“Why do you weep?” the goddesses asked. Continue reading “The Alchemist: #12 The Beauty of Narcissus”
“Having disinterred our dream, having used the power to nurture it and spent many years living with the scars, we suddenly notice that what we always wanted is there, waiting for us, perhaps the next day. Then comes the fourth obstacle: the fear of realizing the dream for which we fought all our lives.” (Alchemist viii)
It sounds like an oxymoron. How can we fear the very thing we’ve hoped for, fought for, dreamed about our entire lives? Continue reading “The Alchemist: #7-11 The Obstacle of Realizing the Dream”
Paulo Coelho’s words about the third obstacle we encounter when pursuing our dreams helped me stay strong during my own struggles.
“Once we have accepted that love is a stimulus, we come up against the third obstacle: fear of the defeats we will meet on the path. We who fight for our dream suffer far more when it doesn’t work out, because we cannot fall back on the old excuse: ‘Oh, well, I didn’t really want it anyway.’ We do want it and know that we have staked everything on it and that the path of the personal calling is no easier than any other path, except that our whole heart is in this journey. Then, we warriors of light must be prepared to have patience in difficult times and to know that the Universe is conspiring in our favor, even though we may not understand how.” (vi-vii)
It’s not just fear, but the fear of defeat that prevents us from moving forward. I know this fear too well. What if what I write doesn’t matter to anyone? What if no one reads my blog? I’m just fooling myself; no one cares what I have to say. I am a nobody who will only experience a painful rejection if I put myself out there.
If those fears aren’t enough to stop us from moving towards our dreams, it seems obstacles are thrown in our path constantly, seemingly to stop us from moving forward, but in reality to build the stamina we will need to persevere, and, in some ways, to test our passions for the dream.
I have encountered many obstacles attempting to block my writing goals over the past seven months.
First, we canceled our baseball trip. I’ve written about this vaguely, which will have to do for now, but my travel blog’s URL, 32in32.com, became meaningless. The money I spent on the domain name, the name that represented our great baseball journey across the country became null and void. I almost quit before even starting my dream to become a writer over this fact alone. But I remember sitting with my dear friends, Jamie, Sandy, and Brittni, and they encouraged me to persevere, to not let this stop me. They helped me refocus my blog for a new purpose, appropriately christened 32in32: Keeping the Dream Alive. They helped me see that it didn’t matter what the URL said; what mattered was that I wasn’t giving up on my dream.
While my vision of our future was shattering back in December, my laptop was stolen by strangers who crashed a party my daughter had while we were out of town. As foolish as it sounds, my life was on that computer. It had pictures from Ian’s baby years on up that are now lost forever. All of my notes, thoughts, and drafts of future posts that I never printed out were on that laptop. I was devastated. In the midst of that pain, I was able to let go of it, thanking God that my daughter was safe. I started using our home computer, refusing to give up.
On the day I was going to publish my first post, a beloved student committed suicide. My world was turned upside down. I didn’t want to pursue my dreams anymore. I felt like a failure; obviously, I couldn’t impact my physical world with optimism, how could I dare to think I could influence the blogosphere? Instead of publishing on January 17, Ian’s birthday, a day that marked the celebration of Ian’s life, I published my first post the next day. With Jenny’s death an invisible current through that post, I published, not giving into my fears, but pushing forward, hoping to spread optimism through my sphere of influence. It worked with me first. I could not change the past; I could not prevent Jenny’s death. But I could work to prevent sadness and depression in others; counting my blessings pulled me out of the depths of despair. I hoped my posts would inspire others to count their blessings and feel the release of pain through choosing thankfulness over pain and regret.
Unbelievably, in the midst of an outpouring of ideas and writing bursts, I lost my home computer a few weeks later. At this point, I couldn’t believe that the universe was conspiring in my favor. How could it be? Everything that I needed to be a writer was being attacked or taken away. I was tempted to throw my hands up in defeat and walk away. But then, I was reminded of this Alchemist quote, and my resolve returned. All of the obstacles that I overcame up to this point made me stronger than I had ever been. I borrowed a laptop and continued to write. I was learning “to have patience in difficult times.”
Over Spring Break, I did a seemingly innocent activity that lead to months of unbearable pain: I went roller skating and fell hard, resulting in compressed and turned vertebrae in my neck. Essentially I had whiplash, leaving me unable to hold my head up for any length of time. I was in excruciating pain by the end of my teaching day, which left me unable to write or do anything when I got home. I went into physical therapy for two months. After a few adjustments, I was able to sit at my computer with a neck brace for short bursts of time. What did I choose to do, even while in pain, with these borrowed moments? Write. It was a clear indication that writing was my passion.
“Well, necessary or not, [defeats] happen. When we first begin fighting for our dream, we have no experience and make many mistakes. The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times” (vii).
