21 Aug Miracles, Gratitude and Acceptance
21 August 2018. Exactly one year ago, just before the Italian sunrise, Niels and I set out on foot, taking our first steps on the Way of St Francis from Florence to Rome. Our journey would take us through the most beautiful countryside, villages, towns, and cities. We would meet the Italians – what a beautiful friendly people! At least they were towards us. These beautiful memories will last forever.
Even after being on the Way of St Francis for more than a month, I still have to pinch myself to believe that I’ve actually had this incredible experience. It’s nothing short of a miracle for me. Yet isn’t that the nature of a miracle? Sometimes the Lord will take you through it before you realise that it has happened.
In my case, I realised from the moment that Niels and I nailed it down, that this walk would be a miracle for me. Only now, am I fully aware of the extent of this miracle.
There are two closely linked reasons why miracles are often overlooked. Because the Lord moves people to do His work, people often don’t look further than the hand of the human giver. It is also often easy to discount a miracle because we can ascribe it to some logical reason. One could easily reason that Niels is a very generous person with means. Without his generosity, this adventure would never have happened. That would be the easy logical reason.
Here’s the thing: There was no earthly reason why he had to offer this opportunity to me. While he is a generous person, he is certainly not someone who throws money at a lost cause. I also had not seen him for two decades – a time during which we’ve had little contact. Yet he found it in his heart to make it possible for me to walk in Italy and spend 42 days with him.
When I asked him why he did so his words were simply, “We are not getting any younger. Our opportunities to do so are fast getting less.”
I’ve thanked Niels often. Yet it still feels like I can never thank him enough. For all the things that have made this pilgrimage possible, I am most deeply grateful. It may be that the Lord worked in his heart to give me this enormous gift, but it was still he who made this choice.
He had several opportunities to back out or simply send me home. It would’ve been hard for me, but I would’ve accepted his call. Many people would criticise his choice for offering me this opportunity, yet he followed through.
Niels is a very critical person, and never shy to tell people what he thinks. As I’ve come to know him, I’ve realised that his criticism is born of a caring heart, and a sincere intent to make things better. “Look up,” was one of his favourite sayings on the Cammino di San Francesco. I’m extremely grateful to Niels for persisting in telling me this. He stimulated my thinking and helped me build my belief in the fact to make things better.
There is also my gratitude to my family. They gave me unconditional support, regardless of their doubts and their own strong desires to travel. Estelle gave me boots as a birthday present before I left. Lydia supplied a number of small things that made the trip easier.
Refusal to Return Revisited
After my feelings of refusal to return, and difficulty with accepting the fact that I am stuck in South Africa, I have taken a stern look at myself. I have come to accept my lot. As it stands, I will never have the resources to leave the country to live in Italy, America, Australia or the UK.
It’s like the Rule No. 13 of golf “Play it as it lies.” I’ve also had to accept that I can’t change the country. Whatever happens will be what happens. I need to look at my role in life here where I am. If this is where the Lord wants me to fulfil my purpose in life, then so mote it be.
My refusal to return shows most in my attempts at being the change I want to see. I have changed my personal habits. Under Niels’ influence, my food and drink habits have become much healthier. My diet is more balanced. No more sugary drinks unless it’s a natural part of the beverage. I developed a liking for frizzante – sparkling mineral water in Italy. I make an exception for chocolate and the occasional ice cream. After all, what is life without some of its little pleasures?
However, it’s my fitness that is most improved. Niels is a proudly self-confessed addict to walking. Some of that has rubbed off on me. I still walk 25 – 30 km per week at my maximum pace under normal circumstances. The exceptions to that are that I don’t walk in the weeks around Christmas and my birthday, or when I’m ill.
Naturally, one of the side effects of walking is on one’s weight. Before starting to get fit for the trip I was about 15kg overweight. Due to exercise and diet, I am now keeping my ideal weight.
One thing is certain: regardless of one’s memories, attitudes and habits, it is impossible to be the same person you were before a pilgrimage.