Updated: Sep 7, 2021
I’m in the middle of a coast-to coast walk. And before I hear any murmurs of congratulation, appreciation, admiration or wonder, you need to know something. I haven’t pulled on my walking boots, donned my cagoule, purchased a pole, and set off with my trusty Wainwright for company and a map of all the potential watering holes between St Bees in Cumbria and Robin Hood’s Bay. No. My coast-to-coast challenge is, shall we say, internal. It’s a spiritual coast-to-coast. And before anyone ventures to say it’s not the same – it’s not.
It’s much harder.
When you begin a journey, sometimes you can only see your next step. And that’s if you’re lucky. You may have no idea about the bigger picture. Maybe your walking companion does, but this information needs to be drip fed in small doses. Otherwise the reality may be too overwhelming. And it’s only by looking back that you can see how far you have come and realise that you are not the same person who set out at the beginning.
Things have changed. I have changed.
But I’m not there yet.
The shoreline behind me has long since receded and I have lost sight of the sea. And there is a vast swathe of countryside between me and the next shoreline way into the distance. I don’t know exactly what’s there. But I have survived all kinds of tests and trials, much as Frodo Baggins in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ with his allies and travelling companions did when they took on the Dark Lord Sauron and the forces of darkness to win back their treasure. Not that I’m any Tolkien, or even a courageous or and fearless hobbit you understand. I’m on a journey facing storms, high winds, torrential rain, hail, snow, fire, floods and enemies who may harm me. That’s about as far as the analogy goes. And there may be more of all that to come and I don’t know, but I’ve touched hell already and I’m still here to tell the tale.
Sometimes I wonder if there could be a shorter route. Say the eight miles from Penzance to St Ives which I could cover in two and a half hours rather than the hundred and ninety miles of the northern route which takes at least fifteen days. But I know there isn’t. Not for me anyhow. Some people tackle the shorter route and it’s what they need. There’s no right or wrong about this. You choose the coast-to-coast that’s right for you and for what you need to do.
On my walk, I’ve had to let go of the messages in my head. The ones that tell me to believe in a God who will punish me if I don’t get it right. Send packing the God who frightens little children and tells them they will be banished from the Kingdom if they are not brimming with joy unspeakable and full of glory. I am discovering another God – the one from ‘The Shack’ who wipes her floury hands on her apron as she bakes an apple pie and makes me sit down at the table and eat. A Mother God who watches over me tenderly while I sleep and is there when I wake.
But however, much I want that God in my head, the other one still insinuates itself, snake-like into my psyche, whispering over and over that I am lost.
But this god is losing its grip, because as you can see, these are not just thoughts. I am writing them down so that they become a physical presence in black and white on the paper. I employ writing as a way of processing these early memories, giving myself a voice to say the things I couldn’t say at the time. I sit down at my keyboard and write my story, punching out the words on the keyboard, jaw clenched, teeth gritted, weepily chasing the words across the page.
And some of the fragmented shards inside begin to meld together and I know that somewhere, somehow, I am being healed. And it feels a bit like coming home.
Writing can do this. I just have to turn on the tap and let the water flow. Trust my-self to the words and the words will be waiting to be found.
I can write a lot in a hundred and ninety miles.