Friends of mine are on a pilgrimage, walking across Spain. They maintain a daily blog about their trek, and the challenges and joys they've encountered along the way remind me of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, the sleeper first novel by Rachel Joyce that quickly became the favorite of book clubs when it appeared in 2012.
Harold Fry is an aging retiree with a stale marriage and an aimless life in the southwest of England. One day is much the same as the next until he receives a letter from an old colleague, writing from a hospice in northern England to tell him goodbye. Harold struggles to write a reply, but produces an unsatisfactory response that doesn't begin to express what he wants to say. Setting out to mail it, he finds himself walking past the letter box--and the next one and the next one--and before he knows it he is traversing the length of England to see her in person, believing she will not die as long as he keeps walking. It's a lovely story about acceptance, coming to terms with the past, and discovering that you can always surprise yourself.
Like thousands of pilgrims every year, my friends in Spain are following the Way of St. James, beginning in the Pyrenees and ending in Santiago de Compostela. For a great movie about this centuries-old trek that also explores themes of understanding and acceptance, check out The Way, starring Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez. In this film, a father travels to Spain to retrieve the body of his son who has died in the Pyrenees while on the pilgrimage. The father decides to complete the pilgrimage himself in his late son’s memory, and the experience impacts his life profoundly.