Several years ago I read a fabulous travel memoir by Tim Moore, humorist and traveler. He wrote Travels with My Donkey, an account of his trek with a donkey named Shinto along the pilgrimage path from St. Jean Pied de Port in France through the Spanish Pyrenees to Santiago do Compostela near the coast of Spain. I loved the tale and I became fascinated by the idea of pilgrimage. What do modern day pilgrims seek? Why do they walk 500 miles just to reach a church that is purported to hold the remains of one of Jesus's apostles? It has been awhile since I read this, so the details are cloudy but I know he met fellow travelers, ruminated about the history of the pilgrimage and wrote about Spain and being companionable with a donkey for a few months. I always wondered if it was something I could do.
Last week, I had the opportunity to see a fabulous new movie, The Way, that just came out which follows a man as he journeys on the camino to Santiago. A fictitious story about Tom Avery (played by Martin Sheen) who travels to St Jean Pied de Port to retrieve his only child's body after he is killed on the trail in a freak accident. Avery is filled with grief. He has an empty, lonely life and was far from understanding his now deceased son (played by Martin Sheen's real life son Emilio Estevez, who also made the movie).
In a bold move, Avery decides to pick up his son's backpack and gear and take the trek himself, in an attempt to honor his son and try to understand what he was trying to do with his life. He takes along his son's remains and begins to scatter them along the path. Of course Tom is sad, angry and alone, but he begins to meet other travelers, all who have their own path and their own reasons for trekking the camino.
Some might call it predictable and the movie might be a little long, but it was beautiful and gave me a chance to see what the pilgrimage might really look like. I did love watching crusty Tom Avery begin to melt away, dig through his layers of grief, and connect with his travel companions. I love how travel thrusts unlike people together. You never choose your travel companions; they choose you. All the shots are filmed in Spain along the trail with a musical score that made me want to sing: a gorgeous and thought provoking film.
I began to wonder, would I ever have the opportunity to walk this trail? I told my theater companion that when we retired we were going to take this walk together. Perhaps get our kids to come and carry our packs? Will you join me?