Ripple #2 Start at the End
I have written the last poem of the book envisioned for Via Francigena and sketched the accompanying illustration. Like when I decided to do VF, I first booked a room in Rome to anchor my destination. So I can walk towards it step by step.
This time it’s with my hands though.
Ripple #1 Can one ever finish a pilgrimage?
11 years ago, after I finished walking the Camino to Santiago Compostella of Spain, I returned home like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, with my life turned upside down and inside out by a tornado.
After a decade, I can still feel the ripples of that walk. My search has never ceased.
Here I “finished” another walk, on Via Francigena. Have I really “finished” it? Perhaps it’s not a tornado I have gone through like the Camino, yet I have passed through 4 seasons, with sunshine and snow, with rain and thunders and then with more sunshine. The impacts of VF might not be dramatic. Yet, I have been washed through by all kinds of experiences and feelings, encounters and inspirations.
Traditionally, a pilgrim is someone who takes a long journey for a religious purpose, but the original root of the word comes from the Latin word peregrinus. Taken from Wikipedia–peregrinus refers to “foreigner, one from abroad” is a derivation from the adverb peregre “from abroad”, composed of per- “abroad” and agri, the locative of ager “field, country”.
If you ever feel living somewhat like a “foreigner”, even in the very place you’re born, you’re nonetheless, in a broader sense, a pilgrim.
If a pilgrim can ever “arrive”, it’s when a person feels totally at home. Totally at home — at home with one’s past, present and future, at home with one’s surroundings and well-being, and most importantly, at home with oneself.
After eighty-nine days in Europe, I flew home. I gave myself one day of leeway, just in case I got stranded with a delayed flight, so I would not exhaust my maximum allowance of ninety day of stay in a continent which I was regarded a foreigner. When the flight flew over the place I was born, grew up and spent most of my life living in, a place that I could call “my own”, where I could stay as long as I want, I felt utterly out of place.
As the Qatar jumbo jet was taxiing slowly to the terminal, I peeked through the small airplane window to the lights of the city. My very first feeling was like waking up from a 3-month-long Mid-Summer Night’s Dream.
But what was the dream? What is the dream? What isn’t? What wasn’t? What is more real? Where is home? Those questions passed me faster than the passengers beside me. Everyone was in a hurry, hurrying home. I let them pass. I let them pass. At best, they would get to the baggage claim 1-2 minutes faster than I do. At best, they would catch a bus that I would miss and I had to wait for an extra half an hour. At best, they would get home, say, 37 minutes earlier.
I was in no hurry.
I walked out of the departure hall, and had an urge to walk to my parents’ home. Then sanity put me back to reality. There’s no more VF signs here, silly Dora.
As the airport bus snaked through the familiar city, I recalled exactly how I felt after living one year in Europe when I was 17. I came home and everything felt strangely foreign.
Back to the question — can one ever finish a pilgrimage?
I think not, unless you are the very lucky few, so enlightened to feel completely home in oneself.
Even the Dalai Lama lives in Dharamsala, rather than Lhasa. But I bet if he ever did make it back to Lhasa, he would be abhorred by how foreign his “home” had became.
Yet, the only way is to continue life faithfully is to keep walking it and hopefully with a big big smile. The only way to honor an enriching and blessed 3-month walk on VF is to bring myself safely home. Every mountaineer knows reaching the summit of Everest is only half way through and the journey back to the base camp is less glorious, but still very necessary.
I repeat the very word I learned on Via Francigena “Piano, piano” like a mantra. Slowly. Slowly. Dora, piano, piano. Take your time.
Wherever you’re, keep moving, piano, piano, piano.