I just finished The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce, and I just had to share some thoughts about it. It is a very sweet, unassuming story that really sneaks up on you with its tenderness and depth. Harold and Maureen are an unhappy couple, married for decades, when Harold receives a letter from an old friend, Queenie, who tells him that she has cancer and is dying. He writes a brief response, which he can’t quite bring himself to post, and after an offhand remark from a girl in a garage, he decides to walk north the length of England to see her, believing this will keep her alive.
In the course of the journey, the whole story of his life with Maureen spins out, including, finally, the truth about their son David, and the sacrifice Queenie made for Harold. He meets lots of people on the way, and as they come in and out of his life they spark reflections on other relationships, and he delves deeply into his memories–the warm and the painful. And, in the end, Harold experiences great joy and sorrow, as he comes to realize all he has, all he has lost, and the fragility of life, and it’s tenuousness. But, the walk, the pilgrimage, turns out to be both salvific and revelatory for both Harold and Maureen, bringing them both back from a lifeless existence, reminding them of who they are, and giving them the possibility to re-animate themselves–independently and together.
The book manages to be very religious, I thought, without saying too much overtly about religion at all, mainly because of the way it offered forgiveness, presented the power of faith in what is not seen, and never gave up on love. And maybe most of all because of its reminder that relationships are built on the small moments, and that’s where God’s presence is the most palpable–if we can just open our eyes and heart, and pay attention.