The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry- Rachel Joyce: 31/52

Life is all about putting one foot in front of the other



Remember those National Award winning movies where people would just walk and walk and walk, talk two words and then walk some more?

Harold Fry is a quiet old man living his quiet old life.  He lives in that comfortable silence with his wife of several decades and  he spends his retired days like any other 65 year old man, pottering about the garden, taking out the garbage and trying to figure out which is jam and which is marmalade. Or so you would think.  One day out of the blue, he gets a letter from his old colleague Queenie Hennessy who is now in a hospice. Not knowing how to respond, he writes a very formal and awkward reply to her and goes out to post the letter. But something happens inside him and he keeps walking from postbox to postbox, not able to actually post the letter. Suddenly, he decides to walk, walk all across the country to see Queenie. And so he walks. A walk that he believes will save Queenie from the cancer that is killing her. It is not a walk of introspection or penance, just a walk of faith and a lot of thoughts.

As he walks across those 627 miles for 87 days, he thinks.  He trudges on, putting one foot in front of the other, meeting strangers, trusting them, living off their kindness and he reflects upon his life gone by. He thinks his thoughts. About his mother, his father , the numerous aunties. His son. His wife, their courtship, their marriage. His son. Queenie Hennessy. His job at the brewery, his boss. His son.

At one point, the story of his walk reaches the media and he suddenly finds himself under the glare of the limelight. This reminded me so much of the Anna movement. A single old man’s cause, suddenly hijacked by wellmeaning wellwishers and the media , reaching such a pinnacle and then taking a major diversion and whimpering off, leaving the old man back to where he started from. Here too, Harold suddenly finds himself a Pilgrim, wearing Pilgrim T Shirts, sipping juice from a sponsor’s bottle, surrounded by supporters who are prepared to walk the walk of faith with him to save Queenie. And just like Anna’s, The Pilgrim’s Walk gets hijacked by Rich, who then, cheered by the media, leads the group to Queenie, without Harold. And a Kate, who goes back to where she actually belongs.

And finally, alone, weary and ragged, he reaches the hospice. And at the gates, he hesitates. Should he go in or not? Does he? Does he save Queenie? And by that, does he save himself?

A quiet, lovely book that takes you across the wet English countryside, stopping over at abandoned farms, cathedrals and immigrants’ houses , drinking from streams, eating wild mushrooms and sleeping under the stars. A book of faith and trust. Determination. And hope.


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