An Unlikely Pilgrimage

Man goes out to post a letter and keeps walking. It sounds like that familiar old story of a bad man leaving his long-suffering wife, but that is not the story of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry written by Rachel Joyce. Harold is a meek man who has drifted through life without ever pushing back against it. 

He spent years in an uninteresting job, his marriage has gone sour from blame for what he didn’t do, his son has rejected him, and at the beginning of the story, retirement finds him numb and at loose ends. He receives a card from an old acquaintance with whom he worked. 

Twenty years without contact, now Queenie has written from Hospice to say goodbye. The note sparks a nugget of emotion in Harold. He is disarmingly moved, writes back a perfunctory message expressing regret at her illness, and sets off to post his letter. When he approaches the mailbox, he decides to walk on to the next box, then decides to pass that one, also. Harold is made a surprising champion by a young clerk who serves him a burger and imparts the words that inspire him to take a leap of faith and begin his quest to keep Queenie alive by walking some 600 miles across England to see her. Of course the quest is more about the awakening of Harold than the saving of Queenie. 

His simple act causes unexpected consequences as he tests his mettle, finds meaning in each encounter, and touches the lives of those he meets along the way. His bewildered wife, Maureen undergoes her own soul-search and transformation as she moves from anger to fear to resignation and beyond. A pilgrimage is a journey to a sacred place; what better journey than to the sacred place within? This is truly a book to savor,  because it is all about the journey.

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