For the want of an apostrophe…
When I was a sulky teenager, I used to sport a German pin badge which depicted a ladybird scowling over its shoulder above the words ‘noch was’? They can be translated as ‘anything else?’, ‘was there something else’, or even more loosely as ‘now what’? It is a a question I have found myself asking as this pilgrimage-themed sabbatical draws to its close.
In the accounts I have read and seen of pilgrimage, very little seems to be said about what happens next. Tom, the lead character in ‘The Way’, is left wandering through Europe uncertain about his return, and Chaucer’s pilgrims apparently never return to the inn to claim their prize for the best Pilgrim’s tale. What did people do when their pilgrimage was over? Did they return sore-footed and full-hearted to their towns and villages? Did they find themselves, like a generation of moon-walkers, unable to cope with life ‘back home’? Did some of theme stay on in the place of their pilgrimage, unable to let go? Many of these are unanswered questions.
For me, however, some of them have been answered by the simple lack of an apostrophe. Looking for a place to spend the night on this last weekend of my sabbatical, you will not be surprised that I chose the Bed and Breakfast below:
Without an apostrophe it can be one of two things:
An imperative: pilgrims (must) rest – travelling or stopping, going or coming – rest is vital.
An indicative: pilgrims (do) rest – even whilst their feet are moving and the journey is unfolding, they rest upon the one who bade them leave their homes in the first place.
As life returns to ‘normal’ later this week, and I take up the reins of my local ministry after a gap of three months, I shall try to do both.