Last September I completed nine years running a busy management consultancy. It had taken a lot of energy to serve clients, staff and my boss, not to mention be available to my family. But now I could finally let go. The warm Australian spring gently welcomed me to its bosom. I felt like a punctured air mattress slowly deflating in the pool. I began to decompress.
Soon my vitality was restored. My wife Deborah and I decided now was the time to have the adventure we’d talked about often but never yet embarked upon: walk The Way of St Francis, an ancient pilgrimage route running almost 600 kilometres from Florence to Rome. It promised spiritual refreshment, beautiful countryside, picturesque hill towns and Italian food every day for a month.
Deb bought a guide book* and quickly organised for us to Skype with the author, Rev. Sandy Brown, an American pastor and walking enthusiast known as The Caminoist. Deb was concerned the walk might be too arduous and wanted to speak to the expert. He graciously gave us an hour of his time.
I’m not the sort of person who asks for help. I’d read Sandy’s book. I had the GPS tracks and could see the steepness and difficulty of the terrain on the topographical maps. I did not want to appear as if this was something I could not figure out. So I joined the call reluctantly.
“Have you ever been on any long hikes together?” Sandy asked.
“No. It’s our first,” said Deb.
“Wonderful! Do you walk at the same speed?”
“I walk faster than Deb,” I said.
What I did not say was I can also be very impatient and tend to storm ahead, waiting (sometimes irritably) for her to catch up.
“But I guess I could walk at her speed,” I added hastily.
Sandy shared that he and his partner Teresa also walk at different paces. She is a runner and often vaults ahead, whereas Sandy chugs steadily along. To avoid losing touch they established a rule never to walk out of sight of each other, especially in the wilderness areas on their own with no mobile phone coverage. If either gets into trouble the other is always able to assist.
“Do you think you can handle that Miles?” he asked. “Waiting for Deb?”
I was getting uncomfortable. I had not expected this kind of conversation. Nevertheless, I agreed. It was the safest, most sensible thing to do.
“It’s going to take a lot of patience from you, Miles,” he added.
Stop going on about it, I thought. I got the message! I could feel my hackles rising.
“It will be no problem at all,” I said, trying to shut down the conversation. “I’ll walk at her pace.”
“Maybe this is part of what your pilgrimage is about,” he said.
“That’s a really interesting thought,” I replied. “But really Sandy, I’m confident I can do it.”
“How are you two at resolving conflict?” he asked.
It was turning into a marriage guidance session. Not what I signed up for.
“We’re really good,” I said, trying to sound confident. “We’ve been married twenty-five years. We’ve participated in marriage courses. We’ve led marriage courses. We’ve written about marriage. We’ve worked with dozens of couples on conflict in their relationships. We’re good at resolving conflict.”
Deb looked at me sceptically.
“We argue a lot over directions,” she said.
Oh yeah, I thought. I didn’t mention that.
“That’s an area where we experience conflict too,” said Sandy. “It could also be part of what your pilgrimage is all about.”
I had not signed up for this. But I didn’t say anything. There was no point. I told myself all would be sweet.
Little did I know, however, how prescient Sandy turned out to be. The man has a sixth sense. Or maybe he is just better plugged in to Divine Wisdom than me!
This series of video blogs and articles recounts some of the challenges we faced along the way as we walked almost 600 kms through Italy. There were some difficult moments. But our marriage grew tremendously as a result.
Please watch and share them with people you think might be interested.
* Sandy Brown The Way of St Francis, Cicerone, London, 2015