A pilgrimage involves going somewhere that’s good for the soul. It’s about doing something out of the ordinary on a quest for spiritual freedom, perhaps, or maybe spiritual devotion to an idea that says by going on this journey your spirit will be renewed.
Last week I went on a pilgrimage to see Pearl Jam, a band whose music has both spoken to me and for me for more than two decades. But as with most legitimate pilgrimages, I didn’t go alone. ON the plane to Seattle I met others who noticed my Pearl Jam t-shirt. I struck up conversations with others who flew from Charlotte or my connection in Detroit for the same primary reason I did, but in reality, we all had different reasons for making the journey. In Seattle people on the light rail spoke to me wanting to hear as much of my story as I was willing to tell, and I sought the same. It wasn’t long before I realized that I was far from alone.
In Seattle I met up with a friend from high school. Staying at his house with his family, I couldn’t help but think that I’d shown up and merged worlds for him that seldom, if ever, get merged in his hometown for the last 25 years. For both of us, being in Seattle together felt somehow important to how we made sense of our teenage years. I still don’t know exactly what to make of that, but it feels like a bit of a process worthy of the effort to decide.
At the concert in Seattle, we talked about our dads and moms, our siblings, our kids, and even what we really wish we’d have done for our professional lives. It was kind of nice to sit next to this energetic and always laughing friend and just be present.
After Seattle, I drove to Missoula, Montana, to see Pearl Jam again. I stayed in a tipi (yes, a literal tipi) outside of town right on the Bitterroot River. But when I went into town to the stadium even the day before the show, I found an incredible energy waiting for me. Standing in line to buy shirts, hats, posters, or whatever gave me the chance to talk to a number of people—other pilgrims—who were here for the same primary reason but with their own personal reasons.
The day of the concert, I stood in line for General Admission standing (yes, the mosh pit) with a 19 year-old kid from a small town in Kansas. He drove over 2000 miles in a 2002 Subaru to see the band that, as he put it, pulled him through the times when he wondered if he’d make it. Two years ago his folks split up and then, two month later, his best friend died by suicide. As I watched him tell his story, I saw this super nice guy who’d had some painful experiences to hit him hard and in the worst ways. He said his mom encouraged him to take the drive to Missoula. He was a pilgrim seeking some solace and resolution, but also some peace with the questions that just can’t be answered no matter how much religious jargon one throws at them. I bought him lunch (he only had $5 in his pocket), figuring that that was a better response than trying to console him with words. I figured that caring was a better sacrament than explanations and platitudes. Plus, he already knew what balm his soul needed—that was why he came.
I met others, too, on this journey. Folks who came in from Phoenix, Peru, Chicago, Maine, Texas, Hawaii, Spain, and England. We were all there for the same reason, but so many different reasons. In some mystical way, we knew that, too. So we took care of each other and shared the space. We got to know each other, knowing that we were all in it together—all of us busted up in some ways, all of us healed in some ways, all of us trying to get well, all of us trying to help each other. It occurs to me now that we were all on a pilgrimage for ourselves and our souls, but what broke out was an example of what’s possible when people are humble enough to share the journey.