Thursday, January 29, 2015

...and the road still stretching on

It all started with a “friend request” on Facebook, followed by an invitation to join a group by my new friend. The group: Class of 1980, Highland Park High School. Suddenly unnerved, I did the math to discover that—holy cats!!!—this year is my 35th anniversary of graduating from high school! How could that even be possible? Thirty-five years? That’s enough to make me a grown up!
I joined the group, then scanned the names and pictures of the other 98 folks who have already joined; most names I recalled, and for several, I was able to fill in more details, such as classes we shared and if we had been friends then. There were a few who I knew some current details about, having found each other on facebook previously, but for most, only the names were recognizable, and I wondered: How did their lives turn out, so far? Are they happy? Are they fulfilled? Do their hearts ache with regret?
HPHS Graduation, May, 1980
What shiny future did their hearts behold as they marched across that stage in their red cap and gowns that day in late May, 1980. I remember sitting on the folding chairs on the grass of the football field, as our speaker, a local successful business person (and HPHS alum) extolled the virtues of hard work and keen focus as the way to success. All of us could be successful, he said, adding, “I’m saying this to each of you: to those of you who are just barely squeaking by and to those of you who are graduating with honors.” My mind flashed back to the tumultuous senior year I had had, living in Manhattan, KS, a town 50 miles away, having only a single class at first hour (US Government) followed by a full time job, then a part time job. I thought of the many mornings I overslept and called in for myself until finally, two weeks before graduation, my school counselor put me on probation. “If you miss another day, he told me, you will not graduate, and you will have to go to summer school.”
Remarkably, I made it through the rest of the two weeks with no further absences and now was seated there on the sunny day, with the green cord on my shoulders signifying my high GPA. I turned to the girl next to me and whispered, “I did both! I barely made it with honors!” But beyond that gleeful realization,  I didn’t have a clue as to what would happen next; looking at those pictures on fb, I wondered if any of us did.
I thought about my new group last night as I listened to poet David Whyte speak at Colorado College. David is a premier poet and uses  poetry (his own and others) to talk about our lives and our world. Last night was the 5th time I had seen him and his topic was on Pilgrimages in our lives. He spoke of pilgrimage as an on-going journey, as in his poem Santiago (- David Whyte
from Pilgrim©2012 Many Rivers Press )


The road seen, then not seen, the hillside
hiding then revealing the way you should take,
the road dropping away from you as if leaving you
to walk on thin air, then catching you, holding you up,
when you thought you would fall,
and the way forward always in the end
the way that you followed, the way that carried you
into your future, that brought you to this place,
no matter that it sometimes took your promise from you,
no matter that it had to break your heart along the way:
the sense of having walked from far inside yourself
out into the revelation, to have risked yourself
for something that seemed to stand both inside you
and far beyond you, that called you back
to the only road in the end you could follow, walking
as you did, in your rags of love and speaking in the voice
that by night became a prayer for safe arrival,
so that one day you realized that what you wanted
had already happened long ago and in the dwelling place
you had lived in before you began,
and that every step along the way, you had carried
the heart and the mind and the promise
that first set you off and drew you on and that you were
more marvelous in your simple wish to find a way
than the gilded roofs of any destination you could reach:
as if, all along, you had thought the end point might be a city
with golden towers, and cheering crowds,
and turning the corner at what you thought was athe end
of the road, you found just a simple reflection,
and a clear revelation beneath the face looking back
and beneath it another invitation, all in one glimpse:
like a person and a place you had sought forever,
like a broad field of freedom that beckoned you beyond;
like another life, and the road still stretching on.

