Letting Go of the Life We Have Planned

It wasn’t I who actually decided to walk across Spain.  That was decided, in a manner of speaking, for me.  My mother, whose ovarian cancer of a decade ago appears to have returned in unknown measure, told me in July that walking St. Jacobsweg, as she initially called it, was something she very much wanted to do before she had to drag her thoughts to the abyss of surgery, chemo, and radiation.  She asked if I would come along.

I’m not even sure there was any process of thinking, of intellection.  I pictured a two-week trip.

“Yes,” I said.  What are you going to do?  Mom has cancer.  Mom has a dream.

Yes.

But I didn’t know why she wanted to do it.  As the wonderful Karen Armstrong, historian of religion, points out in her fine little book A Short History of Myth, we are meaning-seeking creatures.  We constantly crave and make meaning in our lives.  If we can’t make something meaningful, we can’t get excited, or motivated.  It would take me a few months to rationalize my “yes”, as we humans must always do, by arriving at a bit of reasoning that explained why I would want to walk in rural Spain.

Two months ago, I just said, “Why this walk?  You’ve never mentioned it before.”

“I saw it in a German documentary,” she said.  “It looked like a wonderful experience.”

I would rather she had asked if I would accompany her into the Alps.  In any of the several countries in which they appear.  Mountains, especially the Alps, are chock-full of meaning, and memories, for both of us.  In contrast to walking, which I didn’t like at all, I loved hiking.

The Dolomites would be good too.  You could hike from rifugio to rifugio, gorging yourself on pasta in rabbit sauce, spending the night, and working it all off at altitude the next day.

I persisted.  “But does it have any meaning to you?  You’re not even Catholic” – the camino is a 1000-year-old Catholic pilgrimage route – “and I know you don’t believe it’s some kind of penance you need to do in remission of sins.”

I certainly hoped not.  Overcoming disease is a lot harder when you believe, as many people do, as society has often told us, that you are sick because there is something wrong with you – something defective in your character, your self, your soul.  In effect, that you are sick because you have sinned.  This is a line of thinking most famously indulged in by the Hebrew prophets, who spent a great deal of time lecturing suffering Israelites that they were so miserable beneath the boots of centuries of oppressors, that God was repeatedly breaching his promise to throw off the oppressors and make them into a great nation, because they were not obedient enough.  (This is more contract law than theology, the idea being that God was not breaching the contract because the other side – none of whom had themselves agreed to any contract, come to think of it — already had).

They were bad, so they must suffer.  This simple equation is as true of how Judeo-Christian societies still think today as e is equal to m times c squared.  (Following her own bout with cancer, Susan Sontag wrote a whole book, Illness as a Metaphor, in an attempt to refute the former equation).  Is it coincidence, I wonder, that we speak of both sins and cancer as things that can go into, or be put in, remission?

In any event, Mom said the Camino would have enough meaning for her.  (You can see from her passion on this blog that she’s found plenty of purpose).  Over time, through conversations with her and by reading her blog posts, I would begin to understand what it meant for her, and some of the risks of the meaning she has invested it with.

Just one problem.  No, two problems.  First, walking across Spain didn’t have any inherent meaning for me.

Second, it threw a major wrench into my post-divorce life and plans, which included the weighty, time-consuming undertakings of accepting that I would suffer a big loss on selling my house, actually selling my house, continuing to advertise and rent it until it was sold, doing two years of back taxes held up by the divorce, running my coaching businesses, deciding where in the world I wanted to live, selling furniture and a Land Rover (bumper sticker, with Union Jack:  “All of the parts falling off of this car are of the finest British craftsmanship”), packing, and moving to a new city and self.  My plans also appeared to include worrying about all these things, as well as taxes owed, credit card debts, loss on the sale of the house (I know, join the party), and the rest of the flotsam and jetsam of a do-over.

In short, for the first two months after Mom told me about the Camino, I thought a walk through Spain, for several weeks, starting in mid-September, was spectacularly bad timing.  As I’ll explain further in a later post, it was awfully inconvenient.

But in the two months since I agreed to go, I have been learning the truth of a quote (or paraphrase) from Joseph Campbell that has run through my mind, and remained there, arms crossed and a knowing smile on its face, for weeks:

We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to be ready for the life that is waiting for us.

Comments Closed

5 thoughts on “Letting Go of the Life We Have Planned

  1. I don’t really have the words but my prayers are with you and your mom in this really blessed time…..soak up every special moment and every amazing landscape…it is sure to be precious and beautiful! It’s a choice to be revered….albeit difficult timing. Much respect,
    Kelly

  2. I watched a CNN special this evening about a swimmer who had attempted to cross the Florida Straits – Cuba to US – unaided when she was 29. She failed but never let go the dream. On her 60th birthday she felt inspired to try again. Sanjay’s camera’s followed her through two years of prep and actually on the water during the journey. Although her body had given up 1/2 way, her spirit had not and she kept swimming. She advised Sanjay and viewers to be your best self. “You have to live your life with passion, you show your will, you feel proud of yourself when you go to bed at night,”she said.

    I love you both. Have a wonderful swim and I will be following you in my virtual kayak.

    Tedd

  3. Loving it. What an inspiration and I would like to go next year as we talked about!!!! Looking forward to following along. God’s blessings on your journey!

Comments are closed.

