To journey without being changed is to be a nomad. To change without a journey is to be a chameleon. To journey and be transformed by the journey is to be a pilgrim.
I’ve been a Nomad.
I’ve been a Chameleon.
I’ve been, sometimes, a Pilgrim.
Poet Mark Nepo’s words helped me understand the difference. A Nomad is not really on a journey—she is simply wandering. Not lost, really, and maybe not aimless, but certainly she is without sustaining roots, perhaps even by choice. The Nomad is in motion, and that’s all.
A Chameleon simply holds still and waits. He is prepared to change color and self as the conditions demand. His changing is usually rooted in the fear of revealing true colors or an enduring self. Camouflage is the norm. It’s a way to survive, but rarely a way to thrive.
A Pilgrim is on a road, a trail, a journey. The Pilgrim moves forward precisely to discover and to change. A Pilgrim is sustained by where she has been, and yet longs for more. And a Pilgrim is brave because there is not always a known path.
For the last few years I have described myself as a “seasonal dirtbag.” I have been living in 3 different states: Washington, Idaho and New York. I’ve driven back and forth across the country 3 times. I’ve made that trip on Blue Highways and tested the sanitary conditions in small town motels. I’ve spent more than 60 days in my tent and happily slept in my “mid-size” car in empty Canadian rest stops. Mostly, I’ve been a Nomad, even though I have strong roots and an instinct for home. I’m wandering. I like it, actually. But it’s not enough. It really isn’t.
I think my wandering is rooted in worry about who I am as my life changes. I am older, but not so much wiser.
And, I have also been quite the Chameleon. The dirtbag in me, the Nomad, can clean up, dress up, shape up—but it feels like changing costumes. It feels like I’m playing multiple parts in the ensemble cast.
But I also know something of the Pilgrim’s journey. I have taken tentative, tender steps on that road. I know what it means to set forth hoping for something more, rather than running away from something lost.
I think we all know these roles, these characters. We often ping back and forth between rootless searching and frightened wardrobe changes.
What I also know is that within the Pilgrim there is some saving and sustaining mix of curiosity, hope and wonder. The Pilgrim sets out wondering about what could be and hopes for the better. She doesn’t know more, or know better, than the Nomad or the Chameleon, but she is open to what isn’t known.
Lord and Lordy, I want to be a Pilgrim. And I don't want to travel alone. Join me?
I Have Decided
by Mary Oliver
I have decided to find myself a home
in the mountains, somewhere high up
where one learns to live peacefully in
the cold and the silence. It’s said that
in such a place certain revelations may
be discovered. That what the spirit
reaches for may be eventually felt, if not
exactly understood. Slowly no doubt. I’m
not talking about a vacation.
Of course at the same time I mean to
stay exactly where I am.
Are you following me?