Rebecca Frech is the author of Teaching in Your Tiara: A Homeschooling Book for the Rest of Us, co-host of the popular radio show/podcast The Visitation Project, Catholic speaker, and writes the award-winning blog Shoved to Them. She and her husband live just outside Dallas with their seven children and an ever-multiplying family of dust-bunnies. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at @shovedtothem.
“I’ll Push You” is simply the most amazing story. It’s the true tale of lifelong friends, Justin and Patrick, and their 500-mile pilgrimage down the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. This could have been a travel documentary or a buddy pic, but it isn’t. It is, instead, one of the most beautiful love stories I’ve ever seen.
Justin and Patrick like to say that they’ve been friends since birth, having arrived within days of each other to families in the same small town. They were there for each other all the way through school, saw each other fall in love, get married and become fathers. They were living an extraordinary friendship in the middle of their completely ordinary lives. Right up until the moment that Justin got sick.
Many people are scared off by disability and disease. They choose to quietly drift away when their friends and loved ones get sick. People in the wheelchair communities talk about their chairs as being a great filter for people. Put a wheelchair into a life or a relationship, and you will quickly find out what kind of person someone really is.
In the prime of his life, Justin began to lose control of his muscles one by one. It took some time for doctors to diagnose him with MAMA (multifocal acquired motor axonopathy) a degenerative disease which began in his legs, stealing his muscles one by one, before eventually spread to the rest of his body. He never really complains about his failing body though. He simply figures out how to live in his new reality, and then does it.
Patrick not only didn’t run from his friend’s disability, he moved his own family closer to help with Justin’s care and with his children. He and Justin’s family did everything they could to ensure that life would continue as normal as possible for as long as possible, and that included the adventurous spirit that both men have shared their whole lives. When one of them suggested a 500-mile hike through mountains, mud, and the Spanish countryside, it surprised no one that they would go.
Their latest adventure began with a slow slog, pushing and pulling a wheelchair through deep mud on day one, and a wheel breaking completely off of the chair on day two. The reality of how difficult it would be to get a profoundly disabled man along this route quickly set in, and yet they were undeterred. Such severe disability meant that Patrick not only had to get Justin from place to place, but also dress him, feed him, and manage catheters and his bowel program for him. It’s not surprising then that we see Patrick feeling the weight of the responsibility of keeping his friend safe and alive, and Justin feeling the weight of the humility their journey required of him. They both gave up what autonomy and independence they had in order to make this trek, and we get to witness them continually finding the joy in spite of and because of it.
Justin and Patrick’s raw humanity is on display in this movie, and it is well matched by their camaraderie and super-human love. They are grace and determination personified, well-seasoned with patient good humor. At the end of it all, I found myself praying for such a friendship for my own children and for myself. May we have them and may we be them.
“I’ll Push You” is absolutely worth seeing. Bring your children. Bring your neighbors. Bring everyone you know. It is extraordinary. This is what love looks like, and it’s refreshing to get to see it.