I don’t know what your opinion is, but here’s mine: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was utterly delightful.
Truly—I don’t know why I didn’t read it sooner! Apparently the paperback edition has 384 pages (I read it on Kindle), but Harold’s tale was so moving and well-told that it seemed like a short story riddled with riches.
I was hooked on Joyce’s storytelling from page one (Kindle location: who knows?), and as the story unfolded, I felt as if I was not simply reading about Harold’s journey, but also journeying along with him. With my familiarity with the practice of pilgrimage, it was exciting to take note of each moment of significance as it passed—each shift in the story that led Harold both further down the path and further into himself—and I was impressed with how accurately Joyce conveyed the transformative elements of the practice. It just goes to show that pilgrimage is written on the hearts of each one of us, doesn’t it?
This is especially true from early on in the book. I couldn’t help but underline this phrase from the very first chapter after Harold has passed the second or third post box but before he encountered the girl in the garage: In reference to his walking, Joyce says, “He had started something and he didn’t know what it was, but now that he was doing it, he wasn’t ready to finish.” What a perfect parallel to the practice of pilgrimage both without and within, no?
Here are a few of my other favorite quotes that ring true to the transformative and disorientating practice of pilgrimage:
“Life is very different when you walked through it.”
“What had been so clear to him when he was alone, two feet on the ground, became lost in this abundance of choices and streets and glass-fronted shopping outlets.”
“He understood that in walking to atone for the mistakes he had made, it was also his journey to accept the strangeness of others.”
“Harold thought of the people he had already met and passed. Their stories had surprised and moved him, and none had left him untouched.”
“Again he felt in a profound way that he was both inside and outside what he saw; that he was both connected, and passing through.”
“The people he met, the places he passed, were all steps in his journey, and he kept a place inside his heart for each of them.”
I also loved how well Joyce illustrated the rawness and authenticity that the practice of pilgrimage can bring forth in a person—”As Harold walked toward her he laughed so openly she had to look away, unable to meet the fullness of his smile,” she says, describing Maureen’s first meeting with Harold after the journey had begun. And then again, the complexity of feelings Harold had upon arrival, for a journey is never picture-perfect, and if anything calls us to face the darkness and disappointment within that we’d rather reject.
In the end, Harold’s journey was far different than he expected it to be—but, undoubtedly, he wouldn’t be the same without it. That’s how it goes when you let a journey transform you.
Some questions for discussion from the back of the book, as well as a few of my own:
- Why does the story that the garage girl tells Harold affect him so deeply? Who have been the “garage girls” on your journeys?
- What roles do you think each person he met along the way played in the journey? If he had not met even one of them, might his journey have been diverged, stalled, or even ended before he reached Queenie?
- How would you feel if people joined your journey uninvited? Would you see it as an invitation? Or does it feel more important for the journey to be your own?
- What would it take to get you to make an extraordinary journey? Is there anyone or anything that could compel you to walk six hundred miles? What would such a journey mean to you?
AUGUST BOOK CLUB SELECTION
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
I’ve had this book for a while and have been waiting for the perfect time to read it. I think it fits in perfectly with our focus on intentional living and I have a strong feeling there’s a spiritual element, too, since it requires intuition and has the promise of bringing life.
“With detailed guidance for determining which items in your house “spark joy” (and which don’t), this international bestseller featuring Tokyo’s newest lifestyle phenomenon will help you clear your clutter and enjoy the unique magic of a tidy home—and the calm, motivated mindset it can inspire.”
Discussion: Friday, August 27