“My survival alone was a miracle.”
Diagnosed in 2002 with a life threatening head and neck cancer, Liam Ryan’s doctors told him he should have never survived. Beating all the odds, today Liam wears an eye-patch as his only reminder.
According to Liam, his book was written by somebody ordinary, to encourage and inspire every cancer patient who will come after him. This is the sixth of nine articles in a series that covers his final chapter, Closure.
Closure Part IX – The Final Part of Liam’s Journey
I waited until I was well settled in Medjugorje before planning my own secret mission. This was my personal reason for coming here in the first place. All week I was anxious to create the right opportunity to make it happen the way I wanted. This was to be the very last act of my story, the final closure. There were two days to go when I made my move. Krizavac was about a mile and a half outside of the town. In a nice twist, it was roughly the same height as Tountinna. That seemed symbolic even before I set out. The two bookends would match.
We were all advised not to climb in the middle of the day due to the intense heat. As a result, most of the pilgrims scheduled their visit for early morning, mainly in organised groups. This didn’t appeal to me. Early mornings were not good after our late night balcony discussions. We were barely making ten o’clock morning Mass as it was.
I also wanted to climb it on my own. With everybody climbing in the morning I would have a much better chance of having the mountain to myself in the evening. I knew Geno and Dolores wanted to climb it too. That meant I would climb it twice but the sole reason that I was here was to go up that mountain alone. Now I needed to slip away to achieve this.
I bided my time as the afternoon wore on and took my chance to escape unnoticed. As it turned out I arrived at the foot of Krizevac a little later than I had intended. It was 5.00 p.m. There was still an hour of daylight left but I was a little wary of getting up and down a mountain I didn’t know before darkness came.
The zig-zag pilgrims path to the top was clearly identified. The gradient was relatively steep but the ascent was no more than a difficult walk rather than an actual climb. Along the path the stations of the cross were recreated with life sized statues. The first just as you set, off and the last just before you reached the top.
Most groups ascending would stop at each station to recite specific prayers. That was one of the reasons I wanted to be alone. This was my own little pilgrimage to my long personal journey. I had Tountinna to myself when I ran, now I wanted Krizevac to myself as I climbed.
I did stop at each station as I ascended. I began to use them to collect my thoughts and reflections as I made my way. It was only when I got to the third station that the correlation of what I was seeing and what I was thinking began to dawn on me. As we stood at the bottom of the mountain both Jesus Christ and I were condemned men. We were both going to die. On the journey that ensued he fell three times, and so did I. His first fall symbolised my first bout of meningitis, his second was my D.V.T. and his third was meningitis again.
All of a sudden it was as if God had taken me to this place to re-enact my journey with me. It was as if he wanted to be beside me as I closed this chapter of my life. Whilst looking at his ordeal, I began to see my own.
I was emotional now. This was what I had come for. This was my release. This was going to be the very end of my story.
With tears streaming down my face I climbed and climbed. At each station I could find some facet of my saga being reflected back at me. It was as if God was putting both our stories together. We would go up that mountain together. After each fall Jesus managed to get up and carry on. So did I. When we both got to the top both of us were supposed to be dead. Neither of us were. He had risen from the dead and I had somehow managed to survive against all the odds. After that, as Paddy Hynes foretold, I would come down the mountain and get busy getting on with the rest of my life.
After the last station I made the short walk to the huge cross that stands on top of Krizevac. We had been familiar with it all week because it can be seen for miles around. Now I was right beside it. I had not met anybody on the way up. I had, as I had wished, the entire mountain to myself. I went up to the cross and then beyond it to a large boulder. It dominated the flat plain that crowned the mountain. Dusk was just beginning to set. The twilight was casting its magic over the beautiful panorama that lay below.
One by one the twinkling lights of Medjugorje began to illuminate beneath me. They were like tiny candles venerating this great mountain that stands over them. The air was still and warm. The silence was only barely disturbed by the distant hum of the town getting ready for its evening festivities.
I just sat there and absorbed all the sights, smells and sounds of this little piece of heaven. It was as if I had been granted a vista to look down on the earth below. My emotions could be contained no longer. I began to cry. I cried and I cried and I cried. I sat on that rock for over an hour, probably crying most of the time. This was my final release. This was my exorcism. I went up that mountain as a cancer patient. I was going to go down it a free man. Any final remnants of my disease, either physical or emotional, were going to be left behind on that rock forever. My second life would be waiting for me when I got back down to the bottom.
This was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. If felt closer to God for that hour than I have ever done. It was as if he was physically there beside me. He was merely showing me he had been with me all the way. Krizevec was his mountain. Now he was showing me that it was mine too. It represented what we needed to do. We had conquered it together.
My climb had been a recreation of my cancer journey without me ever realising it would be. I had gone to Medjugorje for closure and my story was already waiting for me there. It was closed.
As I left the boulder I had one final act to do. I took out an eyepatch and buried it under the rocks. A little bit of me would remain there forever. I was leaving a part of my ordeal behind. The eyepatch had become the greatest symbol of what I had been through. Now I was leaving it behind me. With that my story was complete. It was over.
It was dark now but I didn’t care. It only seemed to make the mountain more intimate and views more spectacular. It was as if I knew every inch of Krizevac now. I had seen it in daylight, at dusk and now in darkness. There were no secrets between us anymore. It was my friend. I slowly but safely made my way back down and rejoined the others in Colombo’s. “Where have you been?” they all inquired. “Oh, I just went for a good long walk” I replied. I neglected to inform them that it had been the greatest walk of my entire life.
Reprinted with permission of the author.