>My students for this next year are reading Paulo Coelho‘s The Alchemist as their summer reading. I just finished re-reading it myself and am deeply struck by how appropriate it is to my own journey. Santiago faces inordinate challenges as he pursues his Personal Legend. At the same time, he is constantly reminded that “all the universe conspires in helping…to achieve it” (Coehlo 22). It is a beautiful paradox and underscores for me the mystery of my condition. I know that narcolepsy is one of the largest burdens I have ever faced, yet without it I doubt that I would have even achieved the mental stability I have of late. It is that balance that is allowing me to be an even better teacher and father and friend.
I also love the idea that there is a Language of the World – one that speaks to us all through omens and the natural world. Santiago sees things everywhere simply by being patient and watching. I know that much of my life has been serendipitous. Often, I am making decisions based on intuition and insight rather than logic and facts. I also know that when I trust those deep emotions, I am rewarded with great joy. Far too often, my logical and analytical mind either gets me into trouble or wraps me in so many knots that the tention is unbearable. Perhaps the best example of all is my narcolepsy. When I am teaching (or passionately engaged in conversation) I am rarely aware of my fatigue, but when I am alone with my thoughts (letting my brain process and re-process everything), my exhaustion can be extreme. Coelho does a remarkable job of vividly capturing the realities of how so many of us lose sight of our Personal Legend. How many times have I worried and wondered about my ability to “teach” because the narcolepsy makes me so tired? Yet, I know (in my heart and soul) that NOTHING fills me up like teaching. It IS my Personal Legend.
Of course, I also feel like I am still on the journey to achieve my Personal Legend. I am a good teacher, but I also know that I can be better. I can’t be perfect, but I can be more aware of my students’ needs. I can also be more focused on how I teach, making tangible progress for each student an achievable goal. One of the keys is to realize my strengths and my weaknesses. Another is to know that I am finite and limited. I can’t do everything (let alone do it well), but I can work toward mastering specific skills with a limited group of students. Returning to our Grade 9 curriculum and working part-time are definitely steps in the proper direction.
Perhaps my favorite thing about The Alchemist, though, is that Santiago – who is so adept at understanding omens – still manages to fail on a regular basis. The idea that we (as individuals, groups, societies) can constantly succeed, or win, or whatever, is such a Western fallacy! The reality is that life is a struggle, and we do fall down, and thankfully we can get up again. In fact we rise even faster when we open ourselves to the love of those around us and particularly to the love of our God. It amazes me that The Alchemist manages to be a deeply spiritual (and religious – in my opinion) book without overtly promoting any faith or offending any faith – please realize that I say that as a Catholic Christian and have no idea if the book offends Jews or Muslims or some other faith. As far as I can tell, it is a book about deeply held beliefs that honors a multitude of traditions and gives a true sense of tolerance.
Like Santiago, I have always been drawn to the idea of omens and signs. I do try to watch the world around me to see what it says. I also feel the power of the desert and the ocean. I have spent more time near the ocean than I have in any desert, but both resonate within my core. My favorite novel, Moby Dick (yes, I am actually that dorky), has an amazing line in Chapter 23 – “It is in landlessness alone resides the highest truth.” I think Melville felt what Coelho felt. We are most alive when we are cast out into the world. What is safe is wonderful, but risk allows us the chance to become truly alive, to find our Personal Legend. Narcolepsy is my desert/ocean in many ways. Talk about being “unshored,” I feel like I am drifting alone much of the time. Yet, within that emptiness, there is power and strength. I can’t be who my logical brain tells me I should be, but I can become who I am supposed to be by trusting my heart and my Personal Legend.
And, I did yoga for a second day in a row – yea, me!