A friend of mine recently recommended I read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. She recommended it because as a literature major she found it to be worthy of the title “good literature”. That almost deterred me from reading it.
I am glad I stuck with it, not because it is good literature, but because it is the story of one man’s walk to the post office that turns into a life changing journey.
The recently retired Harold Fry receives a letter from a former co-worker informing him that she has terminal cancer and has entered hospice.
This is the first Harold has heard from Queenie in twenty years. Stuck in a lifeless marriage with little to look forward to from a life that has become mundane Harold writes Queenie a letter and sets off to mail it, only he passes one mailbox after the other without ever stopping to mail his letter.
And so without ever quite making the decision to do so he is off to deliver the letter in person without a cell phone, with only the clothes on his back and wearing a pair of boat shoes. Oh and Harold lives at one end of England while Queenie lives at the other end.
I will let you read the reviews on Amazon so you can decide whether this is a book you want to read. My point here is is that the book gives you a lot to think about. Along the way Harold starts to analyze his life, how did he reach this point in his life.
As he walks he also starts to shed not only the few possessions he has acquired along the way but also his emotional baggage. Predictably he meets a number of interesting people along the way that help define his journey.
I started to think about what would happen if I took such a journey.
I walk about an hour every day, rain or shine, unless I am sick or nursing an injury. My hour walking is often spent organizing my day, coming up with to do lists, solving problems, etc. Rarely do I let my mind wander.
On the worst days I focus only on getting to the end of the walk, on my best days I feel like I could walk forever. The longest I have ever walked is about 15 miles and that was over difficult trails with roots and rocks sticking out and accompanied by friends so I had to focus on my walking and conversation with little time to reflect.
I am not sure what I would think about if I set out to walk 8 hours a day for several weeks.
I like to think I would not dwell on a past I cannot change or reflect too much on a future I cannot totally control. I suspect like Harold I would bounce between being deliriously happy and optimistic to being sullen and regretful.
Would it cleanse my soul? Make me thankful for what I have? It would, I think be a journey worth taking.
I think often of how attached so many of us are to our possessions and how hard it is to get rid of things we no longer use or need because we have formed some bond with an inanimate object. It would be freeing to reduce your things to those that are essential for living. To this end I have been garage saleing, donating and throwing things away like crazy.
For more on the Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (the book is sold with two different covers):