Journeys are as much about what you let go as they are about what you gain. This is only one of the lessons found in I’ll Push You, a documentary about two best friends, a wheelchair, and a 500 mile pilgrimage. As Patrick Gray pushes his best friend Justin Skeesuck through difficult terrain across northern Spain we get to see personal and spiritual growth demonstrated with such remarkable vulnerability, it’s hard not to relate. Yet, the film is not just about the journey, but the friendship, love, grace, and laughter shared between two friends.
I’ll Push You is not just a film you should watch, but one you should come back to as often as necessary, and as often as possible. The film is premiering as a Fathom event on November 2.
I got to sit and talk with best friends Patrick and Justin and filmmakers Chris Karcher and Terry Parrish after watching the film at a screening at Fuller Theological Seminary. In talking about the film and how they themselves have been affected by it, I got another dose of that inspiring, thoughtful honesty and vulnerability.
Roslyn Hernandez: Justin and Patrick, why did you decided to document this journey, and Chris and Terry, why did you decide that you had to take part in it?
Patrick: I asked my boss for time off, for the six weeks that we thought it would take to make this journey. He wasn’t thrilled about it. Once I explained the dynamics of our relationship and Justin’s idea for the pilgrimage, he got excited. His demeanor changed and he told me, “I’ll do anything in my power to get you the six weeks off, as long as you do everything in your power to document it on film.” When I asked him why, he said, “Because if you don’t, you are selfish and you’re irresponsible. There is too much hope not to share it.” After I recovered from what I felt were harsh words, but really remarkable foresight, I got on the phone with Justin.
Terry: On it’s surface, Christ I agreed, that this is a compelling story, it has a journey, it has best friends, it has what appears to be an asymmetrical dynamic. On that level that was interesting. On a personal level, I have to ask of myself, “In what ways am I connecting to this? In what ways am I Justin; in what ways am I Patrick?” The answers that I came to were deeply compelling to issues that I was dealing with at the time, even in our own dynamic as business partners and our friendship.
RH: In the film, we get to see Justin and Patrick’s experience of letting go. Chris and Terry did you let go of anything?
Terry: I actually walked the journey with them. I carried a key with me that I found early on in the journey. I was trying to walk in a way as to understand a little bit better what they were going through even in a small way. I lay down the key as a symbol of believing that I had to have all the answers and to unlock all the mystery, or to open every door. I have to be able to live with the same kind of uncertainty that Justin was living with, and I had to live with the same kind of uncertainty that even Patrick was wrestling with.
Chris: I think letting go is a continual thing. It stretches us. There have been some challenging moments in our business and in the process of this film. There were a lot of moments that we wanted to include. And it was like we had to leave those things at the cross too. The beauty in that though, is it’s really the only way to move forward. It’s by the continual process of shedding and getting to the essence. Which is something Justin and Patrick brought up abut the journey. It’s that when you’re stripped of everything and you realize, “I don't have all these other distractions, I don't have Facebook and internet and all this stuff that we surround ourselves with and cover up the real opportunity to simplify and understand what we need to give up.” At the end of the day what we are left with is love. The outcome for me is not to say what am I giving up, but what do I embrace. And what I embrace is love.
Justin: When Patrick and I talk about letting go, as we speak around the country. Letting go is laying down your burden so you can pick up a burden for somebody else. There’s a powerful moment when you realize that when you do let down your own burdens it frees up your hands to carry somebody else’s and to lighten somebody else’s load.
Patrick: That’s what Chris hit on about love. For me, when I lay down my burden, it’s all control. Love can’t be nourished if you’re trying to control everything. Love is the one entity that we can press into, that is God that we can’t experience in its full capacity unless we relinquish control. That is the theme I see here, that we all had to let go of control, and certainty in order to move forward.
Chris: That’s even where we are right now. We are hoping that the community and people come see the film and are impacted. But there’s no certainty in anything. I mean we talked about it last night, and then again this morning. Nothing is certain again. We have to let this go, again.
RH: What has been the reaction to the film?
Terry: We have a really good friend of ours who had a deep and visceral emotional response to the film and thats been a constant. People grab to one element or another. There are many places where people are identifying and seeing themselves reflecting back to them in a way that isn't confrontational in an opposing way, but confrontational in an introspective way. We are really grateful for that because that was the experience or making the film.
Justin: I love watching the audience watch the film. Because, you can see the ups and the downs. Its an emotional rollercoaster, but in a good way. It pushes you to reflect on yourself and how are you doing what you are doing in this world for the betterment of others, or how are you doing in letting others find joy in the betterment of you. We’ve met thousand of people and we see a lot of heartache and to see them resonate with this thing we went through. It seems surreal to see the response that has come from the message and the story and it tells me that we are on the right path.
Chris: What most exciting to me is how it maybe changes and puts them on a journey and path of their own. For me, it’s like a one percent change, where if life is a line. You are going on a certain direction, and a little thing happens. It seems little here, but deflected over time, it puts you on a whole monumental trajectory. That’s what I would hope, that maybe in some way the film makes people stop and think about who are my friends and do I love someone that much?
RH: In the film we get to see a bit about where this journey has led Justin and Patrick, can you tell me how this journey has impacted your sense of vocation or calling?
Patrick: For the two of us, Justin and I are working together. I quit my job in January of 2015, not long after we returned. We’ve been on this path of just walking through open doors that God presents to us; speaking, writing, storytelling. I don’t know if it’s a vocation, it’s more of a passion that we get to do.
Terry: One of my struggles, is [I went to art school] and I took design as a function of making my parents happy that I had something that could make money. But, I had been longing for an artist’s path, and an artist’s path is a path of faith. Walking through doors that God presents to you. But it was difficult when we had fifteen employees, selling commercial products, trying to create desire where desire does not exist. I would personally rather not go back to that. Because, for me if there’s a calling is to let people know that they’re not alone and that there’s more to this life than the capitalistic norms of fulfillment that we are given. Being able to tell this story has been a turning point because it has a been nothing but faith.
Justin: The whole thing, one massive faith journey.
Terry: So then my vocation is to live that artist life, to be on the walk with God. To say, “If the why is big enough, the how will take care of itself,” which Justin says frequently. So my calling is to touch people and let them know that they are not alone.