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.

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