West of Sheringham, on the North Norfolk Coastal Path, there’s a hill with amazing views. From the top, next to the old Coast Guard lookout, one can see as far as the eye can see and sometimes a little further! On a sunny autumn afternoon it was the first hill I’d climbed in weeks.
Putting one foot in front of the other and fighting for my breath, I thought of the last hill I remember climbing. One’s summer’s evening I’d taken the rocky path from Castleton, in Derbyshire’s Peak District , up through a darkening Cave Dale and on to sunlit heights. From the hillside I’d watched a shepherd tending his flock in the fields below. It is very much 23rd Psalm country!
Little did I guess I’d soon find myself passing through valley of the shadow of death ! A cardiac arrest started me out on a journey through first aid, to a hospital bed and onto a life saving operation. Overall, the experience has felt less like a passage through a dark vale and more like walking along a cliff top, or a mountain ridge! The path brought me perilously close to the edge but it has given me a unique perspective!
As in other pilgrimages, there were rich relationships on the way. Good Samaritans - friends, paramedics, nursing staff, doctors and surgeons – saved my life! I am amazed at people’s kindness and skill! And immensely thankful to those who accompanied me on the way. As in the Emmaus story (Luke 24.13 and following), there have been resting places when my companions and I realized Christ’s presence and times on the road when new understanding blazed with shining light.
When I first came to in the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, the chaplain gave me a holding cross. It came with me to Papworth Hospital and its still by my bed. I thought I knew all about holding crosses. I’ve given them to people myself! They are a small wooden cross one can keep in one’s hand , as a way of prayer when other resources are low. Something to hang on to when times are hard!
What I discovered was that it was not so much that I held the cross. Rather, the cross held me! In the gloomiest times it was a sign of the presence of the Good Shepherd guarding and guiding as I travelled a rocky road.