"Who would true valour see,
Let him come hither;
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather.
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first vow intent
To be a Pilgrim."
~ John Bunyan, Pilgrim Song, from The Pilgrim’s Progress
If the Journey is integral to human experience, our voyages combine strenuous stretches along with those occasional days of unlimited visibility. Between navigating soul-trying storms on few reserves, with the view ahead only measurable in feet, I am surely grateful for pauses that permit time to take stock and respite. Such notable calms are opportunities to crystallize the soul. There need not be seat-of-the-pants crises for us to awaken. Indeed, it is preferable to maintain enough conscious balance so that each day’s adventures are embraced with a consistent perception of the present. Change needn’t be crisis. Setting-forth is a forward motion. The personal pilgrimage may be a movement away from the anguish of the past, and in the direction of open roads of promise. It would be unwise to stare into rear-view mirrors; these exist solely for fleeting references to what trails behind our movements.
Enduring many nautical miles of wear-and-tear, battering storms, and uninterrupted conveyance, ships will steer into port. We commute between demands upon our hours and our energies, and discover the way-stations to answer our souls’ yearnings. Since my life is a pilgrimage of trust, each place and situation comprise way-stations on this route. The way itself, though encompassing both the unknown and the well-familiar, is an unfolding mystery. As it turns out, we need measures of both, traveling and coming home, and carrying reminders of what is most important to us. Stories individuals tell, about how they discovered an important treasure of theirs, animates the inanimate. Keepsakes become personal icons, with experiential significance ascribed to them. Years ago, I knew someone who wore several religious medals on a necklace chain; each came from a different place with a story of its acquisition and the pictured saint. Of course, the uniqueness lay in this person’s juxtaposition of imagery, lives, and attributes: past and present, ancient and future. It’s a bit like visiting homes and noticing eclectic assemblages of books and music on their shelves. Material, too, can attest to a life’s pilgrimage. Our movements can be physical as well as spiritual and intellectual.
The places and circumstances in which we trade our stories decorate our paths. Chaucer’s legendary Canterbury pilgrims met one ordinary night at the Tabard Inn, "all sorts of people who had met by chance," ("sondry folk, by adventure y-falle in felawshipe," reads the Old English). Randomly and marvelously thrown together by chance, in a shared sense of journeying, each could freely disclose something of their lives. Traveling has a way of inspiring that. Timelessly, Chaucer used the setting of a tavern, though it might be a café, a common room at work, or an airport. Hostelries and shared spaces, long and short-term, manifest in numerous forms. For each, our wanderings call us in to port, bedecked much like the sojourners from the Middle Ages- with satchels and rucksacks, sandals and hats, chalices and rations of nourishment, books and reminders. We adorn ourselves like wayfarers and adventurers. On our way somewhere, but stopping en route. The landmarks may be transitory, or places in which we are recognized. At one coffeehouse, the staff already knows what I’ll order, and they simply fill a mug for me. At another which I’ve patronized for a dozen years, there is always a welcome; it’s where I used to do my homework. That particular café is written into my journals as The Familiar Perch. It’s good for me to walk there and write, especially when I sense a loss of direction. But the journey is sweeter when shared among travelers, the stories being colorful biographies spoken forth by their respective authors. In so doing, we discover our context, and it matters less if such settings are fleeting and not to be seen again, or in our own neighborhoods.