living life in a multicultural world
So finally, as an appropriate ending to our summer holiday in Galicia — where we ate a lot, went on long walks with cows and in general reveled in doing not too much — we decided to watch the movie The Way written and directed by Emilio Estevez starring his father Charlie Sheen. It is a about The Camino de Santiago, a thousand year old tradition of pilgrimage for millions of people from around the world. The Camino typically runs through the north of Spain towards the city of Santiago de Compostela, in the region called Galicia, where the supposed bones of the Apostle Saint James are buried.
We were not disappointed. It was inspiring, thoughtful and well made.
Charlie Sheen plays an estranged father, Tom, who has lost his only son (played by Emilio Estevez) while he making the pilgrimage of The Way of St. James. When he travels to pick up the body in France, where the journey usually begins, he spontaneously decides to take this 500-mile walk with his dead son’s ashes and scatter them along The Way as a tribute. He is a father grieving who wants to be left alone with his sorrow and his regrets. Eventually, Tom develops a bond with three pilgrims from different countries and with different reasons for doing the Journey. I intensely disliked all three upon first meeting them on screen. Tom did as well. But no matter, in the end we learn that everyone we meet contributes to our life and our learning and that helping each other is what it is all about. Tom learns to be the father he never was to his own son and learns to accept the love and help he needs from others.
The movie had me crying from the very beginning. And by beginning I mean when I found out they were filming it a couple of years ago. It was personal. Not because I have ever done the Camino and it had been a life changing experience nor because I am a believer (since I am a totally lapsed Catholic), but because Emilio and his father Martin where making the movie in part as an homage to their Galician ancestors. Martin Sheen’s father was from a small town in the province of Pontevedra before he immigrated to the United States. Both my parents are also from Galicia and it has had a huge impact on my life. I felt such an immediate kinship with Emilio and Martin because they too felt the pull towards their past in the mystic and misty mountains and fields of Galicia. I literally wanted to hug them. They felt like family and I was so proud that they too wanted to share the history and beauty of this land.
I have never been able to fully describe the peculiarness that surrounds being Gallego or from Galician ancestry. There is a Galician word, morriña, that loosely translates as a nostalgia for the Galician land. Not too many languages have such a specific word to describe a longing for their land and people. I certainly do not think it is random that the Camino ends in this rainy land with hand-hewn rock fences dividing the rolling landscape into a patchwork quilt of different shades of green.
But although I had been in Santiago de Compostela many times in my life and was well versed in the imagery of the pilgrim with the conch shell walking along to see the tomb of St. James, I don’t think I really got it until I saw this movie. The Camino is a journey of profound self-discovery. It is a journey into yourself. Like with Yoga, the physical exertions of the walk decrease your resistance and personal defenses. You become more open to understanding yourself, others and the world. The simple existence of putting one foot in front of another with as little baggage as possible and interacting with random people along the way makes for a transformative experience. It is, of course, a metaphor for life.
The movie does a wonderful job conveying The Camino experience and I am itching to do it. In Haarlem, the city close to where I live, there is a street sign I saw informing us that from that point we only have to walk over 2375 kilometers to make it to Santiago.
Don’t have quite enough time to do that with small children… but in the meantime, I will try to remember that although the journey of life is our own, we cannot make the journey alone.