Camino de Santiago Book - Letting Go of the Life We Have Planned | Camino Not Chemo!

Letting Go of the Life We Have Planned

It wasn’t I who actually decided to walk across Spain.  That was decided, in a manner of speaking, for me.  My mother, whose ovarian cancer of a decade ago appears to have returned in unknown measure, told me in July that walking St. Jacobsweg, as she initially called it, was something she very much wanted to do before she had to drag her thoughts to the abyss of surgery, chemo, and radiation.  She asked if I would come along.

I’m not even sure there was any process of thinking, of intellection.  I pictured a two-week trip.

“Yes,” I said.  What are you going to do?  Mom has cancer.  Mom has a dream.

Yes.

But I didn’t know why she wanted to do it.  As the wonderful Karen Armstrong, historian of religion, points out in her fine little book A Short History of Myth, we are meaning-seeking creatures.  We constantly crave and make meaning in our lives.  If we can’t make something meaningful, we can’t get excited, or motivated.  It would take me a few months to rationalize my “yes”, as we humans must always do, by arriving at a bit of reasoning that explained why I would want to walk in rural Spain.

Two months ago, I just said, “Why this walk?  You’ve never mentioned it before.”

“I saw it in a German documentary,” she said.  “It looked like a wonderful experience.”

I would rather she had asked if I would accompany her into the Alps.  In any of the several countries in which they appear.  Mountains, especially the Alps, are chock-full of meaning, and memories, for both of us.  In contrast to walking, which I didn’t like at all, I loved hiking.

The Dolomites would be good too.  You could hike from rifugio to rifugio, gorging yourself on pasta in rabbit sauce, spending the night, and working it all off at altitude the next day.

I persisted.  “But does it have any meaning to you?  You’re not even Catholic” – the camino is a 1000-year-old Catholic pilgrimage route – “and I know you don’t believe it’s some kind of penance you need to do in remission of sins.”

I certainly hoped not.  Overcoming disease is a lot harder when you believe, as many people do, as society has often told us, that you are sick because there is something wrong with you – something defective in your character, your self, your soul.  In effect, that you are sick because you have sinned.  This is a line of thinking most famously indulged in by the Hebrew prophets, who spent a great deal of time lecturing suffering Israelites that they were so miserable beneath the boots of centuries of oppressors, that God was repeatedly breaching his promise to throw off the oppressors and make them into a great nation, because they were not obedient enough.  (This is more contract law than theology, the idea being that God was not breaching the contract because the other side – none of whom had themselves agreed to any contract, come to think of it — already had).

They were bad, so they must suffer.  This simple equation is as true of how Judeo-Christian societies still think today as e is equal to m times c squared.  (Following her own bout with cancer, Susan Sontag wrote a whole book, Illness as a Metaphor, in an attempt to refute the former equation).  Is it coincidence, I wonder, that we speak of both sins and cancer as things that can go into, or be put in, remission?

In any event, Mom said the Camino would have enough meaning for her.  (You can see from her passion on this blog that she’s found plenty of purpose).  Over time, through conversations with her and by reading her blog posts, I would begin to understand what it meant for her, and some of the risks of the meaning she has invested it with.

Just one problem.  No, two problems.  First, walking across Spain didn’t have any inherent meaning for me.

Second, it threw a major wrench into my post-divorce life and plans, which included the weighty, time-consuming undertakings of accepting that I would suffer a big loss on selling my house, actually selling my house, continuing to advertise and rent it until it was sold, doing two years of back taxes held up by the divorce, running my coaching businesses, deciding where in the world I wanted to live, selling furniture and a Land Rover (bumper sticker, with Union Jack:  “All of the parts falling off of this car are of the finest British craftsmanship”), packing, and moving to a new city and self.  My plans also appeared to include worrying about all these things, as well as taxes owed, credit card debts, loss on the sale of the house (I know, join the party), and the rest of the flotsam and jetsam of a do-over.

In short, for the first two months after Mom told me about the Camino, I thought a walk through Spain, for several weeks, starting in mid-September, was spectacularly bad timing.  As I’ll explain further in a later post, it was awfully inconvenient.

But in the two months since I agreed to go, I have been learning the truth of a quote (or paraphrase) from Joseph Campbell that has run through my mind, and remained there, arms crossed and a knowing smile on its face, for weeks:

We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to be ready for the life that is waiting for us.

Comments Closed

5 thoughts on “Letting Go of the Life We Have Planned

  1. I don’t really have the words but my prayers are with you and your mom in this really blessed time…..soak up every special moment and every amazing landscape…it is sure to be precious and beautiful! It’s a choice to be revered….albeit difficult timing. Much respect,
    Kelly

  2. I watched a CNN special this evening about a swimmer who had attempted to cross the Florida Straits – Cuba to US – unaided when she was 29. She failed but never let go the dream. On her 60th birthday she felt inspired to try again. Sanjay’s camera’s followed her through two years of prep and actually on the water during the journey. Although her body had given up 1/2 way, her spirit had not and she kept swimming. She advised Sanjay and viewers to be your best self. “You have to live your life with passion, you show your will, you feel proud of yourself when you go to bed at night,”she said.

    I love you both. Have a wonderful swim and I will be following you in my virtual kayak.

    Tedd

  3. Loving it. What an inspiration and I would like to go next year as we talked about!!!! Looking forward to following along. God’s blessings on your journey!

Comments are closed.

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