It seems pilgrimage is a theme I’m meant to explore in my own life now, with the talk by David Whyte, the fb page that beckons me to consider the path taken, the path not taken, the way the path has shaped me, the way I have shaped the path. David spoke a lot about the Camino de Santiago —an ancient Catholic pilgrimage, though now modern day ecumenical one, that goes for roughly 500 miles over a variety of routes from France, Portugal, and other parts of Spain. It is a 5-7 week journey during which you walk by day and rest in inns or hostels at night; not quite as wild as Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, but similar.
As luck would have it, I’m currently reading a book called, Pilgrimage, from Humbled to Healed by Sonia Choquette, that details her own experience of walking the Camino de Santiago, as a means of dealing with unexpected, multiple losses in her life and the resulting emotional chaos.
What would it mean to take on such an intentional pilgrimage? To take on an arduous journey through the French Pyrenees mountains? Or, like Cheryl Strayed, to travel alone on a trail that was 1000 miles long? What could you learn of yourself and the world around you? What would you see inside yourself, the shadows in bas relief to the vista of mountain, and trail, and town, and sea?
And what if we didn’t need to spend thousands of dollars in order to go on a pilgrimage? What if we needed only to step outside our door with a new intentionality, with the commitment to pay attention to our own path, to see what we need to see, to learn what we need to learn?
David Whyte said the first step in any pilgrimage is to be willing to give up the conversation you’ve been having with yourself. To start a new conversation with the horizon that takes off the blinders of status quo, that steps out of the deeply imbedded ruts of familiarity and complacency. He said that a pilgrimage begins when we stand where we are, and raise our eyes to a horizon not quite seen—the path itself keeps us from seeing where it might, ultimately, lead.
Camino de Santiago, Day 2: Descending from the Pyrenees

I wonder how my life would have been different if, at my high school graduation, just a couple weeks shy of my 18th birthday, I would have understood that I could choose to change the conversation I had been having with myself and with my world for as long as I could remember? What would have changed if, during key moments in my life—the death of my father and nephew, the advent of AIDS and all it took from me, the birth of my son, the expanding of my understanding through higher education, the death of my brother, the highs, the lows, the times of great joy, the times of great devastation, the times of deep uncertainty—I had taken just a moment to lift my eyes from that mile marker and dared to look out again, at an ever-changing horizon, to see if it was time to deepen the conversation or to change it? Who knows where I would be?
That I am here, in this place, in this time, is a great fortune to me and I can only surmise, looking back, that I sometimes did intuitively change the conversation, change the path, let the path change me. And I know, as I now eagerly look forward to my 35th high school reunion, that there is no there, at the end of any great pilgrimage—whether undertaken on a well worn path travelled by millions before you, or simply trod on the singular trail that holds your life—there is only the next step, the new way of moving forward.
David Whyte mentioned that there is a place that takes an additional three days hike from the “destination” of the Camino de Santiago. It’s called Finnisterre and it is at the edge of the sea. Those who choose to journey on to this place, complete three rituals once they arrive: the eating of a scallop (the emblem of the pilgrimage), the burning of something you brought along (usually letters, cards) and the leaving behind of something that had been on the journey with you.
I think these, too, are great additions to our individual pilgrimages: the eating of a food that symbolized the way, the burning of letters and words that no longer have a place in your life, and the letting go of something that held you in good stead but is no longer needed; or is reminiscent of the old conversation, when now you need to start a new one. Powerful reminders that what we once thought we couldn’t live without, can be let go, and we will find a new way to go forward into the next chapter, the new invitation, the field of freedom that will always beckon us on.
The road in the end taking the path the sun had taken,
into the western sea, and the moon rising behind you
as you stood where ground turned to ocean: no way
to your future now but the way your shadow could take,
walking before you across water, going where shadows go,
no way to make sense of a world that wouldn't let you pass
except to call an end to the way you had come,
to take out each frayed letter you brought
and light their illumined corners, and to read
them as they drifted through the western light;
to empty your bags; to sort this and to leave that;
to promise what you needed to promise all along,
and to abandon the shoes that had brought you here
right at the water's edge, not because you had given up
but because now, you would find a different way to tread,
and because, through it all, part of you could still walk on,

no matter how, over the waves.
- David Whyte

©2012 Many Rivers Press 

A boot left at Finisterre 


Audrey Jensen-- said...

Thanks. I seem to have stepped of the path for a while. My friends and family behind me in TX. Trying to get back on the path sometimes is an arduous journey of a couple steps, a phone call, or even an email. I have stalled in taking that next step because it is so hard to put myself out there. I know that I have come a long way on my journey to self, but this move seems to be a move backwards in that journey. Thanks for the reminder that the journey can be hard. Knowing myself as I do, it will be awhile before I feel at home in this city, not just my home. Introverts Unite! I think that will be the only way to find need to step outside myself and fill my life with people who I can call friends.

Rev. Dr. Nori J. Rost said...

I have t-shirt that says, "Introverts Unite!! Individually!"
Glad All Souls is part of your journey!!