I confess that when I encounter the word pilgrim this is not the first image that comes to mind. I always think Chaucer first, and the many personages and personalities that populate his Canterbury Tales. After than my mind moves eastward. And after that, I think of this country’s beginnings, of the people who made another type of religious journey, and the tale of the first feast that led to our national celebration, Thanksgiving.
I am well aware that the previous paragraph is a minefield for opinions about what really happened, who behaved how, and what it all means in great span of History. I’ve no wish to make light of any of that; nor am I looking here to add to the debate. Symbols, like ideals, are representational, and what they embody, what gives them flesh and bone, is all too human us.
This appears to be a contradictory statement, but it isn’t. If we are what we eat, if we are the company we keep, then surely what we carry and how we carry on reflects what we embrace in heart, mind, and spirit. And this life is certainly a journey on which we are all pilgrims, even if we never physically move past our front gate.
I’ve tried to imagine what it takes to compel a person to make the kind of journey and chances the Pilgrims took. I can’t picture myself ever being so brave, although at times I certainly have felt as desperate. What drives us forward are the things that hold us back, weigh us down, and bury our hopes and dreams. Belief is a staff, and conviction are the pilgrim’s sandals. It’s seldom a case of having no other choice….
Would anyone but a poet look at this little wooden statue with his painted pumpkin and harvest maize and think such thoughts?
I couldn’t say, but I do know that this year, giving thanks means more to me than in many years past, and I’m feeling what I’ve not felt so fully in a long, long time. This little statue has weight and breadth, as do the symbols behind the cornucopia, ceramic turkey, and other festive tchotchke decorating the house, and I’m on the move again.
I’ve turned inward, yes, for a long overdue and much-needed time to reflect as my feet plow on. I don’t know what, in passing, I’ll leave behind as I move forward. And I’m also letting go and leaning on a sturdy staff of faith whenever I need to pause to rest.
I had a friend who had this saying: “Everything happens while nothing’s happening.” I believe that this is most often how the scenery changes, almost imperceptibly. It’s also how we refresh ourselves, how we heal. And in the process, it’s how we reinvent our lives along a sometimes rocky continuum.
In other words, it’s how a pilgrim makes progress.