The book and upcoming documentary “I’ll Push You” chronicles the 500-mile journey of two lifelong friends, Justin and Patrick, across the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. Diagnosed with a progressive neuromuscular disease, Justin is confined to a wheelchair. Demonstrating a friendship that goes beyond all limits, Patrick set out to push Justin the entire way.
Patrick and I are fortunate to have a friendship that has endured so long. We have helped each other in many ways. But no matter how much help I have offered Patrick, or how much he has given me, our relationship is a dynamic interaction between two people. This means there are two decisions that must be made in order for it to work. The strength and energy we can effectively give each other is directly proportional to the willingness of the other to receive it. It’s no different out here on the trail.
I face challenge after challenge as this disease continues to take more of my ability to use my body. In spite of this, I strive to live a life of adventure and make the most of every day. But living this way requires utter vulnerability. Because the list of things I can do on my own is so much shorter than the list of those I can’t, I have to acknowledge my limitations and allow others to step in and do those things for me. No matter how much help Patrick offers me, he can’t help me if I refuse it. When I choose pride over vulnerability, I find that relying on my own strength makes me weak.
When I laid everything on the table back in 2012 and proposed the idea of tackling the Camino, Patrick’s response – “I’ll push you!” – would have meant nothing if I hadn’t been willing to accept his help and admit that I couldn’t do it all on my own. I didn’t realize this was a lesson Patrick needed to learn, but he echoed this sentiment yesterday when he told me, “I have accepted the fact that I can’t do any of this on my own.”
Before we left St. John Pied de Port on June 3 and ascended the Pyrenees Mountains, I had accepted my limits and embraced not being able to make the pilgrimage without help. If I had never accepted my limitations and allowed others to help, I would still be sitting in my living room watching PBS. The truth is, something beautiful happens when I invite others into my weaknesses. I don’t mean just the hard moments in life, like the death of a loved one, addiction to pornography, or not being able to care for myself. I mean everything. When I invite others into everything I am, no weakness is too great to overcome.
I don’t think Patrick truly thought he could get me all the way to Santiago on his own, but he certainly hadn’t accepted the prospect that he couldn’t. At least not until recently. By letting go of the things he knows he cannot do alone, like getting me up to O Cebriero, he is offering me even more, and he is offering more to other pilgrims on the trail. They were able to help, and I was able to climb a mountain because he finally let go. I’m convinced that if he had continued to push through the pain in his calves rather than let others help as much as they have, our Camino would have ended several days before now. He had to completely relinquish control so others could do what he could not. Just as I’ve lost strength in my body but have discovered a freedom I didn’t know when I could walk, Patrick had to lose the strength in his legs in order to discover the freedom that exists in resting in the strength of others.
Today is Jasper’s last day on the film crew. He has filmed so much of this journey, but he has one request before he leaves.
“Can I push today? I want to push for a bit!”
Patrick unclips the safety harness and steps aside so Jasper can take the handlebars. Jasper’s face lights up as he says, “I have wanted to do this ever since St. Jean!”
While Jasper pushes, Patrick and I talk a great deal about the Basque man who affectionately slapped my cheek so many days ago.
“A stranger in the middle of the Pyrenees has turned into a bit of a prophet.”
“Yeah! I wonder if he will ever understand the power of his words?” Patrick muses.
“I hope so, but do any of us ever know the power of our words?”
“No, I guess not. That’s why we should make sure they are filled with hope.”
It has been exactly one month since we heard the man shout, “The impossible is possible!” And we have seen more examples of this truth than we could ever imagine. Our journey has led Patrick and me over three mountain ranges, through days of self-exploration and discovery, and into the arms of strangers waiting to help us in ways we didn’t know we needed.
What an experience.
This is an excerpt from I’ll Push You by Patrick Gray and Justin Skeesuck. Copyright ©2017 by Patrick Gray and Justin Skeesuck. Published by Tyndale Momentum, an imprint of Tyndale House Publishers. Used by permission.