I'm about 2/3 the way through the radiotherapy, have managed to get my innards and tiredness levels under quasi control and have got emotional space to start thinking of other stuff: most notably the trip we will make in the second term of this year to replace the one we didn't take last year.
Things have changed. Apart from the obvious stuff about a sadder and a wiser man he rose the morrow morn there is a shift in global economics and safety. Israel seems like a marginal idea right now, and the drop in the New Zealand dollar has made St George's college a more difficult proposition anyway. So, we are looking at leaving our suitcases with our friends Nick and Louise in Neuchatel, Switzerland and heading off on several small expeditions.Assisi for example. And Taize. Another of these will be to spend some time walking part of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela - the ancient pilgrimage route through Northern Spain. The whole thing would take a month, which is probably a bit optimistic when I'm so soon out of the crisping drawer but I think we'll manage to do the first half of the walk in a fortnight.
Pilgrimage is the realisation of a metaphor. We walk a path that is a symbolic representation of the great journey we are all on and our progress becomes a kind of prayer. In some senses it doesn't matter what the metaphorical journey is: whether it's a half hour walk through a labyrinth or a road trip to our hometown or a walk to some local monument. What is important is knowing that the journey is as important as the destination itself - and in some cases, such as a labyrinth walk there is no destination anyway. It's a helpful thing if the journey has some personal and/or cultural significance and it is very important that there is some sort of personal hardship involved in making it. So on the Camino the food is plain and the pilgrims' hostels won't appear in the AAA ratings guide. And of course there is the effort needed to walk 20-30km a day, every day for a couple of weeks. Pilgrims wear a scallop shell, a badge that dates back centuries, if not millenia, to mark the fact that they are one of a great and ancient company. There is a paradox about pilgrimage: pilgrimage, like the great journey of life itself, is made alone but we make it constantly in the company of others who are all going the same way.
In making the journey through cancer the companionship of those closest to me has been crucial. Clemency and my children have trodden every step with me, reasoned through every decision, felt with me through the losses and disappointments and minor triumphs. Also important has been the companionship of a select group of people: those who have made the same journey - those who know. Now, as this journey is nearing its end it seems important for Clemency and me to be thinking ahead to this next, symbolic and literal step. Stepping into the Pyrenees and beyond will be walking back into life. Stepping out carrying our shells, alone, but in the great company of those who went before and who will follow after. I hope that in a small sense I can take some of you with us, by way of this blog. But more. I hope that we will one day finish the Camino and that others may want to join us for that second half of the journey. Say 2011? Start praying about it now, and salting away your pocket money.