No matter the circumstance, I pursued my dream. The obstacles, the fear, the defeats all lead to a greater conviction to pursue my dream. I fell five times, but I’ve gotten up six times. I won’t quit because I know I’m making a difference; even if it’s in my life only and no one else cares what I have to say, I have changed a life.
“Because, once we have overcome the defeats—and we always do—we are filled by a greater sense of euphoria and confidence. In the silence of our hearts, we know that we are proving ourselves worthy of the miracle of life. Each day, each hour, is part of the good fight. We start to live with enthusiasm and pleasure.” (vii)
I know I am “worthy of the miracle of life.” I’ve never had more confidence than I do now. I’ve found my voice, and I like how it sounds. I’m excited about every day and look forward to the joy it will bring. I continue to stumble and struggle, but I am not afraid of what my future holds. I will overcome any obstacle that comes my way.
“Intense, unexpected suffering passes more quickly than suffering that is apparently bearable; the latter goes on for years and, without our noticing, eats away at our soul, until, one day, we are no longer able to free ourselves from the bitterness and it stays with us for the rest of our lives.” (vii)
I have seen and lived with people who are entrapped by that bitterness. I will never become one of them because I have freed myself from the “bearable” suffering of pushing my dreams aside. Langston Hughes asks “What happens to a dream deferred?”
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
I am happy to say that I am no longer deferring my dream. I am free from the “what ifs” that once burdened me.
How about you? Look around you. Do you see the bitterness? Do you feel the pain of a generation who has deferred its dreams? When you look in a mirror, do you see it in your eyes? When you sit in the silence, do you feel it in your heart? It’s not too late; but be ready to conquer your fears of defeat. It is truly worth it!
“If we have the courage to disinter dream, we are then faced by the second obstacle: love. We know what we want to do, but are afraid of hurting those around us by abandoning everything in order to pursue our dream. We do not realize that love is a further impetus, not something that will prevent us going forward. We do not realize that those who genuinely wish us well want us to be happy and are prepared to accompany us on that journey.” (vi)
I have to admit, the obstacle of love has been an excuse of mine for a long time. Love has justified why I couldn’t follow my dreams, why I couldn’t pursue my personal calling beyond the classroom, why I couldn’t take the gift God has given me and share it with the world. However, it was not real love that justified this inactivity; it was dysfunctional love.
I have lived in a dysfunctional world of my own making for far too long. I have said no to my own needs and purpose, so I can say yes to someone else’s. I put my dreams on hold for my husband, my children, and my students, not because they asked me to, but because I thought that’s what a loving wife and mother and a dedicated teacher does. I didn’t realize that my self-denial was hurting everyone involved.
Please let me make this clear: I’m not talking about hedonistic pursuits; I’m talking about pursuing a person’s purpose in life. There is a difference, and our world is suffering because it is blind to that difference.
If I never pursued my purpose in life, I would be an unhappy, shell of a person. Now that I am living my purpose and being who I am supposed to be—who God created me to be—I am showing real love to my family. My joy is sensed by those around me. I become a role model for joy. I promote the pursuit of joy.
Living with true purpose has another beautiful benefit: It promotes the healing of the world’s dysfunction. We have too many messages that tell us to do what makes us happy but then stops there. It can’t just be about me and my happiness. If I am not creating a loving home for my family, then I cannot be happy and neither can my family. If I am not encouraging the pursuit of dreams in my classroom, then I cannot be a teacher of value. I find my true happiness by sharing my purpose with others. I waited too long to discover this important truth, yet I have arrived at just the right moment.
This truth has helped me find my voice and has improved my understanding of love. Through writing I am living out my dreams and extending my purpose in this world. Through writing I have discovered who I am and what’s important to me. I have more love to give to myself and others because I know I have value now; I know that I can bring love and joy to the world because I am doing what I’m supposed to be doing.
Through writing I have discovered how to forgive and love my father; I have solidified my stance on the importance of imagination and belief in self; I am healing my relationship with my daughter; I have been able to shower those I love with appreciation; I have shared my pain over a suicide and brought healing to those in need; and I have inspired others to be strong through difficult situations.
I have been so afraid to put time into writing because I thought my family would suffer; I thought they would feel neglected. Writing takes time. How could my family cope while I’m tucked away somewhere with my computer?
The truth is real love will understand. If my husband doesn’t support my need to write, my need to pursue my dreams, then he doesn’t truly love me. I am thankful that he does support my writing; he is proud of me, which motivates him to seek his own purpose. I was afraid that Ian would feel neglected. There are times when he has to learn patience (which isn’t a bad thing) while I’m writing; but he knows that when I’m done, I am focused on him. We have quality time that we both enjoy. I’m also a better parent and teacher because I know what’s important now. I won’t teach Ian or my students my brand of dysfunction any longer.
