This day six years ago, I was walking from Bruay-la-Buissière to Arras in France. It was day nine of my Via Francigena pilgrimage and my longest walking day yet.
With few accommodation options between the two towns and still uncertain if I could make it to Rome within my 90-day Schengen visa, I felt that I had little choice but to walk the 38.5 kilometres between the two towns — and that was the shorter route; if I followed the guidebook exactly I would have walked an extra 14 kilometres. Ouch and no thank you to 52.5 kilometres.
It took me 10 hours to walk the 38.5 kilometres to Arras. I had two deep blisters on my toes that burned, arch and heel pain, and then my hips went into a spasm. The pain was excruciating. It took me an hour to walk the last 2 kilometres into Arras. Actually, it was more like a shuffle.
When I was a kid, I seemed to have the words “I can’t” pre-programmed into me and spilling off my lips whenever things got tough.
Learning (and struggling) to tie my shoelaces, I’d tell my dad, “I can’t.”
Going on a long bike ride with my dad and brother: “I can’t” make it up the hill. “I can’t” make it home; it’s too far.
My dad was ever patient and calm. He told me many times that there’s no such thing as can’t. He taught me to read the book, The Little Engine That Could whose mantra was “I think I can.”
I get it now.
I can’t usually means I don’t want to. It can also mean I don’t know how to yet or this is really hard for me and I’m scared of failing or even just plan I won’t.
I’ve had many people tell me that they could never do what I did and walk the Via Francigena, especially alone. I never believe them because broken down to its simplest component it is just walking, one step after the other. Unless you are affected by a disability, you can most likely walk. It’s just a question of whether you have the desire and motivation to walk so far and on your own.
I was a solo pilgrim walking the Via Francigena. I had only myself to urge me on and there really wasn’t any room for I can’t.
My mantra that day walking from Bruay-la-Buissière to Arras and every time the going got tough was I” can do it.” On repeat.
I can do it. I can do it. I can do it. I can do it.
I repeated this over and over until I did it; I arrived in Arras. When I was saying I can do it, there was no room for I can’t.
The pain and the struggle faded away not long after arriving and flopping down on the bed in my hotel room in Arras. All these years later, I still remember that day and that I was in so much pain but the pain itself now just resembles a large grey cloud that hovered above me as I walked. I don’t feel the physical pain in my body and even if I did, I would walk the whole Via Francigena again in a heartbeat.
The Via Francigena tested me physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I didn’t arrive in Rome as the same person that set out from Canterbury. My bank account may have been lower but I was far richer in all my being; deeper, wiser, stronger and with a reinforced faith that I was guided and supported by life. I still receive gifts from this journey all these years later.
Lewis Carroll has been quoted as saying:
“In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take, the relationships we were afraid to have, and the decisions we waited too long to make.”
Whatever it is that your heart longs for, whether it is an adventure, to learn a new skill, leave a career and start a new one, take a risk and find a way out of your comfort zone , find your way to say yes.
You can do anything you put your mind to and energy into.
Maybe you aren’t destined to be Luciano Pavarotti or an Olympic gold medallist or maybe you are and don’t know it yet…but how will you ever find out what you are capable of if you don’t try.
Imagine if Pavarotti told himself he couldn’t sing and believed it!
If you are ever in doubt that you can do what you really want to do, then borrow the Little Engine Who Could’s mantra, “I think I can, I think I can” or even my mantra: “I can do it.” Say it over and over even if you don’t believe it at first. It will still help put positive I can energy into your system.
If you’re not sure if it’s worth the risk, and if you’re still scared and struggling to take the first step then reach out to me. Working through fear and self-doubt is my specialty.
With love and courage,
PS Here’s a few snaps from that hard walking day: in sunshine, a rain-free moment, in the midst of raining wearing Kermit my green poncho, my friends the cows, a lot of potatoes and the avenue of trees.