Guidance, Destiny or Serendipity

It is strange to notice how one sees things differently once one’s mind is set on a particular thing. This has happened to me ever since I started planning on doing a pilgrimage during my sabbatical. I was hesitant to and wondered whether I could really do it. Friends I talked with had different reactions. Some thought I’d finally flipped or reborn but some were supportive and thought it to be a great idea. A pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella has long been a dream – in il mio sogno di casetto (in my box of dreams). What would be a better time to do it than a sabbatical? I am looking into bringing changes into my life and hope that the journey will help me follow them through.

I remember reading about pilgrim journeys to Santiago de Compostella a long time ago. It might have been in my previous job after having participated in a weekend retreat. This was long before pilgrimage had become as popular as it is today. Now I wonder is it only me or has it really become popular? I’ve seen at least four TV programmes on the topic in the Finnish TV in the past year.

Be it guidance, faith or serendipity but I’ve run to pilgrims, stories about pilgrimage and sisterhoods and monasteries ever since I made my decision to take the journey. Some write about signs they get that take them to the journey. Over a year ago I was on a business trip in Valencia and wanted to find a guidebook in a bookstore. The first table I started looking at was filled with camino guides and maps. In May last year I participated in a seminar in Stockholm and after the course I stepped in to the Garage Gallery opposite the venue of the seminar. I sat down for coffee at the gallery cafe there it was Mariano Amarilla’s book El Camino the Story the Facts the Views the Map on the table (Mariano Amarilla 2011, Elemental Editions). Mariano shares his experiences and wishes to help and inspire those planning a pilgrimage. I just had to get it. I started reading the book on the flight back home … crying and reading “You have already started your journey. It starts in your thoughts and your thoughts walk it already now …” [free translation]. He quotes Björk “There is no more to life than this”, quite so. You’ve got to make it happen and you’ve got to take the first step. I’ve not yet had courage to write him even though the café keeper told me to do so “he’s the kindest person, would surely love to give more help…” Perhaps I’ll thank him after the journey.

I’ve read and tried to read other books. Paolo Coelho’s The Pilgrimage is a book I read for almost a year and still I did not finish it. At times it was so interesting and thrilling. I would cry reading it too. Some of the descriptions seemed so realistic and I just could not believe I’d be doing the same thing. The next book was Shirley MacLaine’s The Camino and it also started in a promising way. I could not finish it because of the many side plots and supernatural events. The journey might well have changed her life and many others’ but it was too much to me despite the warm recommendations. There is a multitude of books and travel diaries in Finnish and they give many practical tips.

As an Italy fan I try to follow any documentaries or series about Italy on TV. As it happened they had a programme “The Road to Rome” on the Finnish TV. It is about the pilgrimage route from Aosta to Rome which is one of the three routes in Europe (besides the routes to Jerusalem and Santiago de Compostella). Why had I never thought of doing my pilgrimage in Italy? Now I at least know about it.

Let me move from books to other signs. We’ve stayed overnight in monasteries and former monasteries. Our accommodation in Campania, Italy this April was a B & B run by nuns, the sisterhood of San Vincenzo Pallotti. After the holiday it the ‘south’ it was time for studies and I’d chosen family accommodation for my language course. The block of flats was a former monastery refurbished into flats of different sizes. The place where we often stay in Tuscany has also been a monastery centuries ago. I got the last sign, if they are signs, quite recently at my health club when taking a foot treatment. The lady sitting next to me had taken a pilgrimage on the Northern route this April and had many things to share on that and her previous journeys.

My pilgrimage plans have changed many times because of work, health and other issues and from walking the whole French route alone to walking a shorter distance with my sister. I’ve shed tears too. It must be meant that I’ll be on my way in September not in the spring and in rain as the weather forecast tell us. Now I’m finally set to start… in a couple of days. I’ve been ill all week. It is the once-a-year flu with and I think it is the anticipation too. Exactly the same when I was to run my first half marathon – I fell ill.

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