The journey is never-ending
This weekend we finally managed to hold the memorial service for my father in South Africa two years after he had passed away in a retirement home at the age of 89. Even after such a time, it felt right to have a ritualized formal closure to remember a life and its final destination.
Dad’s journey through life was at times shaken with the pain of losing loved ones, confronting his own mental winters of depression, and financial challenges. The relationship between fathers and sons has a special dynamic and my relationship with him can be described as difficult at times.
As a young man, I had a problem understanding why Dad’s brothers were dynamic, outspoken, and self-confident men who had built successful businesses and careers while he in contrast preferred to take a backseat role unable to really make decisions, often faraway in thought and not really present during conversations. He could withdraw for weeks into a moody silence.
It was only in his twilight years that he opened up and it began to dawn that the seeds of depression and nervous breakdown had already been sown in the regimental and bullying educational culture of the 1940s in South Africa, coupled with overly high expectations from his own father.
Having emigrated from South Africa to Europe in 1981, I could only come for sporadic family visits, surprised at his gradual transition to a stoic reflection and meditation on the multitude of lessons that life has to offer. He retained a sharp mental focus until his dying hours that we could witness only by remote with Covid travel bans having taken effect a few days earlier.
The pilgrimage: An analogy of life
Sifting through a few memorabilia and fading photographs my thoughts turned to the Camino. The ancient pilgrimage in northwestern Spain has become a popular modern-day path of self-discovery and spiritual renewal because it is in so many respects an analogy of life.
The pilgrim faces “winter days” of emotional and physical pain. A route and day are carefully planned but inevitably turn out with pleasant and also nasty surprises.
Lesson: Take each day as it comes. It’s necessary to plan but assume that you will have to adapt and change your plan. Accept external circumstances out of your control but control how you react to them.
On the path, you will meet and bond with people in a way as if they were old friends and family. You will share deep experiences and feelings. Some will become lifelong friends, even partners. Others you will never see again and not even know their surnames.
Lesson: The impermanence of life. Some people and family will walk with you for a lifetime. Others only share with you a short chapter but will most likely have left a lasting impression, precious memory, or lesson in self-awareness.
Life is a roller-coaster of spring, summer, autumn, and winter – sometimes even in one day. But when reaching the destination, walking into the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela you experience the immense joy of having accomplished your journey. The cathedral and all its artwork, sculptures, and lighting are an expression of ultimate joy and rebirth. It is not only the joy of the pilgrim having accomplished the journey.
Life is a spiritual journey of meaning and purpose. It is a journey of grace and faith in the truth of an ultimate journey where one day the walls of the physical fall away, leaving just space for the soul that is eternity.
Reino Gevers – Author – Mentor – Speaker
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