El Camino de Santiago

I went on a walk this evening and I conceived an idea. It is a contingency plan for if I am still unemployed in August.

I have been watching a lot of Ken Burns documentaries lately. I’ve watched the entirety of Baseball, Prohibition, National Parks, and The West. A common theme throughout all those documentaries is trying to figure out what America means and what it is to be American. In many ways we’ve been a nation that had unfree people in a free land. The other theme in all those stories was that even in the worst periods of our history we had hope that it will get better, sadly not necessarily for everyone.

I remember in my freshmen year at Evergreen my professor had a section of a lecture devoted to cleansing rituals for soldiers. For the Zulus a warrior was not allowed to return to his village from war until he had sex with a virgin. For Americans, we had ticker tape parades. The act is not important but the symbolism behind it is. In war we ask our soldiers to turn off everything society has taught them since birth. Don’t fight, don’t hit people, don’t hate people because of what they are. Instead we ask that they fight, they kill and they die. The purpose of the cleansing ritual was to bring them back into society. The point my professor was trying to make is that we stopped doing that ritual. The last time we had big ticker tape parades for our soldiers was 1945. We’ve sent soldiers overseas into combat 16 times since then. Sixteen times soldiers have gone and fought and come back with no ritual to bring them back. We have given up a ceremonial tradition and I don’t think it has benefitted anyone.

I think I have missed out of some traditions for an American man. I have done other things that other people my age probably never will. I can speak another language, I’ve lived in England, I went on a five month foreign exchange in Chile. I’ve crossed the Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn and the Equator. I jumped over Hadrian’s Wall, off a Atacama sand dune, and a fence at Real Madrid Stadium (though I didn’t quite make it over that one and ended up with bruised shins for a few weeks after). But I feel alienated from my peers. It doesn’t help that I’m shy and introverted. I don’t make good friends with anyone. Basically what I think of as my close social circle (excluding relatives) is just two people and one of them I’ve been friends with for 12 years. I don’t think I’d be happy with what my brother has, he makes friends quickly and has dozens of friends who he interacts with regularly it seems. But I still feel like I’m missing something. The transition from working at Vail and being surrounded by people, coworkers who I enjoyed working with, a few guests who I enjoyed working for and then the rest of the lot who we all tolerated to being alone, an hour away from my friends by car and more by the bus, in the woods doesn’t help my isolation.

But my plan is not going to solve that particular problem head on. The translation of the title is Saint James’ Way, the route along the northern edge of the Iberian peninsula to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. Santiago de Compostela is where Saint James the Apostle buried according to tradition. Santiago once rivaled Rome and Jerusalem itself as a pilgrimage site. Over time plague, Reformation and wars reduced the pilgrims to a trickle and Santiago faded. I was thinking of trying to make my own St. James’ Way. An American one. Sadly I do not have the means or time to do a proper one, that involves going east of the Continental Divide. Or the old circle route (predating the Interstates by decades) of the first national parks. But I was thinking of taking two weeks and traveling from Seattle down the coast to Los Angeles, in a repeat of what my father and I did a few years ago. Try to visit the national parks and monuments along the way. Maybe on the return trip go further east and see Nevada, Utah, Idaho and Montana before hooking back across Washington.

I considered doing symbolic things before departing if this plan comes to fruition. Shaving my head was one of them, partly out of the idea of figured out who I am by clean slating it and out of the practicality that I probably won’t get to shower much on the way and not having a lot of hair wouldn’t be a bad thing. A key part of all this would be to try to travel as cheaply as I could. That translates to getting a can opener and stocking up on baked beans. This is not a fully thought out plan nor would it be my ideal use of my time. This would be a thing to do if I still have no job and little prospects in August. But an idea that if I do follow through with I hope it will help ease my mind. I don’t know what I want to do with my life.

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