I discovered JRR Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" in college and was smitten. For many years afterwards, every spring I started with "The Fellowshp of the Ring" and immersed myself in Middle Earth, even as the landscape awoke from winter's hold to green and bloom. I made my annual pilgrimage from the quiet hominess of the Shire through dangerous woods to the mysterious beauty of Rivendell, passing beneath murderous caverns and over the sweeping plains of Rohan on to the fading splendor of Gondor and finally into the Dismal Swamp and the very Gates of Mordor.
I must admit up front, that I am an ending sort of person. It's hard for me to slow down in the details of a book if my adrenaline starts pumping. I need to know how the story is going to end, and I gulp down paragraphs and pages without noticing the taste, eyes skim for key words and just enough detail to know where we're heading. That's why I usually reread books I love. First for the plot, second for the details.
In real life I haven't been so different. Sure, I've heard all those people who talk about life being a journey and enjoying the process, but for me, it's been the destination that has counted. I like the future, the long view, getting to the bend in the road. The funny thing is that there's always a bend beyond that, another view to catch your eye and keep you traveling. But it's been what's kept me on the trail, whether hiking up a mountainside or morning walks on the beach.
Over the past years, though, I notice a change. I'm valuing the friends and the conversations, the experiences and discoveries along the path to my destination. Like Frodo in "The Fellowship of the Ring" I'm recognizing the benefits of comrades who walk the trail with you. The destination is the excuse to get out the door. But most of the adventure - pages and pages actually - happens along the trail. And when you've reached the destination, it's often the stories of how you made it that make up the reminiscences around the campfire.
The bonds that are formed in the process of our life journeys are what make us rich. Shared experiences and challenges give us opportunities to develop our character, show our care and our expertise. Honest traveling companions prod and push us (one thinks of the prodding and pushing Aragorn required as he struggled to accept the kingship of Middle Earth). And Sam becomes everyman's hero, the faithful servant who despite being ill-used, is faithful to the end, and along the way, manages to make stews from whatever is found on the trail with his small pouch of herbs.
A philosopher friend of mine, Robin Collins, has crafted a connection-buildling theodicy. In this, he seeks to answer the question, "why does God allow evil in the world?" by noticing what happens to us as we overcome the struggles that come our way. It is his contention that the connections that are built during this lifetime last into eternity. That acts of love and kindness, self-sacrifice and heroism that we perform not only develop our own character, but weave strong ties of appreciation, gratitude and love.
I've noticed in processing the wedding that the actual day (although of great significance) was only a small part of the wedding journey. Along the path there were many moments of joy - the night of the engagement, friend and family showers, the search for the wedding dress, addressing invitations - just to name a few. These were richer because of the friends who participated. There were also many moments when I needed help - figuring out recipes, finding the right shawl or jewelry for a dress, picking up fresh baked bread the day of, chopping mounds of broccoli and potatos for the salads, shopping for ingredients or packing coolers to transport the mounds of stuff; the list goes on and on.
These celebrations, these acts of kindness, built connections that are now part of my life. I have been the recipient of much love which I'll carry with me forever. The story of "the wedding" is intertwined with a larger community, each member showing up with his or her gift to help us make it to the destination with joy and grace.
But life is a series of these subdestinations. The journey continues - the road goes ever on and on. Tomorrow I leave for the Northwest - Seattle, Portland and Montana. Partly vacation, my husband is my main traveling companion. We'll weave memories and discover things about ourselves while we're checking off destinations. We can approach this time as an adventure, but we can also view it as a pilgrimage.
Elizabeth Nordquist, writing over at A Musing Amma, mentions a book by Phil Cousineau entitled, "The Art of Pilgrimage." Defining a pilgrimage as a "spiritual journey to a transformative center," Cousineau gives hints to help along the pathway. Elizabeth engages much of life as a pilgrimage, and as she prepares for an upcoming journey, she will take along some of these suggestions:
1. Treat everything that comes my way as a part of the sacred time that envelops my pilgrimage.
2. Bless my leaving, my arriving, the spaces in between.
3. Listen deeply to all I encounter–people, earth, trees and grass, water, the
Spirit in each of them.
There are others, but I especially like these. I'll try to pack them in a readily accessible place as I seek to blend journeying and arriving, guided by the anticipation of the future and the reality of the present as I live out my story. More pages to come...