The first time I saw the movie “The Way” I was with my mother at an independent movie house in New Paltz, NY. Originally, my father was supposed to come with us, but I got mad at him about something (I don’t recall what) and when he asked if I preferred he not come, I thought that a good idea. I regret it to this day.
At the end of the movie, my mother asked, “Do you still want to do it?” By “it” she meant walk the Camino de Santiago–the subject of the aforementioned movie. “Absolutely,” I said.
The second time I saw the movie “The Way” was a mere six months later. I had just finished walking what would become the first of many journeys on the famed thousand-year-old pilgrimage route. My walk was over, but I was not yet home. I sat in the living room of a post-Camino retreat space outside Muxia, Spain with a few strangers as the familiar opening scenes of the movie played out on the television screen. Martin Sheen’s assistant tells him he’s missed a call from his wandering-the-planet son, played by Emilio Estevez. There’s no call-back number. The son is somewhere in France, she says, and it’s in that moment that tears spring to my eyes. My poor parents! I thought. Yes, I left them with a day-by-day itinerary of my proposed walk. Yes, I emailed them. First to tell them I was on schedule. Then to tell them I wasn’t, and how far off I was. But in all honesty? I had no idea how far I’d be able to walk each day, if I’d be able to stick to the schedule I gave them. In fact, I think I told them I might not. My plan was really no plan at all: to walk until my body told me it was time to stop for the night.
I tried to email every day, but sometimes I didn’t have access to a computer from which to do so. So sometimes my parents went two or (oh my poor parents) three days without hearing from me.
I was also, at that point, writing posts for BustedHalo.com about my trip. But my mother later told me, “I knew they posted those a couple days after you sent them, so just because one went up online didn’t mean anyone necessarily heard from you that day.”
How did my father get through all this? I’m not sure. I’ve never asked. But my mother? Thank God she’s religious. “I just went to sleep each night and put it in God’s hands,” she told me. Well, if that’s not faith, I don’t know what is.
The third time I watched “The Way,” I was in my parents’ living room with both Mom and Dad. Every few minutes Dad would say, “Is this what it’s really like?” And I’d pause the movie to answer Dad’s questions or tell them a story from the place that had just flashed across the screen.
“I want to do this someday,” my father said. “Do you want to do it, Jean?” he asked my mother. I’m sure she said something, but all I remember is her look which stated clearly, “Nope. I’m good.”
This summer I’ll embark on my fifth and sixth journeys along the Camino de Santiago. In June, I’ll go back to Figeac to continue from where I left off on the Via Podiensis route in France two years ago. After a week or so of walking, I’ll head to the Pilgrim Office in the tiny town of St. Jean-Pied-de-Port to volunteer for one week. And on July 9, I’ll head to Pamplona to meet my walking partner for the next week: my dad.
Mom, in my opinion, is getting something I know she’ll enjoy: some time to herself. Dad? I’m not sure if he knows what he’s getting himself into. I’m not sure I know what I’m getting myself into. But maybe it’ll make up for denying him that trip to the movies eight years ago. Maybe not. But at least we’ll have some great stories to tell.