Three Books about Pilgrimage

I’ve not kept up with writing about what I’m reading, but today, just to stir that pot a little, three book notes, on three books about pilgrimage.




The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (Random House, 2012). Harold Fry is recently retired. He spends his days doing little besides trimming the grass and sitting about, irritating his wife Maureen, who is easily irritated. A letter arrives from a long-ago co-worker, Queenie Hennessy, dying of cancer and writing to say goodbye. Harold pens a short reply, struggling as he always has, to express his feelings. He walks to the mailbox to post it, and decides to walk to the next box instead. Then he decides to go a little further. And to keep going. Eighty-seven days and 627 miles later, he reaches the hospice with the letter. Continue reading

What she left

“What will I leave of myself?” asked nurse and poet Christine Wiebe (1954-2000) in her journal. The question found its way into a limited edition book, “How to Stay Alive,” produced for family and friends, and now into excerpts carried in the latest issue of the online CMW Journal. I hear it, honest and poignant, as it weaves through the 79 online pages of the piece, and through her poems, and as I read her mother Katie Funk Wiebe’s short biography of her daughter, then a short analysis of Christine’s work by Ellen Kroeker (and the poem, “Her Spirit, a Small Bird with Color”), and the reflections of her sister Joanna and Jeff Gundy Christine, and… well the whole issue, in fact.

Christine faced many health challenges, including lupus and heart attacks and eventually the complete collapse of her body and death. She was interested in healing — of others, of herself. She was both Catholic and Mennonite. And most of all she wanted to be a writer. And she struggled — in the way one’s thoughts turn round and round in journal writing — with those dreams (and others) and what might not be accomplished.

On the evidence of these articles, she left more than she knew perhaps, for her mother, sisters, friends, colleagues, clients, especially in terms of personal interaction. But in addition, and here I speak as one of those now reading these gathered words by and about her, these frank and lovely, almost heartbreaking words, I want to answer her, you left us all this: a gift of what you saw and strove for and accepted.

I close with one whimsical foretaste of Christine’s art and poetry from her journal (used with permission):

Everyone has an angel.
Angels have friends.
Imagine all the angels around
your bed
before you sleep.