Ready for the Journey

Review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

by Rachel Joyce
This is a book that came along just when I needed it. I find that happens to me quite often - that a book will resonate with me at the perfect moment or will give me an insight into something that's happening in my life.
Life is a journey, a series of stops and starts, of peaks and valleys, of gorgeous blue skies, and of the darkest, coldest nights. Sometimes you travel with companions, and sometimes you have to make the trip on your own. Either way, you just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Harold Fry was a just an ordinary Englishman, simply breathing in and out each day of his 65 years, but not really living. And then he received a letter from a long-lost friend and he took a detour. Queenie Hennessy had done something extraordinary for Harold in their past, and now he felt he owed her more than just a quick note back.
Queenie's letter said that she was dying of cancer, and that she wanted to thank Harold for being kind to her. It was a letter that made Harold feel guilty and sad that they had lost touch. So he decided to walk further than just to his own mailbox with his reply. As he passed another postbox, and then the post office itself, he just continued to walk, without really knowing why.
Thanks to a chance encounter with a girl in a garage, Harold decides to keep walking, believing that in doing so he can make a difference. In fact, he determines that he will walk 500 miles to where Queenie is in hospice, and that his journey - in a way his penance - will help Queenie live. As another person he meets says, "If we don't go mad once in a while, there's no hope."
So Harold walks, through pain and suffering, through gorgeous sunsets and lovely paths. He's propelled by a bit of guilt, a bit of hope, a bit of gratitude, and maybe even the need to impress his wife Maureen. Maureen is angry and hurt by Harold's snap decision and what she sees as his abandonment. But then she comes to believe that "there was even a beauty in it, if only because Harold was doing something he believed in for once, and against all the odds."
Harold's journey gives him the chance to cross paths with many people from all walks of life. He talks to them and he does what he does best - he listens. He gives them the courtesy that many don't today, to stop and truly listen to someone else, to share their time and their need for a connection. "Harold could no longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the same, and also unique; and that this was the dilemma of being human."
But, more importantly, Harold also renews his relationship with himself. He slows down to see himself for who he truly is. And he recognizes why he needs to make the journey to Queenie. The truth, as he sees it, is that he was compelled to walk to redeem himself and to make those connections with others along the way.
After all, as Maureen says, "It was not a life, if lived without love."
I recently made a journey of my own with a friend of mine who was fighting cancer. It was not an easy path for her, and it was not an easy one to travel with her. Watching her put one foot in front of the other, as Harold did, was a revelation of courage and of love. She fought her way step by step for her daughter and for her family.
It was a privilege to hold her hand, and to fight alongside her. At the end, it never seemed that she "lost" her fight. She had simply given all that she had to give. In a way, I owe her a debt of gratitude for reminding me that connecting with each other and showing people that we care is really why we are all here in the first place.
And to Harold Fry, and his author, I owe thanks for walking with me and offering the perfect words of comfort when I needed them.

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