Parenthood: A Pilgrimage

Are we ever, truly, prepared for parenthood? Discover how, and why, David Hlavsa and his wife embarked on a 400 mile pilgrimage in order to build a richer life, with children.

  • The Camino de Santiago, or the Way of Saint James, has been a pilgrimage site for more than 1,000 years. Today, the Way remains a popular spiritual, as well as tourist, destination.
    Photo by gena fotograb/Fotolia
  • David Hlavsa recounts how a pilgrimage, taken during the summer of 2000, positively affected his life, marriage and happiness in “Walking Distance.”
    Cover courtesy Michigan State University Press

David Hlavsa’s Walking Distance (Michigan State University Press, 2015) is a moving and disarmingly funny memoir about life and love. The following excerpt, taken from Chapter 1, chronicles one couple’s journey to parenthood and how they got there.

In the summer of the year 2000, Lisa and I walked the Camino de Santiago, the Way of Saint James, more than four hundred miles across the north of Spain from the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela. Shortly after our return, Lisa got pregnant. James was the only name we considered for a boy. In as much as anything can prepare you for a birth, I suppose walking the Camino prepared us for his. And in as much as anything can prepare anyone, it prepared us for his death as well.

Unlike Everyman’s decision to go on pilgrimage, ours was neither involuntary nor did it happen all at once. Its arrival in our lives was not particularly momentous. There was no vision, no visitation. Nobody fell off a donkey. One day, in the tenth year of our marriage, Lisa and I were baking on a beach in the Caribbean. White sand, palms, light breeze, turquoise water, eighty degrees. We had good jobs: I had recently received tenure as a theater professor; Lisa was bringing in good money as a yoga teacher. We had some savings and a small co-op apartment in a hip Seattle neighborhood. No more low-budget road trips, car camping, sleeping on college friends’ couches, standby flights; these days, we could afford a real grown-up vacation.

The beach was full of sand fleas, and I was starting to burn. I’m not really a beach kind of person, and I hate being a tourist—a visitor, isolated, surrounded by the vibrant life of a tropical island with no real way to be a part of it. Vacations and holidays have always been restless times for me. Something in me says: Why vacate? Why go on a retreat? I don’t want to retreat; I want to advance. Instead, there we were: beached.

Of course, vacation wasn’t the problem; the problem was me. It wasn’t just that I was bored; any time I wasn’t at work, I struggled with a combination of low-level anxiety and depression, a slight but perceptible dissociation from my domestic life, as if I had been given a mild sedative and could never quite emerge fully from its speedy, torpid blur.

At work, which, for a teacher, is infinitely expandable, I had classes to plan, students to cajole, committees to chair, resources to marshal, artists to collaborate with, deadlines, challenges. Add to these preoccupations the cycle of producing plays: each new cast a community forged in the attempt to make something fine, each rehearsal period a brief lifetime unto itself, and each closing night the end of a world. It’s not that I was always happy at work, but when you get in the habit of trying to fill the hole in your heart with professional achievements, if you’re any good at what you do, there’s always just enough of a kick to the workday to keep you coming back for more.

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