Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Constant Forward Motion

One day, Harold Fry gets a letter from a former co-worker, telling him that she is dying of cancer.  Harold wants to send a nice letter in response, but somehow, as he walks toward the mailbox, the letter feels inadequate.  After speaking with a girl at garage (which Harold pronounces as "gare-ah-ge" because he's British), he comes to believe that if he can just walk all the way to see his friend, she will live.  Harold is in the later half of his 60s, and wearing yachting shoes.  The friend, Queenie, is 500 miles away.  But Harold keeps walking, away from his wife and his life, and toward his friend from the past.

I was not a believer in Harold.  In fact, it took me until I was 3/4 through The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, to even understand what journey Harold was taking.  But once I got it, I got it.  Harold and his wife, Maureen, had been living distantly from each other within the same house for 20 years.  Somehow, with every step that he took away from Maureen, Harold grew closer to her.

Harold describes his son, David, as being clever.  He is so clever in fact that he went to Cambridge, despite growing up with working class Harold and Maureen, in their ordinary world.  David is a bit of a mystery throughout the story.  He might have autism or Asperger's; he might be depressed or mentally ill, but something is not right.  David is the wedge that forced Maureen and Harold apart.  Some studies say that parents of children with autism are 60% more likely to get divorced than people with "typical" children.  Even the parents of "clever" children may be facing troubles that are hidden to the outside world, like drugs, alcoholism, anxiety and debilitating stress.  Between the blame and the guilt, there may not be much room for hope.  What Harold learns on his journey is that people make choices, and that those choices are OK.  If parents choose to stay married, they should.  If they choose to divorce, they should.  They should make choices, and take responsibility for those decisions.  We, as a society, have to respect other people's choices.  Harold realizes that his life with Maureen is not limited to their life with David.  In choosing not to divorce, he and Maureen actually chose to stay together, when it might have been easier to leave.

Along the way, Harold gathers followers and corporate sponsors.  He wants none of this.  Eventually he sees that he feels better when he carries less, in terms of physical and emotional baggage.

I read this book for The Typical Book Group.  When we discussed The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving in October, we discussed whether Benjamin Benjamin was on a pilgrimage.  Harold adds an important, if not essential, element to the term.  Harold is on a pilgrimage, and Ben was not, because Harold's journey was based on faith.  Harold believes in Queenie, the girl in the garage, and occasionally, he even believes in himself.  His faith is not necessarily religious, but it is there, nonetheless.

The Typical Book Group will discuss Harold next week.  I'll let you know what everyone else thought about it then.

Next up on CD:  Winter of the World by Ken Follett

Still Reading:  Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy

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