Ten years yesterday, I walked into Santiago de Compostela and I stood in front of the Cathedral, like millions had done before me, and I called myself a pilgrim.
I had walked the Camino Frances, some 800kms from St Jean Pied de Port, but I’d walked most of the way in enormous pain with a knee that I would later discover was devoid of cartilage.
I’d walked bone-on-bone.
As I stood in front of the Cathedral I was expecting an epiphany as to why I’d put myself through what had been, at times, a torturous ordeal.
That epiphany never came.
So when I got back home to Australia I wrote a book, hoping that in the writing I would discover why I’d done the pilgrimage. That discovery never came either.
But I began to realise that walking the Camino had set in motion the impetus for change that would happen gradually over the next several years. The change was subtle, and stuttering, but cumulatively over a period of years the transformation was huge. So huge that I now divide my life into the years before the Camino and the years after the Camino.
And now I’m making a movie of that first Camino.
For the past few weeks I’ve been scouting locations during what we call pre-production of the movie. I’m here in Spain with the first troupe of crew – and I’m revisiting places that featured so prominently in my journey.
Yesterday I went back to the albergue in St Jean where I spent my first night before heading off the next morning. I walked through the ancient stone Porte and stood on the bridge where someone took my photo for me.
I walked into the Burgos Cathedral and stood on the star in one of the chapels of that magnificent structure and I looked up at the star above me, in the high ceilinged dome – and I remembered the flush of divine ecstasy that rushed through my body when I stood there ten years earlier.
One of the crew members asked me later how I felt about revisiting these places, reliving the experiences that would later change my life so fundamentally.
Strangely, I feel nothing.
It’s like it all happened to someone else.
I don’t feel in any way sentimental or charged with any great emotion.
I feel like an observer of someone else’s play, sitting at the back of the theatre, looking at it all through a Proscenium Arch.
Perhaps that’s because I’m about to make a film about me, my life, what happened to me – and I can’t afford to get too close. The only way I can make this film is if I stand outside the events, and the person that happens to be me.
As a director I have to look at this purely technically – I have to focus on the craft, and see this person as a character in a story that fascinates and intrigues me, and not because it’s my story, but because it’s a simply a story that I believe might have resonance to an audience.
As soon as I start to see this as my story, I’m dead in the water. It’s not my story. It’s the story of the millions of pilgrims that have walked the Camino before me, and the millions that will walk after me,
It’s a story of the inexplicable and mysterious capacity for the Camino to trigger personal transformation.