Some weeks ago I was riding Sophie (my power wheelchair) beneath a crisp blue Alberta sky when I encountered Gloria, an older woman from my neighbourhood.
Now, Gloria is a woman whose name suits her perfectly: aged in her mid to late eighties, she has a spirit, spunk, and exuberance for life that is nothing short of glorious. In fact, the first time I saw Gloria (which was from a distance), I mistook her for my teenage daughter Samantha!
At the time, Gloria was walking down the street wearing bright neon blue running shoes and a ball cap jauntily perched on her head just like Sam often does (although Gloria’s cap was bedecked, no less, with avant-guard images of little skulls). However, it was her vibrant energy and the lithe and free way in which she moved her limbs that really had me momentarily thinking she was about seven decades younger than her actual age.
When I saw Gloria again on the day of my afternoon Sophie ride, this octogenarian casually mentioned she had just returned from a six-day walking pilgrimage along a sacred path in Spain.
Immediately, I was intrigued. Walking used to be one of my all time favourite pastimes, and the idea of a pilgrimage where one spends day after day walking in peace and contemplation fascinated me. (For more about the pilgrimage Gloria took at Catalan, click here.).
“If God ever again blesses me again with the gift of walking, I’m going to go on a walking pilgrimage,” I declared to Gloria, using my writing board.
Immediately, I knew it was true. In that moment, I set a goal that if at all possible, one day I too would go on a walking pilgrimage. Maybe not to Spain- but somewhere. My very own pilgrimage of thanksgiving and hope.
As Gloria and I bid our goodbyes and I continued my ride through the neighbourhood with the sunshine on my face, I felt a tidal wave of emotions surge through my spirit: wistfulness and sadness juxtaposed against hopefulness and determination.
Sadness and wistfulness for what I have lost and how much I miss walking and other basic abilities that I used to take for granted.
Determination, because although the full extent of my recovery is yet unknown, my prognosis is to continue regaining some walking abilities. My leg has been getting so much stronger in physical therapy lately, that I’ve set a personal goal of being able to take one step unaided (ie not holding on to my walker) by May 2018.
And full of hope, because if my journey has taught me anything, it is that my sense of hope (and joy and peace) cannot be based on temporal things that can change- such as if I can or cannot walk. My hope must be built on that which is much deeper and does not change.
Nonetheless, I’d really really really like to be able to walk again. But….to be completely realistic, after two years of working so hard just to get to the point where I can walk around my home using a walker (and still using a wheelchair when I go out of the house)… I do know that recovering enough so that I could one day go on a walk around my block would be a major accomplishment. Something like a walking pilgrimage in Spain…. that would be a miracle far beyond what is realistically expected for me (like a million times far).
Then again., this is a world where we encounter miracles every day…. in the beauty of every flower that graces our earth, in the birth of every little baby, in the joy we feel when connecting with those God brings across our paths.One of my favourite sayings is that “we have yet to see what God has yet to do.” I truly await to see what God will yet do with my ability to walk again someday.
However, as I rolled away from Gloria on that golden afternoon, I realized another truth. I don’t need to wait until someday to take a pilgrimage in a far-off land. I can do a pilgrimage right now, right here, right where I am in each moment.
It is a choice, in fact, that we all have: to make each moment, each breath, each action that we take, a tiny pilgrimage of life. A pilgrimage of heartfelt thanks to God for bestowing breath in our bodies, life in our spirits, and the opportunity to be part of this incredibly amazing world in which we live.
For me: each time I go out and ride Sophie down the streets and throughout my neighbourhoods—that is a pilgrimage. Each step I take on my walker; each hug I give a friend; each cup of tea I serve with love on
my hand-me-down china teacups; each time I choose joy in the darkness that can sometimes surround me—that is living out my life as if it were my own personal pilgrimage.
I’ve learned that every step I take in life, everything God gives me an opportunity to do, is a metaphorical pilgrimage in which my heart can be thankful.
It is the same for each of us. Each time we don’t give up but choose to live courageously even when we are afraid; each time we choose to go forward on our life’s pathway; each time we love those people God brings into our lives—that can be one small step of a pilgrimage.
Of note, sometimes when one is on a pilgrimage the obstacles are very high. Just like on an actual pilgrimage in Spain, the path must sometimes wind long and tired legs begin to stumble, sometimes we who are on a pilgrimage of life become soul-weary. It is okay at these times to stop and take a break to rest, take time to regroup and rejuvenate and refresh the deepest part of our souls.
However, no matter how many times we have stopped along our journeys, the key is to always once again stand back up, start again putting one foot in front of the other, and to go forward step by step. Most of all, it means to never, never, never give up.
That to me is true pilgrimage, the kind where heart growth happens and where peace is reached for with love. Living out each day, with every breath and every beat of our hearts as we embrace the Spirit’s peace.