The scallop shell symbolizes, among other things, those pilgrims who walk the ancient Road to San Tiago in Spain. There have been literally hundreds of books and movies devoted to pilgrims’ experiences on the Road, which is dedicated to St. James. Churches across the globe dedicated to St. James have images of the scallop shell displayed as part of their décor. I’m not clear as to why or how the scallop shell become so associated with both St. James and pilgrims, but I do think it’s a great reminder that in many ways, we are all pilgrims.
I’ve never walked the Road to San Tiago, but here in Northern New Mexico, there’s a traditional pilgrimage completed on Good Friday to the Santuario de Chimayo. I’ve “walked to Santuario” from Santa Fe almost every year I’ve lived on this planet. From Santa Fe, it’s about a twenty-two (22) mile trek that’s hilly and rugged. There’s a lot of soreness and pain and fatigue that make some people in my world question my rationale for doing the pilgrimage. But, literally, thousands of people make this pilgrimage every year from all over New Mexico. Some do it for healing; some for penance, some just to see if they can make it. Everyone’s reasons are personal and it’s not my place to judge why anyone walks this pilgrimage.
For me, walking to Santuario is a sacred journey that teaches me something new every year. I’ve learned acceptance for my human weakness. I’ve learned that, while we choose our destiny in life, there’s so much in life that’s out of our control that we must learn to trust. I’ve also learned that in our human frailty, we are bound to feel as though life can be too much sometimes; but, in taking each step as it comes, we can fight through any challenge. I tend to have a focus on my pilgrimage, but as the road ahead unfolds, I adjust to what I’m feeling and experiencing and accept whatever lessons the sacred expedition has in store for me. Truly, I don’t care what anyone thinks of my walk; it’s mine and mine alone.
Still, pilgrimages are an example of life itself. They’re seldom easy and sometimes the pain can overwhelm people in to quitting. But, in reaching the pilgrimage’s destination, a deep sense of connection emerges. It’s a hard-earned connection. Especially in the last mile: The road is harder the closer one comes to the goal. Just like in life. When we set out to accomplish something, we should do so with the hope that we can achieve the goal. As the path towards the goal unfolds and becomes harder and harder, if we take each step as it comes and do what’s necessary to meet that step, we can keep moving forward. It will get tough. There will be times when quitting the journey would even be understandable, but if we keep moving forward and accepting the path for what it is, we can reach the goal.
Really, we are all pilgrims and I think the question we have to ask ourselves is, “Who am I going to be when I die?” We can look at the current state of our lives and we can see that if we stay in our current circumstances, we will die an addicted or a depressed or an otherwise suffering person. Or, we can visualize ourselves as the patriarch of a flourishing family who dies surrounded by his loved ones. Whomever we are when we die will be the result of the road we are travelling today combined with the unfolding road ahead in an unknown number of tomorrows.
For all of us pilgrims: I wish us all love and light as we undertake our journeys.