Tony Rossi, Director of Communications, The Christophers
Camino in a Wheelchair
Due to a progressive neuromuscular disease, Justin Skeesuck has lost the use of his arms and legs, and is now confined to a wheelchair. But that didn’t stop him from embarking on a pilgrimage with the help of his lifelong best friend Patrick Gray. And this wasn’t just any pilgrimage. It was the 500-mile Camino de Santiago – or Way of St. James – in the mountains of northern Spain.
During an interview on “Christopher Closeup” about their Christopher Award-winning book “I’ll Push You,” Patrick and Justin recalled the physical struggles they endured on their journey, but also the ways that God made Himself known to them along the way.
While watching a Rick Steves travel show about the Camino on PBS, Justin heard a voice inside telling him, “You need to do this.” The book’s title comes from Patrick’s unhesitating response to Justin’s suggestion they go together: “I’ll push you.” The two men encountered naysayers when they told others about their plan. Some called them “idiots or crazy.” But those comments just added “fuel for the fire,” making them determined to get it done. And despite the hardships, they’re glad they made the pilgrimage because it affected their views on God and human nature.
Justin said, “I came out of the pilgrimage with my eyes opened to so much good in this world that we don’t hear about on a daily basis…So many people stepped into our journey to help us, either for a few moments or for several days. It’s like my faith in humanity was restored. To see that on a daily basis was truly God’s gift to us…The message we’ve taken away is that we are hands and feet for one another here on God’s earth.”
Patrick gained a new appreciation for the concept of Sabbath, and what it means. While both the Old and New Testaments treat it as “a day set aside to honor God,” the original word means “to stop, rest, and keep.”
The Camino, he said, “was a grandiose form of Sabbath for Justin and I to stop whatever distractions had been pulling us in different directions and rest in the presence of one another and the people that came alongside of us. Then to take that home and apply that same mentality to my family and friends opened up the playing field for how relationships can develop and become more intimate...People tend to come together in a way that I believe Jesus called us to come together, where we are a community that is grounded in those three words: to stop, rest, and keep. Stop the distractions, rest in each other’s presence, and keep each other close.”
Justin’s disability has given him a strength grounded in humility that has also taught him a valuable lesson.
He concluded, “When you deny someone the opportunity to help you, you deny them joy. Think about when you see somebody who needs help and you’re willing to step in…but they’re so resistant to [being helped]. They’re robbing you of that joy…Patrick does a lot of things that most best friends don’t do. He helps me in the bathroom and gets my clothes on and feeds me when we’re together. I can see how much joy it brings him to pitch in…Why would I want to rob him of that? That’s not cool…Once you let people in to help you, amazing things can happen … Love [and beauty] will flourish in this world when you allow that to happen.”
For free copies of the Christopher News Note FINDING THE COURAGE WITHIN, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org