I can’t mix the idea of the typical American with the idea of a pilgrimage. I imagine disdain or at least discomfort with meaningful travel. Modern travel is a status symbol. The suburbanite has already arrived; there is no need to travel anywhere for greater purpose. Travel means something to post on Facebook, making sure that your coworkers and “friends” know you can head for the tropics or the ski resort and therefore have something for the holiday brag letter. Even for the world wandering millennials, travel is like a better car, an indication of an upgraded life, a signal that you can afford the latest rendition of the I-phone, which will be disparaged as out of date six months from now. Travel destinations rack up like prizes, like pairs of shoes, at least for the top 5%.
Pilgrimage, in contrast, is something different. A solemn procession of the pious, feet bleeding from hot sand, finally scratching up the steps of the church or the mosque. So there an element of suffering. THE Pilgrims, huddled together in a dank wooden ship, pale with scurvy and most barely able to keep their rations down, some who will end up on a different journey as their racked bodies are discarded in the ocean, their briny souls seeking redemption in water instead of in the New World. So death is possible in pilgrimage. Pilgrimage is leaving behind, not just approaching. It is poverty seeking prosperity, not prosperity reaffirming itself. It’s a no return policy, even if you come back to the starting point, you are not the self that left. It’s the heroine’s journey.
Really, why not just hit the beaches?
I think it’s because of love. I’ve been thinking a lot about love, how what I thought was love, was not, how I don’t like the idea of “pillow talk” because the murmurs of constancy and of passion are lies of the moment, or truth only of the moment, how love is inspiration for work, for pilgrimage! and how mopping the floor or driving to work because you want the kid to have flute lessons are really better examples of love than declarations of passion. If mopping the floor is transcendent care for those who walk on it, then a special journey to the Fitzgerald’s porch, where he faced a decision no one wants to make, that is the pilgrim’s love for Fitzgerald, for the idea of him, for his work and for what the pilgrim aspires to. Pilgrimage is an interruption of love-as-duty for love-as-transcendence. The journey to Fitzgerald’s desk takes time, money, reverence and belief.
It may take more of your resources than you think.
It’s risky. You could dare to be more. You might not be able to bear the responsibility and the misunderstanding, like Kurt Cobain and Hemingway, or your foibles may interfere with your aspiration (like Kurt Cobain and Hemingway). You might less than you think, or more, and have to live with the knowledge.
Once I taught an hour long lesson to my daughter’s third grade class. The topic was Louis Comfort Tiffany and his glasswork. Six months later, we had a pilgrimage to Samuel Clemen’s Hartford ,Connecticut home and stood in the pale light of one of Tiffany’s lamps. It was November, cold and slushy. Certainly not a day at the beach.
She said, “now I see, momma”.
Tell me again, then. How many pilgrimages are too many?