My best friend and I have become obsessed with the story of “I’ll Push You.” It is the true story of Justin Skeesuck and Patrick Gray who are lifelong best friends. They decide to hike the Camino which is a long trail in Spain similar to the Pacific Crest Trail. The catch is, one of them is in a wheel chair.
Justin is the friend in the wheel chair due to a rare disease similar to ALS. He has lost function of his legs and arms. Married with children, Justin is an upbeat gentleman who is still trying to experience life as much as he can. He doesn’t know how much time he has left. One day he sees a Rick Steves episode about the Camino and is instantly captivated. He wants to do it.
He shows the episode to his friend, Patrick, who is a career oriented man also married with children. Justin then says to Patrick, “Think I can do that?” To which Patrick says, “I’ll Push You.”
If you are wondering how much I love this story, I almost cried just writing the words “I’ll Push You.”
To give you an idea of just how crazy this idea is, let me give you a bit of info about the Camino. El Camino Frances is the pilgrimage route that begins in St. Jean Pied de Port, France and continues west through the upper part of Spain almost to the coast. The destination is Santiago de Compostela, a cathedral where St. James the Great, the brother of John the Apostle, is buried. It is believed the trail follows the path of the Milky Way. This trek is around 484 miles long and can take anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks to accomplish. On average, more than 100,000 people called pilgrims walk the Camino Frances a year. It is not a nicely paved walk. In fact, the first section is through the Pyrenees. Just so we are clear, the Pyrenees are a range of mountains that form a natural border between France and Spain. Yes, there is a path through, how could there not be with 100,000 people walking it every year! But it is still a decent hike. And that is just the beginning.
Now imagine doing that while pushing your friend in a wheel chair loaded with gear which totals around 250 lbs. At the beginning of the trail, locals often stop them and asked, “You are hiking the Camino? You know how difficult is it, yes?” One even called Justin “loco en la cabeza.”
The story begins with you watching from the perspective that all of this is for Justin. That Patrick is doing this for Justin because he is Patrick’s best friend. He loves Justin and doesn’t know how much time he has left with him. But the Camino doesn’t work that way.
The Camino is a spiritual pilgrimage. People walk it for many different reasons. They are grieving a loved one, or at a cross-roads in life, or trying to resolve something about themselves. And if you decide to walk the Camino because it is a challenge and sounds like fun, the Camino has other plans for you. The Camino has a way of bringing to the surface what you need to learn. Sometimes throwing it in your face.
This is what happened to Patrick. (And now I’m starting to cry again.)
Although this story begins with Justin and his desire to travel the Camino, it is Patrick who has the transformation. Patrick is faced with obvious physical challenges pushing his friend in a wheel chair, but the Camino makes Patrick reflect on his life, the man he has become. And he doesn’t like what he sees. It is an emotional moment when your heart reaches out to him. By the time they reach Santiago, it is Patrick who has had an awakening. As they arrive at the cathedral they see their wives are waiting for them. As Patrick embraces his wife you know he is a different man committed to the awakening he has experienced. And then you realize the Camino really wasn’t about Justin, it was Justin’s gift to Patrick. (And I’m crying again.)
There is a third part to this story which is the lesson of being human. There is community on the Camino. People reach out to other people and help. People touch each other’s lives. The community that Justin and Patrick meet and is created around them is not only beautiful, but a joy. The insights Justin has learned about love and giving through coping with his disease are in full view on the Camino. And we, as the viewer, have an awakening as well.
My best friend and I are planning to hike the Camino two years from now. Here I am, putting it in writing for all the world to witness. Hopefully Fall of 2019. I have wanted to hike the Camino ever since I read Shirley McClaine’s book about her experience. And the fact that I will be doing it with my best friend makes it even more wonderful. This is why we love this book so much. It is about two best friends supporting each other in their strengths and weaknesses and transformations on the Camino. And I’m grateful to my best friend for buying me the book, and for going to the documentary with me.
“I’ll Push You” has such heart to it I would recommend it to anyone. In the book, you get more detail about their journey as well as the other pilgrims they meet on the way. The documentary is just as wonderful and at times more emotional as you listen to Justin and Patrick pour their souls out to the camera in such a genuine way it touches you deeply.
So, as we approach Thanksgiving, and we all begin to bring to focus all we are grateful for, check out “I’ll Push You.” I don’t know how available the movie is, but the book is an easy 250 page read and easily available. It will help you see how grateful you are for your life, your friends and family, your community. Definitely food for the soul.
For more information on “I’ll Push You” go to https://www.illpushyou.com/