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Orphans, in real life or within literature and film, evoke squeamish feelings. Blistered by abandonment, the fabric of their known world unravels around their muddied shoes—if they have them. Nothing works. But there are exceptions.

One of these unfolds within the historical novel, The Girl from the Train (2015) written by South African, Irma Joubert. From the first page, the plight of Gretl, a German Jew, alarms us. What will become of this thin waif, sole survivor of the open cattle cars packed with hundreds of Jews enroute to Auschwitz?

I’m not afraid, Gretl thinks… I’m brave…” She rolls into a ball upon the forest floor and waits until daylight. Yes, think about other things, she adds. That’s what Oma used to say.

With pluck, she sets out for the creek, the sun warming her back. She listens. She waits for the next development. Then she’ll know what to do.

A chance meeting with the Polish metallurgist Jacob quickens her heart; he becomes “family,” the support she needs to continue engaging the world around her. Her resiliency and groundedness, enhanced by her fluency in German and Polish and Russian, endear her to many.

Such stories serve as correctives for our own childhood abandonment, never far from consciousness; its wound spirits us toward deeper compassion for our humanness, within the grace of a merciful God. Psychic growth abounds. That’s why we’re here …

 

 

Pilgrimages to numinous sites don’t often make it in the news. It was not always that way.

 

In the sixth century, BC, ailing Greeks sought healing at the shrine of the god Asclepius in Epidaurus. Two centuries later, others seeking to be reborn, followed the Sacred Way from Athens to Eleusis. And still later, Egyptians sought the protection of their falcon god, Horus, on the West Bank of the Nile at Edfu. Hundreds of such sites pepper the globe and are known to you.

 

The magnificence of these sites, still discernible in archeological ruins, speaks of these ancient people and their attraction to the Holy, however experienced: their urgent need for a new paradigm to replace outworn ones; their setting out toward a numinous place, their minimization of hardships, their stripping away of old attitudes, their openness to new learning, and ultimately their psychic transformation.

 

To return to the present …

 

The British author, Rachel Joyce, has woven these same components into her debut novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (2012). Six months into retirement from a brewery, Harold has lost his moorings. Barely speaking with Maureen, his wife, his son David long gone, he waits for the grass to grow around their South Devon home so he can cut it. One April morning, however, Harold receives a pink typed note from Queenie Hennessey, a former accountant who had worked with him, now dying of cancer in a hospice, five hundred miles way in the North of England. He is moved to tears. At first, he jots a quick response to Queenie, but on his way to post it, decides to walk to her bedside. He must see her. He takes off. No matter that he’s only wearing yachting shoes and a windbreaker, his debit card in his back pocket. His three-month walk follows, one that unravels his troubled past and opens him and Maureen to the remaining years of their marriage. The hilarity of their youth returns.

 

Another moving read for the New Year! Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

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