How often do we consider, in the midst of the frenetic pace of our lives, the relationships we have built throughout our life’s journey? Too many times relationships fail because we do not have time to commit to them or we lose ourselves in the work we do, our financial concerns, or the seeking of name recognition by society. Watching the documentary film, I’ll Push You, flattens all excuses we may have for not taking time with the people we love and care about. It shifts our priorities at their core, making us consider our own examination of conscience. At least, it did that for me.
Patrick Gray and Justin Skeesuck from Boise, Idaho, have been friends since they were little children, best buds for decades, just like blood brothers. They both married, had children and continue to live near each other so their families are like close relatives. Justin was diagnosed with Multifocal Acquired Motor Axonopathy, an extremely rare neuromuscular disease that affects the hands, arms, feet and legs, leading to paralysis. It slowly progresses causing severe disability over time. The film is based on the book these two friends wrote together called, I’ll Push You: A Journey of 500 Miles, Two Best Friends, and One Wheelchair, detailing their experience of journeying the Camino di Santiago de Compastella.
Justin recalls how he had seen a program about the Camino and asked his friend Patrick if he would go with him to journey the ancient pilgrimage route across Northern Spain. Without hesitation Pat said yes and their journey began. For the first two weeks of the journey, another friend, Ted Hardy came with them since they started at the foot of the Pyrenees in the French town of Saint Jean-Pied-de-Port. This was the most strenuous climb through the mountains. One pushed while another pulled Justin on his wheelchair uphill over rocky, muddy terrain. Making it through the first day of the pilgrimage was grueling and determined the entire trip. Everything had to be done for Justin—eating, bathing, dressing. He said that living with the disease is a challenge but he tries not to let it get the better of him, but rather, “it shapes the way you see your life.” A sign is seen on a wall in his home at the beginning of the film that says, “Love will save the day.” That is exactly the message of this amazing film. Patrick’s tender love for his best friend reaches down deep in the emotions of all who watch this friendship played out on this journey. He sacrifices everything to help his friend. And for Justin, he lets go in utter trust to be helped and taken care of by Patrick.
This film made me consider the passage in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 5 where Jesus was teaching in a room and some men carrying a paralytic tried to bring him before Jesus so he can heal the man. There was a large crowd, so these men carried the paralytic up to the top of the roof, opened up the tiles in the roof so as to lower the paralytic down before Jesus. I have always reflected on the love of those friends who did not stop at any obstacle put before them. They wanted Jesus to heal their friend and so found a way to make that happen, and Jesus blesses their faith by healing their friend. This is exactly what I reflected on while watching this beautiful film. Patrick would do anything for Justin. He loved him and wanted what was best for his friend and the Lord blesses him for his extreme generosity. After Ted had to return home when the two weeks were over, Patrick became fearful of how he would continue on the rest of the Camino alone with Justin. The Lord blesses him with the help of many other pilgrims along the way. At one point, a whole group helped so that Pat had to let go of the reigns, literally. He had to let others help him push Justin along the route and take care of his needs. As Justin reflects, “When you deny someone to help you, you deny them that joy in life.” And the Camino, as one young woman puts it, is not only about you, but is about the other people you meet along the way.
It’s hard for any independent human being to ask for help. But, in the end helping another benefits us and also the person we are helping. We become less self-centered, less focused on our own needs and concerns, and we then open our hearts to love. Giving of ourselves expands us. It transforms our worldview and allows us to see that what is really important in life are our relationships, the people who bring color and interest to our lives. Investing in our relationships brings joy and happiness. This is the message of this powerful film. Giving time and attention to those we love means more than any material gift or experience. Love truly changes the world. Love alone will save the day.