The result of this new me who has disinterred my dreams and chosen to pursue them: I have more love to give. I am a better role-model for my family and students. I follow my dreams and share them with my sphere of influence. I am content because I know where I need to be and what I need to do. Love is my impetus, and I can measure true love by those who accompany me on that journey. I will never again use love as an excuse for inactivity but rather use it as a springboard for fulfilling my purpose and encouraging others to do the same.
Understanding real love has created a fearlessness within me that seems to transfer easily to my son.
“There are four obstacles. First: we are told from childhood onward that everything we want to do is impossible. We grow up with this idea, and as the years accumulate, so too do the layers of prejudice, fear, and guilt. There comes a time when our personal calling is so deeply buried in our soul as to be invisible. But it’s still there.” (vi)
It’s impossible. I heard Ian say that today about his loose tooth: “I can’t wiggle it enough to make it come out, Mom. It’s impossible.”
Honestly, it hurt my heart to hear him say that. It reminded me instantly of this Alchemist quote. Has the negativity of the world already entered his young life? In a way it has, not just because of his loose tooth, but because people, children and adults, have been telling him his dreams are lies; his imagination is ridiculous; his desires for some day are impossible.
Every day he comes home with a new fear-filled question:
“Mom, did you give me the half-dollar for my tooth? Kids at school say there’s no such thing as the tooth fairy.”
“Mom, why doesn’t anyone believe that I’ll be a wizard when I turn eleven?”
“Mom, do you believe in magic?”
“Mom, do you still believe that I will be Spider-Man someday?”
I’ve been so torn. Part of me wants to fall to my knees and beg Ian’s forgiveness for allowing him to believe these things; the other part of me wants to reprimand the adults that have squashed his dreams.
Bottom line, I don’t want him to stop believing in the impossible. He’ll have plenty of time for that when he gets older. He’s only seven. Can’t he believe these things a little bit longer? We allow our children to believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and Leprechauns. Teachers and adults nurture these beliefs in elementary schools. Has it ever done any harm? If anything, we hurt our children more by exposing the truth before their minds are ready to accept the truth.
I remember Carol Linn being devastated one Sunday before Christmas when she was five. She came up from Sunday School early and sat in my lap, burying her head in my chest. She told me the teacher said there was no such thing as Santa Claus. She was crushed. Her dreams were shattered with a careless comment from someone who thought it was anti-Christian to nurture the Santa lie. I was livid. I have been able to blend the Santa tradition with Christian faith easily. But Carol Linn had the beloved tradition ripped from her; I fear that in some ways, it has affected her faith today.
I know that people will accuse me of feeding my child lies, that I’ll just end up hurting Ian eventually. But I don’t look at it that way. I’m feeding his imagination. I’m allowing him to be a child who will one day be so moved by his imagination and dreams that he will do great things because of them.
I refuse to tell him that something he thinks about or wants to happen is impossible. Three years ago I embraced the miracle of healing for him. Look at Ian now: Healed!
Throughout history we have inventors who have created the unimaginable for their time, not because they were geniuses, but because they used their imaginations and created the pictures in their dreams. We have telephones, computers, cars, and planes because people used their imaginations. These people were allowed to believe the impossible. Why can’t we let our children do the same?
Could this be why we have so little creativity in the world today? We have remakes of movies instead of original screenplays. Children imitate others instead of creating a unique self. Have we been trained in reality so succinctly that we killed imagination? I have students who are so afraid of looking foolish, they won’t give an opinion about literature because it might be different from other students’ opinions. They are afraid of finding solutions to problems because they don’t want to be wrong; they want me to tell them the answers instead of thinking for themselves.
As an adult, I fell in love with the crazy movie The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl because of the message. Here are two of my favorite quotes: “Everything that is or was began with a dream.” ~ Lavagirl; and “So dream a better dream; then work to make it real.” ~ Max. Where would we be without our dreams?
Ian and I played Trouble today with Lovey, his purple stuffed gorilla. Ian talked to Lovey during the game, switching the sound of his voice when he spoke for Lovey. He helped Lovey press the pop-o-matic, and they discussed what move would be best for Lovey’s game pieces. I played along and gave Lovey a high-five for winning the game. Not only did imagination play a huge part in this game, but Ian said wonderful, unselfish things like, “I don’t care about winning, Mama. I want Lovey to win, since she’s never won before. I’m just having a good time with her and you.”
Do you judge me for letting Ian use his imagination in this situation? Of course not. To me it’s the same thing as letting him believe that someday he will have the ability to use magic.
As a forty-seven year old woman, I still remember an event that happened forty years earlier. I was in the front yard running in zigzag with my arms out to the side like a bird. I jumped in the air and flapped my arms just as a gust of wind hit my back. I flew for a few moments through the air, and I landed five or so feet away from where I had started. I flew. I still remember the sensation of floating through the air.
