A pilgrim is a wanderer with purpose, a purpose only they know.
When you find peace within yourself you can be at peace with others.
Mildred Lisette Norman [1908 – 1981]
The textbook definition of a ‘Pilgrimage’ is “A journey of moral or spiritual significance. Usually a journey to a shrine or other location of importance to a person’s beliefs and faith, although sometimes it can be a metaphorical journey into someone’s own beliefs.” I have gone on record multiple times saying that I am not a deeply religious person but I do consider myself a pilgrim: a man on a personal journey.
Technically I have been on my journey since the day I was born as I have traveled often, far, and wide for as long as I can remember. My personal story will serve as a backdrop for much of this article, an article which will pick up where that story left off and will delve further into what has made me who I am and what has defined the purpose of my pilgrimage. I could attempt to romanticize my self image but there is simply no way around the harsh truth that the path of the pilgrim is a lonely and often painful one. I was never the most sociable child but I still did my utmost to fit in whenever I moved to a new location, which given the nature of my parents work and lifestyle was often. Every time I arrived at a new town I had to try work my way into a social circle, into groups of people who unlike myself had been blessed with ample time to build ties which bound them to each other. Eventually I got so tired of going through the motions of awkwardly working my way into other people’s social circles every other year that I stopped trying. Sure enough, my social life as a teenager suffered for it, especially after I first arrived in New Zealand where I was confronted with a culture radically different than the one I had come to know. The more that I traveled the stronger my emotional barriers became, I would let people into my life certainly but only as far as my proverbial foyer. Why? Because I didn’t just fear, I KNEW that I would end up moving away and lose contact with the people I had come to care about. There’s only so many times one can have that part of themselves, that fundamental part of all of us that compels us to reach out to others, extracted before nothing remains. It took me a while to come to terms with that character flaw of mine, the flaw which held me back from getting to know people better because I fear losing them. Alas, that is one of the tolls a pilgrim pays when they’re on the road so much.
The only real constant that I have always had was the company of my immediate family. I’ve come to accept that my two siblings, Arran and Naomi, have vastly different outlooks on life and subsequently different goals than I do. Therefore they may well either agree or disagree with what I am writing here but regardless, I hold both them and my parents very dear. It is only instinctive that one treasures their family but when a family has been through as much as ours has then those ties become steel-cast and nigh-unbreakable. Incidentally my time in Whangarei was the longest I had ever consistently spent in one place and gradually the emotional barriers I had spent years building began to break. By the time I was into my third year at my high school I had finally settled in and had found myself a small but rich group of friends who I was hoping to get to know better in the years to come. However, that would not happen as my family was more-or-less forced to move across the world yet again. Reeling from culture shock and on the precipice of depression I utterly failed in my school-leaver examinations and spiraled in a state of supine stupor. Just as they were about to fall like the Berlin Wall my barriers reformed and prevented me from networking upon my return to England.
My downcast state remained until the evening of my 20th birthday when I experienced the revelation that would come to shape my future. It came out of nowhere but hit me with the fury of a rampaging rhino. I realized then, laying in my makeshift bed, that I actually could have dictated my life more than I had up until this point in time. Have you ever found yourself at a ‘crossroads moment’ in your life? A moment where time seems to grind to a halt and you cannot help but feel that the choice you are about to make is going to alter the course of your life completely? I had just realized that such a moment had presented itself to me only a few years previously. When I was 16 and told that my family would be moving back to England I could have requested a transfer to my school’s hostel house called “Carruth” where international students stayed. I could have stayed with what I had spent so long working on but I didn’t… why?
Because traveling was what I liked, I stopped myself from staying behind because I do not like being tied to one place. I may have once envied others for being stationary and reaping the benefits of their norms, and to an extent I still do, but all the time I had been unwilling to recognize the positives of my own lifestyle. I have listed the downfalls of perpetually traveling but I saw clearer now more than ever that I was destined for this lifestyle, and the sooner I came to terms with that the better. I could not help but sadly laugh at my own folly for all of those personal wounds I wore like a grotesque badge of honor were all self-inflicted. The problem was never with the actions of others, it was always with me. I had been given the chances to go along a different path but I had always batted such gestures away, wallowing in misdirected self pity instead. I could now proudly say that I had no homeland to call my own and neither would I ever.
I then resolved to travel the world, documenting the sights and souls I encountered. Doing so would open myself to the myriad of different people shaped by the palette of cultures our world plays host to and put my personal issues to rest in the process. I feel that this is why I have always had an affinity towards international history and why I find myself extensively studying it at this time. I want to learn about the places I want to visit. I want to understand what may or may not make them tick. I want to see these places, experience these cultures, and relay my experiences to those either unable or unwilling to make the journey themselves. That is the glory of social media such as WordPress, Twitter, and Facebook. These platforms and more allow me to connect with others around the world and allow me to bring the purpose of my pilgrimage to fruition.
Sure enough… I may forget faces or blank on names, they may well do the same for me in kind, but that is the nature of my being – my nature that I’ve come to acknowledge.