‘The Way’ is a film directed by Emilio Estevez, starring his father Martin Sheen about a man’s pilgrimage (although initially he is not aware of it himself) across the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela following the death (and in the footsteps) of his son.
This famous pilgrimage route known as the ‘Camino de Santiago’ or ‘Way of St. James’, is the pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where legend has it that the remains of the apostle, Saint James the Great, are buried.
In one of the scenes a character depicted as a gypsy whose son has stolen belongings from the film’s main character makes a poignant comment about children, saying they are the best of you and the worst of you.
As soon as I heard this comment it struck a chord with me. It resonated.
Of course it is up to each individual viewer to make what they will of the comment, the film does not force anything on you. The obvious interpretation might be that it means that your children inherit your flaws and weaknesses as well as your better character traits and virtues. Maybe Philip Larkin was right in his famous poem about what parents inflict upon you, their misery ‘deepens like a coastal shelf’. The apple never falls far from the tree and all that. In the context of the film, the character may also be loosely referring to the attitude and bias of outsiders to his community and way of life.
However I felt a need to explore this comment further, to inflate it to its full depth and meaning, or at least the meaning I had taken from the film and bestowed upon it.
I believe that it is not just blood relations that showcase the best and the worst of you, but everyone and every situation you encounter. Everyone you meet and come into contact with are the best and the worst of you. Everyone and everything in your life is a reflection of the life you have chosen for yourself.
In fact the tag line of the film is ‘you don’t choose a life, you live one’.
Having lived in the Pyrenees for the past five months the film spoke to me on several levels. For I feel too that I have been on a type of pilgrimage. Confronting my demons and meeting my saviours along the way.
I do not have a son who has died like the main character in the film, and I have not physically walked 800 kilometres over the Pyrenees, but I do have an old self who has now shed her skin. After a long and at times arduous journey, a part of what once resided in my heart has died, but I do not mourn it. Because I know something bigger, better and brighter will take its place. My heart is no longer gripped with fear as to what might be. The cobwebs of the past have been blown away, albeit sometimes by a cruel and relentless wind. Instead my heart is now open to what might come.
Obstacles are now viewed as opportunities and hurts a chance to forgive.
I know I am on the right path now as it is reflected in what I see around me. I continue to meet people who have good souls, who genuinely care about others and have a lightness to them. They do not carry their burdens and wounds around with them like a nasty smelly old back pack.
Sometimes my path is foggy and perilous, sometimes it is dark, lonely and cold, but I have come to witness that after a long dark night there always follows a sparkling dawn pregnant with the possibilities of the new day.
The road to salvation is an allegory and a metaphor, not a specific physical location or place. Any true hiker will tell you that. Walking outdoors itself is a commune with nature, a journey about yourself, an awakening if you like.
And so I will continue to meet the best of me and the worst of me, in everyone I meet. And it will be this moral compass that will continue to guide me on my journey. Of course I will sometimes take a wrong turn which leads to a blind alley or a dead end. I will at times stumble about in the undergrowth, trip on a rock and graze my knees. I will get stones in my shoes and at times I will suffer blisters, but I will continue regardless, because I am on my way.
The way which was chosen for me… and by me.