Pilgrimage is my kind of idea. I once would have balked at the thought of something so seemingly aimless and useless. Who wants to make a journey that they don’t know the point of? Who wants to set out and then figure out where they’re going? It sounds like a bunch of hippy crap to me. Or at least, it used to.
But now I’m older, and hopefully a bit wiser (with no small thanks to my tenure at SSU). I realize that the notion of pilgrimage is merely a reflection of what I now take life itself to be. Here I am, on this journey that I can’t remember starting (I didn’t exactly have a say in it) to a destination that I’m in the process of figuring out along the way. The way ahead gets simultaneously cloudy and clear, as I realize more clearly what the journey is about while often have less and less idea of my bearings. This is life, and this is pilgrimage.
I can certainly begin to relate the notion of “returning to a place and knowing it for the first time” to my anticipated return to Winnipeg. Every time that I have returned there since my tenure here, I have seen it with different eyes. I have seen my friends differently, as they too have grown and matured on paths other than my own. I have seen who I once was in relation to them, and see that who I am now is both different and same, both cloudy and clear.
Perhaps it is now, then, the returning aspect of pilgrimage that I find particularly intriguing and worth pondering about. I’ve been gone, on a pilgrimage of learning and growing. I’ve learned that I was not who I thought I was; that not everything was as clear as I thought. I see now the immaturity that I had when I began this academic journey, and I also see how much more maturity I still have yet to gain. I’ll return and see everything and everyone differently.
The notion of pilgrimage is a strange mix of something that is very appealing and very alienating to the postmodern sensibility as well. Going on a journey with no fixed destination for no fixed purpose and with no set meaning is quintessentially postmodern. To say “it’s about the journey, not the destination” is like breathing air for my generation. And yet, there is this troublesome notion of returning, an aspect that is anything but postmodern.
To return is to be committed to a place, to come back to it after your jouneyings so as to share who you are and what you’ve learned about life and yourself with those that you have left behind. This also means that pilgrimage is much harder than postmodern nomads would make it out to be, for it means tearing ourselves away from those we cherish and to whom we are committed so as to come back a better, stronger (or perhaps weaker) member of the community. Returning gives lie to the myth that pilgrimage was ever about only me in the first place. Returning says that pilgrimage is for people who have a home, not for nomads.