To Travel Hopefully: Footsteps in the French Cévennes by Christopher Rush
This memoir is about the time in Rush's life when he was dealing with massive grief. It is done in 3 sections. The first section, The Road to the Cévennes, is about the dying of Chris's wife Patricia in the summer and early fall of 1993, and about his reactions to both the dying and the death over the next several months. Patricia died far too young, and her illness was avoided until beyond redemption. Chris's two children, Catriona and Jonathan were 16 and 11. Chris' grief took its toll on them in addition to their own grief as they lost their mother.
Part two, Between Two Lives, looks at what brought Chris from this, and his connection to the writer Robert Louis Stevenson. Inspired by Stevenson's life changing journey by donkey detailed in his book, Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes, Chris plans out a similar journey, following as closely as possible in Stevenson's footsteps.
The third part, In the Cévennes, tells of Chris' journey. He hires, rather than purchases, a donkey named Anatole, recommended for this trek by the owner Monsieur Lac, and is coached in the proper handling and treatment of the donkey. He equips himself for the journey in a similar fashion to Stevenson, and follows his route as closely as possible. This is a difficult walk, through rough terrain, through much inclement weather, and Chris sleeps some nights out in the open, not always according to plan. His journey is physically demanding, but also emotionally and mentally challenging and Chris comes through it a changed man.
The writing is florid, and frank. He does not shy away from his experiences, whether uplifting or embarrassing. He is open about his feelings, his outbursts and his resentments, in a way few of us are willing to lay out for public view.
One of my favourite passages is from a man that Chris meets at a monastery he stays at enroute, who tells him
"Don't get stuck in the past, he went on to advise me. Or the future. That's the trouble with human beings. We're an illogical lot. Animals are more logical, though it's the logic of instinctive innocence. They don't wander about in times that don't belong to them, like we do. We're always running away blindly from the only time that does properly belong to us: the present. But the present is never the end we have in mind, with the result that we never actually live but simply hope to live, dream about life. It's perfectly logical too, you see. When a man is forever planning how to be happy, it stands to reason that he will never actually be so. Take my advice, my friend, be happy: live your life now, not tomorrow."This is an inspiring read and one that inspires the reader to reflect.