Tourist or Pilgrim?

When I retired almost two years ago, I had a fear of becoming the kind of retiree you see getting off a tour bus or a cruise ship in his shorts and Hawaiian shirt, with a camera strapped around his neck, heading to the nearest shop to buy a T-shirt that says, “I have been here and I’ve done this”.

That was not going to happen to me.

But, here I am in Miami Beach and this is my hat.

So,what is wrong with that?

After all, the temperatures this week have been gone down to the low teens in Cleveland and the highs here have been in the 70’s. Anybody could understand what brings us to South Florida.

I’ll also admit that I feel free here. I spent so many decades in a vocation that I loved, but even if I did get away from it physically for a few days, I was never far from it mentally or spiritually. There were always people to pray for and problems to be solved whether I was on the beach, in the mountains, or at my desk.

I am finally free of that, but I can have that same feeling of freedom when I wake up in my own bed, now. So, why travel?

When my parents retired, they intended to travel. Both of them had spent their lives working and raising their family within fifteen miles of their respective birthplaces. They were going to see the world and they did. They drove around the British Isles, took river cruises through Central Europe, and rode tour buses through the Cascades and Rockies.

Then, as their five children scattered from the coast of Maine to the edge of the Mississippi, just visiting them and taking winter trips to Florida to see my mother’s sisters seemed to suffice. The rest of the time, my mother tended her garden and refinished chairs, and my Dad worked in his shop and drank his morning coffee with men he had known since they all were boys.

It’s a pattern I have seen many people follow. Most people who are lucky enough to retire in good health with some resources, say that they are going to travel. They do, at first, and then. . . . , not so much.

I recently learned that the word “travel” is related to the word “travail” that means “suffering”. You either have to have a good reason to travel or you need to travel in a way that minimizes your suffering. The air-conditioned coach and the tourist stops where everyone you meet speaks your language help with the latter. I am not against things that can make life easier on the road. I like those little wheels on my suitcase and my cellphone. But it is possible to get so hermetically sealed inside the tourist bubble that we never encounter anything that changes us. After awhile, I think most people conclude that taking another tour just isn’t worth the trouble.

That is why tourism fails and pilgrimage succeeds in the second half of life. Tourism is just another form of acquisition. We buy the trip, the souvenirs, and the little book of photos that Shutterfly or Snapfish will put together for us.

Pilgrimage, on the other hand, is part of the spiritual journey. When I get to the end of my journey, I am going to have to leave my Miami Beach hat on top of the casket, but I hope I will be able to take with me the wonder I felt as I watched the Super-Blood Moon shining over the sea. That wonder was definitely worth running the gauntlet of flu viruses that knocked me flat for 36 hours. We have also learned on this trip that we can live just fine in 450 square feet of space for more than a week.

I think the impulse to travel in the second half of life is an outward sign of something going on deep inside. In Hindu India and Orthodox Russia, the old sometimes give away all that they have and become pilgrims, people who take to the road on a spiritual journey. Then, assuming they survive, they come back and settle down with family and friends to become . . ., sages, I guess. They are people who have a perspective on life because they have seen how other people in other places live, they have a sense of how little we need to carry on life’s journey and they have seen wonders they can barely describe to those who have not seen.

This time of life affords us the opportunity, and may present us with the necessity to turn our lives into a pilgrimage.

I am going to be posting about how the second half of life is becoming a pilgrimage for me, but I am curious about how it is a pilgrimage for you? What are you leaving behind? What are you heading toward? What are you looking for? What do you hope to find? What have you learned in your travels? When did you decide you had traveled enough?

2 thoughts on “Tourist or Pilgrim?

  1. Wish I knew you were in Miami – we missed an opportunity to be two old men together – journeying through time. Hope you are feeling better – keep posting about your pilgrimage – I think you can also be a sage on the road. That could be your new “handle”.

  2. Sage-on-the-Road, I like that.
    Yes, I wish we could have gotten together. It’s only been a couple of days that I have felt like myself, however. I feel like I have seen only a tiny corner of this Metro area — maybe 6 blocks on Collins Ave. and the trip from the airport.
    Heading for Key West tomorrow to see friends. Thanks again for your photo of that beautiful tree in your backyard and, especially, for the encouragement.

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