The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, was my favorite book of the summer. It's a simple story / fable, written in Spanish (of course I read the translated version), and it hit really close to home for me.
It tells the story of Santiago, a shepard who leads his flock all around the Spanish countryside. One day he has a dream for the second time that there is burried treasure waiting for him at the pyramids of Egypt. Later that day, he meets a man who claims to be a king, who tells Santiago that the secret to life is following your dreams. He tells Santiago to look for signs and to follow those signs, and that his heart would tell him everything he needed to know along the way.
So Santiago gathers all of his courage, sells his flock and sails across the the sea to begin his journey to the pyramids. As soon as he lands in Morocco, everything goes wrong. He realizes he knows not even a little of the language, and his money is soon stolen. From this point, his adventures begin. It's a fairy tale, so I'm sure it's not spoiling the outcome to tell you that Santiago gets his treasure, but only after years of toil, turbulence, sweat, tears, fears, and a love story thrown in for good luck (like any of you will read this anyway).
It's not the story that moved me, nor was it the writing, although both were good. What moved me was the moral of the story: find a dream, follow it with all of your heart. Otherwise life is empty and meaningless.
I started thinking about what my dream is, and I realized I don't really have one. I have the same dream as most Americans - to have a career that makes me some money, to have a family, and to enjoy life. I think I do a decent job of fulfilling this dream so far. I am in law school, which will lead to a decent career. I have a husband I love and we have plans for a family. I generally enjoy everything that happens, I'm a fairly positive person, and things are good.
But in the book, Santiago was the same way. He had no dream, and he was content to travel with his sheep and he was comfortable knowing them and the countryside. When he did have his dream, though, and after going through all he went through to get it, his life was so much better. He was monetarily richer, but he was also richer in other ways. He was richer in knowledge, experience, and love. He had experienced things, and knew he how much he was capable of.
Also, several other characters in the book had chosen not to follow their dreams - they gave up. They were content to stay where they were comfortable, and not to pursue a dream that could have made them like Santiago - richer in all the ways he was. I do not want to be like these characters.
I am not saying I'm unsatisfied with my life - I love my life, and I feel like I've been really lucky. But that's the point. Santiago was satisfied with his life, but he found a way to make it even better. That's what I need to do. I think I'm on my way. Law school is difficult and on the other side I will be richer - monetarily and in knowledge. I will be able to provide a good life for us. We will be able to have a family, and my dreams will be fulfilled.
But when I think about it, I have other dreams. I want to work in book publishing. I want to be a part of helping books become realities. Law school can help me get there, and it may take a long time, but I've decided to make this my goal - my "treasure." I am resolved to push on.
All of the above was moving and inspirational, but it is not the part of the book that really affected me. Before I discuss that, though, I have to describe a recurring dream I had for most of my childhood. I think the last time I had the dream was my first year of college in Augusta, GA, at the age of 22. I dreamed that I drew a picture of a dragon in my room at home in Rock Springs - in our house on Kimberly Drive (even after moving several times from that house, the dream always started there). The picture came to life and it was terrifying. The dragon cornered my entire family and we didn't know what to do. I created a distraction, and my family was able to start running.
I ran behind them, and the dragon chased us everywhere. We were always able to evade him and in my dream we would spend days, even weeks, trying to get away, but the dragon always found us. Ultimately we would always end up back in my room at the Kimberly house with the dragon breathing heavy, smoky breath on us. In desperation, I would always grab the paper I drew the picture on originally and I would stab it violently with a pencil, or I would tear it up or burn it or destroy it some other way. The destruction of the paper was the destruction of the dragon. He would wither away and die right in front of us.
(Disclaimer - I think this is a similar storyline to a cartoon I watched once. A boy drew a picture of a crane that came to life when he completed the drawing. Then it happened again. So he had to spend his life drawing things, but never able to complete the drawing.)
I was always so frustrated when I woke up from this dream, because it was so stupid - I had everything I needed to destroy the dragon right in my room. I could have saved my family from the cross-country chase. I could have kept them out of fear, and out of harm's way. I could have saved them by not drawing the picture in the first place. Why did we have to go so far and do so much to get away, when the solution was right there in front of us the whole time?
I eventually self-analyzed the dream to mean something like I was always trying to run away from my problems instead of facing them. The solution to everything was always right there inside of me, but I was afraid to solve the problem, because then I would have nothing else to solve, no one to pay attention to me, or to look to me for help. After that I forgot about the dream until I read The Alchemist.
At the end of the book, after thousands of miles of travel, several years, and many near-death experiences, Santiago learns that the location of the treasure is right where he was at the beginning of the book - near a field he used to bring his sheep to graze. The treasure was right there all along. He didn't have to go through everything he went through - he could have just dug it up right at the beginning. How frustrating! Just like my dream.
But that's not entirely true - he would never have known the treasure was there if he had just stayed. He wouldn't have the treasure at all. Plus, he would have missed out on all the experiences he had along the way searching for it. He would never have found the love of his life, and he would still be alone with his sheep. As a result of this, I'd like to change the analysis of my dream. Without all the fear, running and continuous attempts to outsmart the dragon, I would not have grabbed the paper in desperation and started destroying it in anger. Also, after an ordeal like that, a family is bound to be closer and feel a little more love and gratitude for each other. So maybe it was worth it to go on the long chase.
I'm not sure exactly what effect this book will have on my life. I may not know until I'm old and dying. But I know it will have some effect. It got me thinking about the journey of life. It made me want to follow my dreams as much as I can. I have multiple dreams of course, like everyone. I may even have dreams in the future that I don't know about now. But whatever dream I have - career goals, to be closer with my parents and siblings, to stop being so angry with my parents, to stop running from my problems, to have children and pass on to them the passion to follow their dreams - I hope I pursue them with everything I've got.
I hope I do this even if it's hard work, and even if it means suffering (like missing my favorite TV shows because I have to study), and even if it costs me everything I think I hold dear.