I recently watched the movie “The Way” and loved it. I had read an article quite awhile ago interviewing Emilio Estevez, the writer, director and co-star in the movie, about the process and working with his Dad, Martin Sheen, the star of the movie. So I was already intrigued. I had also read a book by Shirley Maclaine about her journey on the El Camino de Santiago, and was inspired and fascinated by this journey. The movie focuses on Tom, played by Martin Sheen, as the stoic and traditional father, who finds out his lost son has been found dead, dying just as he had started this pilgrimage. Tom decides to journey the El Camino and spread his son’s ashes along the way. It is a rare emotional decision for him, and his impulsive decision brings him much more than he had envisioned when he started on the way. It is a movie of grief and loss, as well as discovery, friendship and transformation. It is beautiful in it’s unfolding as well as in the luscious scenery.
As I do with most movies, I looked at each character and inquired what I held in common with them and where we were different. Unlike the main character, I would not have been tight lipped like he was, as I am known for my open sharing, but I could relate to his anger, grief and unknowing as he wondered about his son’s whereabouts, felt the pain of their estrangement, and then his anger, grief and loss when his son was found dead. In truth, I am much more like his impetuous, leaping, restless son, Daniel; but you see, I, too, have lost a son, not to death, but to estrangement.Although, like Daniel, I am the one that has leaped into adventure throughout my life and recently on a now 11 month journey of faith.
I looked at the kind and talkative character, Joost, and saw my golden retriever self who assumes that everyone wants to talk to me, know me, be engaged. I looked at the angry, defensive, wounded character, Sara, and saw the me that I have been healing along this journey, as I attempt to make sense of the loss of past relationships and dreams. I looked at the character of Jack, the verbose writer, living out a life much smaller than he had dreamed of, and see how much I have limited myself for way too long.
In watching this movie I realized that I, too, have been on a pilgrimage, not spreading physical ashes of a cremated son, but certainly spreading metaphoric ashes of my past and the relationships in it, as I have revisited many of the towns and places where I have lived, traveled to, or hiked. It was that giving up hope and attachment to my past relationships that was the last step for me, letting go of those last ashes in the bottom of the bag, knowing that this is it, the end…and letting them go in the wind.
It is fitting that I am ending this journey in San Diego, CA. as this is where I spent so much time as a child and adult, vacationing with my family, and then later with my Mom and/or my son. And this is where I spread my Mother’s ashes in Nov. 1999, on my way back to Seattle, where I was living with my son, moving there in Oct. 1998 after leaving Colorado. And here I am finishing this journey in San Diego now, before heading home to Colorado, going full circle. Now, like Tom in the movie, I need to stand next to the ocean, reach down in my bag, and gather the last vestiges of my past relationships and life; gather my long held dreams of the future; and finally and firmly throw these ashes to the wind and the water, letting go and saying goodbye to what was, honoring it and making room for what will take it’s place.
I am grateful for the sweet memories I have of my life up until now. I am grateful for the experience of being a single Mom and managing to stay loving and attentive no matter what challenges I faced. I am grateful for the friends and support I’ve had along this pilgrimage. And now it is time for me to leave this funeral pyre and begin my new adventure, alone, yes, but now with room to let others into my heart, my restored and healed heart. Now it is time for me to go home and settle into my new launching pad for future adventures.
So I encourage you to watch “The Way” and enjoy your journey, wherever it takes you. Remember life is to be lived, not something you got stuck in, so live it with faith and enjoy it along the way.