I have been in Montana for the last six weeks, and my journey has made me reflect on the journeys we all take–(how’s that for a writer’s metaphor?) and the Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James. There are more than one route to take to get to the shrine of St. James in the Cathedral Santiago de Compostela. I’ve never been on it. I’ve just been on my own road. I’ve only taken The Way through the movie Martin Sheen made carrying the ashes of the son he had grown estranged from. I’ve vicariously taken The Way more times than I can count through that movie. The challenges he’s met, and how they have been overcome are nothing short of miraculous. In our cold callous, and often cynical world, we forget that miracles do occur and all we need do is keep hoping and keep having faith.
I think about the way I’ve taken, a long way, perhaps, that has taken me to six countries around the world, and all over the United States; I have stopped for six years to teach on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation where I wanted to learn about the Lakota. I wanted to learn something of the peoples who were here before any Europeans ever came here. I think I have learned far more about myself and what privileges I think I have that I have never thought about. Sometimes on my road I’ve made it harder than it had to be, and along the way I have known great happiness, and great sadness. I’ve experienced the death that knocks you off your feet and maybe you get along a little better as time goes by, but it’s always there, the hole. And then you fall in love again and the hole belongs to another part of you, another part of your past. I think about the misunderstandings I’ve had with people, and how sometimes we human beings can be so close, and yet so far apart. We are a map of the world, each of us in our own way, with our own detours, getting lost sometimes inside our own heads, and maybe at times coming to some sort of understanding, like standing on a very high cliff overlooking the most beautiful land you’ve ever seen.
(photo Diane Yoder)
Mostly, we are alone. We have companionship so briefly in this life and in watching Martin Sheen find his own way in the movie “The Way” about pilgrimage, if there is one thing we must wrestle with, it is ourselves. No matter how far you walk or journey, you can’t get away from yourself. You can’t save the world, or even one person. We’re lucky if you can save yourself. If you are anything like me, who likes to be in control, learning that control is an illusion and nothing you can do can change very much (the heroes of change if you recall, most of them died making the change). Maybe my unwillingness to put it all on the line for an ideal makes me a coward. Maybe that is true. Mostly I think of this challenge in myself as a way to look out for other people, making sure what I do doesn’t negatively impact anyone else, making sure I don’t hurt other people in my quest to save anyone.
I’ve learned I don’t have to settle. That I don’t have to stay to save anyone. That maybe I’ve done the best I can, done my bit for other people while putting myself on the shelf for way too long. I am grateful always, for the opportunities that have come my way, for my time teaching, but sooner or later if you lose yourself for too long it gets harder to find your way back. We get stuck in the rut of believing we have to settle down, we have to have ONE job for life, that a settled person is somehow better than the ones who wander. We forget that we have choices, and that even the Bible recognizes this in ourselves–when it says that we should work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. We need to ensure our choices do not hurt others, but at the same time, we need to recognize when we have done all we can, and that maybe staying when you feel bad inside yourself and fenced in can be equally bad for others when that resentment feeds out in various and sundry ways even when you don’t mean it to.
In Montana I’ve been able to devote six weeks to both helping and to being selfish. Not egregiously selfish but selfish enough. I’ve been able to take time to receive for a change. Whether it was sitting in a hot springs and letting all my troubles and pain melt away in the natural hot water, or floating on my back in a glacier lake, I have been nurtured by nature, I have a new set of priorities and a timeline to reach them. I realize that nothing is forever, and there is a whole world out there that I have been closed off from for too long. There are still good people out there who are friendly and who want to know others.
It is good to be reminded that amongst all of the ugliness of what humanity can do to one another that we can also be very good to each other, and that at night, when I sit outside, in a state that seems not to have many mosquitoes, that I can hear the life outside me in the sounds of the night, the crickets, the katydids, watch an eagle wheel around in the heights of the blue, blue sky, and listen to the music of glacier rivers.
Norman Maclean said it best. I am haunted by waters.
I am healed by waters.
I am soothed by waters
They are my mother, my father, my children, my life.
Buen camino, my dear readers. I am okay with being a gypsy, and a gypsy I will ever be as I learn to be a friend to myself, and a friend to the world.