowing at once that I would do it someday) and the day I finally took my first pilgrim steps (in the wrong direction, as it turned out.)

The proverb is apt to the Camino. Our feet find it when they're ready. Though in my case, I'd modify it: "When the student gets tired of waiting, he'll go find himself a teacher." There's plenty of them on the Camino.