You’d think walking should be the simplest thing,’ she said at last. ‘ Just a question of putting one foot in front of the other. But it never ceases to amaze me how difficult the things that are supposed to be instinctive really are.’
She wet her lower lip with her tongue, waiting for more words.
‘Eating,’ she said at last. That’s another one. Some people have real difficulties with that one. Talking too. Even loving. They can all be difficult.’ (The Unlikely Journey of Harold Fry, p.52)
When I am upset, walking makes me feel better. During the three years I lived in Toronto I always lived downtown, and with the well-lit streets, the heavy pedestrian traffic, and the wide pavements, I always felt comfortable enough to walk. Toronto is a city meant for walking, and walking and public transit were how I moved about the city. Even in the evening when the temperatures were cold, when my thoughts felt knotted or I had had an argument, walking would help me feel sorted again. Joburg is not a very walkable city though, and while it is possible to go somewhere to walk (a field near the gym, or a specific spot to walk for instance) it is not the same as putting your shoes on and walking to where you need to go. I knew I missed it, but hadn’t realized how much until this week. I’m in the Western Cape and it has been glorious to walk for hours on the beach each morning and to be surrounded by ocean, mountains, greenery and white sand without a single soul about. Surrounded by such majesty, I have felt like a tiny speck in the universe, and the things that worry me and preoccupy my thoughts in Joburg have melted away.
Today when I got tired of walking, I sat on the beach, listened to the sound of churning, foaming waves and read a delightful book called “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry”, about walking and marriage and heartbreak and being human. It was the perfect accompaniment to my morning of movement. The book is about a sixty-five year old man named Harold who has been married to his wife Maureen for the last forty-seven years, and begins with Harold and Maureen having breakfast and Maureen reprimanding Harold about jam. While eating his breakfast, Harold receives a letter from a woman named Queenie Hennessy who worked with Harold twenty years previously, and whom he hasn’t heard from since. She is dying from cancer and has written to say goodbye. Harold writes her a note in response, goes to the mailbox to post it, and passing the postbox, keeps on going. He doesn’t stop, and when he’s hungry he stops at a garage for a burger where he meets a girl who inspires him to walk to Queenie in Berwick – Upon – Tweed to help Queenie live. Despite the fact that that is not how cancer works, and that the distance is more than 500 miles, Harold keeps going. He isn’t fit, he doesn’t have the right shoes (he is wearing yachting shoes), or a change of clothes, or a mobile phone, or even a bag for that matter (he only has a plastic bag), but still, Harold presses on. His chances of success are unlikely and he should go home, but he doesn’t. His wife Maureen is startled, and then irritated, and then misses him dreadfully, and this book is about his journey and how it changes him, those closest to him and in turn changes the world. It is a marvellous, marvellous read, and after I was done I sat in silence, the book and characters still with me, and tried to absorb the lessons of the book into my being. Here are some of the things that I took away from the read.