I ran in to tell my mother. She laughed and told me I didn’t fly. It was impossible. I remember being perplexed. I flew. I knew I did, but my mother’s insistance and others whom I told agreed with her; they convinced me that I didn’t fly. Did that moment start a trend of self-doubt? Can I base the last forty years of my life, a life filled with second-guessing myself, of doubting what I knew to be true, on this one impossible childhood memory?
You be the judge, but before you do, know this: Today, I allow myself to believe that my seven-year-old self flew like a bird on the wind. I am now confident in what I know to be true. I believe in myself and what I see with my eyes and what I feel with my heart. The fact that I have a blog testifies to this. Through this blog I have found my voice again. I am making the impossible dream of telling stories that change people’s lives come true one post at a time, because now I believe in the impossible.
So when Ian asks about the tooth fairy, wizards, and Spider-Man, I support his dreams. How can I deny him his imagination when I know the danger of not doing so? Who am I to say that Ian won’t someday invent a web-shooter, when he can already climb walls? Would I deny him the beauty of faith in an other-worldly being when I want him to trust in God? Should I stop the belief in magic when I know that true magic lies within our hearts? If we believe in ourselves, if we believe we have the power to achieve the impossible, then we will.
Ian asked me the other day, “Are you sure you believe in magic, Mommy? Nobody else does.”
“Do you believe in magic, Ian?”
“Then that’s all that matters, Buddy.”
Ian threw himself into my arms and hugged me tight. I gave him permission to believe in himself, and that’s all that matters.
January 2010, after 5 months of chemo
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
An alchemist is a person who changes a common substance into a substance of great value.
I knew before opening the book, I was going to love what was inside.
As a matter of fact, after I read the introduction, I knew The Alchemist was a book I needed to slowly digest, not devour, like the three-day, no-showering ingestion of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hollows. The Alchemist, as simple an allegory as Plato’s “Parable of the Cave,” is filled with meaningful quotes that I could have easily overlooked, if it weren’t for the author’s introduction to his book.
#1 Personal Calling
These words caught my attention:
we all need to be aware of our personal calling. What is a personal calling? It is God’s blessing; it is the path that God chose for you here on Earth. Whenever we do something that fills us with enthusiasm, we are following our legend. However, we don’t all have the courage to confront our own dream. (v-vi)
I read that on Christmas Day, 2011. The Alchemist was a Christmas gift from my daughter Nicole, and the timing couldn’t have been better. I was dealing with some devastating things in my life. I felt like everything I had hoped for with the New Year had just turned to dust in my hands. I was trying to hold my emotions intact because I didn’t want to ruin the holidays for my children.
And then I read those words. My eyes filled with tears. I looked around the room to see if my family saw my emotions. I was safe. I read them again. I don’t believe in coincidences, only God-incidences. He had my attention.
I already knew what my “personal calling” was. I have been called to be a teacher; I have no doubts there. All jobs and experiences throughout my life have put me in teaching positions. I started babysitting at ten (The world has changed, hasn’t it?). In all of my restaurant jobs, I became a trainer. In college, before I started my education classes, I worked in the tutoring lab. It was something that came naturally. Now, as a high school English teacher, I know I am fulfilling my personal calling. Teaching fills me with joy; my students rejuvenate me. I’m passionate about making a difference in children’s lives, and they reward me by telling me that I have changed them for the better. I could never stop being a teacher.
But something has been missing. While teaching is my passion, writing is my dream.
Some of my earliest memories are of writing stories, poems, lyrics (with ridiculous melodies)—and loving how it felt when someone connected with my words (on those rare occasions that I would share them). As an adult I have written novels, plays, scripts, and poems, some of which I have shared with others, some no one else has ever seen. I love writing, but I’ve kept it as a dream, too afraid to make it a reality.
While holding The Alchemist in my hands that Christmas morning, that’s what made my heart ache. I was just about to make writing a reality. The New Year was supposed to begin with my new travel blog; my husband, son, and I were going to take our dream baseball trip during the summer of 2012. We would be on the road for 32 days, visiting all 30 baseball stadiums, and ending with the home-run derby and the all-star game: 32 games in 32 days. That’s how 32in32.com was created. But that dream ended as I watched what I thought was my reality melt away. I can’t go into what happened without hurting people I love, but trust me, it’s painful.
I read Coelho’s words again. The last sentence struck a chord: “However, we don’t all have the courage to confront our own dream.” It echoed in my head as I started to question why my dream had to end. That question was then replaced with, “Why are you giving up? Don’t be a coward.” It suddenly became clear: Making my dream a reality could not be contingent upon my circumstances. My circumstance was just an excuse to give up on my dream, again. Coelho’s words made me see that. I would not give up. I refused to be a coward another second longer. With The Alchemist to guide me, I promised myself I would find a way to make being a writer my reality.