Cooper, Adrian - Places of Pilgrimage and Healing

  (24 May 10)

Places of Pilgrimage and Healing


 

 

Adrian Cooper Places of Pilgrimage and Healing (Capall Bann, 2000).

ISBN 978 186 163 0889

 

 

 

Reviewed by Mel Harding

 

 

(Reviewed September 2009)

 

 

 

In a world of 24 hour TV news, the media has developed a habit of storming into people’s lives, often when they’re living in the teeth of profound tragedy, grabbing any kind of sensationalist angle on the story, and then moving onto the next piece of news-drama within only a matter of hours or days.

 

But the truths of human tragedy can never be understood like that. Tragedy gnaws and festers. It cripples and dismays. Tragedy takes time for the individuals involved to understand, and much more time to gather the wreckage of what remains of their lives and to move on – if such a move is ever really possible.

 

Adrian Cooper’s book Places of Pilgrimage and Healing was compiled in collaboration with a group of 44 people from all over the world who have encountered profound tragedy, personally and directly. The book was written over a period of 15 years in collaboration with those people in order to understand the nature of their deep personal tragedy – its lacerating pain and its refusal to yield comfortable answers. Some of these people live with cancer. Others live with AIDS and multiple sclerosis. Other people in the book are recovering from rape and other trauma; and yet others are parents of children living with ADHD and other profoundly challenging situations. Each of the 22 chapters in this deeply moving book is devoted to the problems of living with each of these experiences.

 

Each chapter of Places of Pilgrimage and Healing is a patient and sensitive exploration of what it is like to live with tragedy and profound challenge. Each chapter includes extracts of interviews with the people concerned, so we read their own words and get to feel their sense of bewilderment at what they have to live with. It has been a very long time since I read a book which is written with so much gentle understanding and empathy.

 

But this is not a book that wallows in the pit of tragedy and stays there. Places of Pilgrimage and Healing is also a book about how each of these people, each in their own ways, has tried to live with their challenges. Even those contributors with cancer, AIDS and MS tell their stories of learning to live with their situations rather than regarding themselves as dying from those illnesses. The journeys from despair to hope and optimism are the backbone of this remarkable book. Often those journeys – or pilgrimages – as Cooper suggests, are over rough, long, stony and steep landscapes of the mind. They are far from easy. They are journeys where pit-falls and set-backs seem to dog the individual at every step of the way. But I really liked the way Cooper’s book convincingly describes those ordeals and trials of people trying to move on from their challenges. It’s a book with a masterful ability to capture key moments and turning points and to present them to us so that we can all appreciate what others are going through.

 

So in the end, Places of Pilgrimage and Healing is a book about the need for patience and empathy when dealing with profound tragedy. In contrast to the sensationalist newshungry TV, Adrian Cooper has produced a first class book which took time to research and compose. It also took the people he interviewed a great deal of time to deal with what they live with, and to find the strength to share those memories with a man they obviously knew they could trust. Throughout Places of Pilgrimage and Healing Adrian Cooper demonstrates a great level of care toward the dignity of these people. He writes with great compassion, but also with a wonderful ability to portray desperately hard situations so we can all approach them with humbled respect for those who live with them every day.

 

I would recommend Places of Pilgrimage and Healing to anyone who seeks to understand the darker side of the human condition more deeply. It is never a comfortable read, but it is one that will haunt you with the tantalizing prospect of hope, and the very real difficulties of making that hope a living reality.

 

 

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