The Roots of Pilgrimage
The roots of pilgrimage go pretty far back for me. It was during fifth grade that I initiated my first pilgrimage, inciting the class to run away from Mrs. Mitchell.
I can’t say I was aware enough to know what was missing then in our education, but sitting day after day at those little desks responding like robots to Mrs. M was enough to drive any and all to head off on our own into the world. It was quite a community building process over a month-long time of preparation. Each student had to pay their way or bring whatever they could from home to support the expedition. Any spare change contribution to the kitty was welcomed.
The day finally came to depart despite last minute doubts and numerous stomach aches. At recess time we all, the entire fifth grade class, slipped through the fence – what was for us, Into the wild. We walked down at least four or five suburban blocks, passing our neighbors, waving hellos, until reality, or should I better say, fear, set in. It took a couple of rounds of council, everyone getting to speak about what to do before we eventually turned around to head back. We had the excuse or alibi that re- turning was necessary for the good of one girl who wasn’t feeling well. And yet, we all knew she was simply representing all of our fears and had held the shadow for the whole journey. She spoke our hearts and call to return.
Even though our pilgrimage had lasted only three hours total, we celebrated success. Mrs. Mitchell and the headmaster were frantic and grateful for our return. They brought the whole lower school together to hear our story. Council, a chance for our voices to be shared, a respectful listening, had begun for me. We spoke our grievances, our motivation to run away, and our longing to have fifth grade be different while Mrs. Mitchell sat in tears. For the remainder of the year and perhaps much longer, the experience changed us all.
Years later, I look back realizing that many of the seeds were there for what we are up to today… the path of pilgrimage, seeking education, the call to travel and grow through a journey as a community, questing for true change, listening when to go and where to be, the value of having every participant strongly choose, raising money alone and together, sorting out food, finding support of any kind needed, taking the time to hear everyone’s voice and vision, being willing to speak up and make tough decisions, standing up for what doesn’t work anymore and asking for new ways, being willing to walk out, take risks, embrace the unknown, greeting neighbors along the way. Not all of the ingredients of this BB pilgrimage were found in ancient teachings or spiritual texts—but also through the hearts and minds of fifth grade girls, living and acting on the truth of their situation. I dare say the roots of council and pilgrimage are within us all.