“What is the world’s greatest lie?” the little boy asks.
The old man replies, “It’s this: that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie.”
— Paulo Coelho, “The Alchemist”
The beginning of a new year is a good time for me to re-read Paulo Coelho’s powerful novel, “The Alchemist.” Although the lessons are taught through the narrative of young Santiago, the book isn’t as much traditional literature as it as a reminder of things which I’ve always known are true.
When I was a young man, my thoughts at the beginning of a year were about what I was going to cause to happen in the next year. As I experienced more of life, it became easier to believe I was just waiting to see what life would bring to me — as though fate controlled everything and I was merely along for the ride.
On this New Year’s Eve, my thoughts are more like those I experienced in my younger years. I’m looking toward what I am going to cause to happen. I’m looking toward my dreams — the big ones and the small ones — and I’m letting Coelho remind me that, “It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”
This has been a long year for me. It started with emergency room visits and surgery to remove my gallbladder. After that, there were good days and bad days, but more good than bad. I’m still slowly moving away from the dark days that hit me hard about six or seven years ago. But I’m not yet where I want to be — and I wonder why.
Re-reading “The Alchemist” reminds me that I don’t yet have the things I want because I still fear seizing them. I still fear failure. I still fear leaping from a high cliff with faith that the net will appear before I hit bottom.
I once had complete faith that I could do anything I wanted, but life has a way of beating you down and making you wonder if you were ever what you believed you were. Reading this book again makes me remember that my beliefs and passion control whether I get what I’m seeking.
As Coelho writes, “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” Although this sounds mystical, the modern-day Brazilian writer is just echoing what Jesus taught us 2,000 years ago. In the Gospel of Mark, we’re told that Jesus taught the same thing when he said, “Have faith in God. I assure you that whoever tells this hill to get up and throw itself in the sea and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. For this reason I tell you: When you pray and ask for something, believe that you have received it, and you will be given whatever you ask for.”
This idea appears in the spiritual and philosophical teachings of various civilizations, but we modern people think we’re too smart to believe such things. We tend to be cynical and say, “I’ll believe it when I see it,” when the truth is that what Jesus taught tells us that we will see it when we believe it — just the opposite of the way we operate.
So for 2019, I’m working toward changing my thoughts and beliefs, because what I believe is going to be what I receive. I can achieve all the things I want. I can be whatever I want. But I first have to believe and then step out in faith along that path.
But what of love? Can we just believe we’re going to have love and it will just appear? I can’t tell you that, because love is something we can’t control. My experience is that I can’t control who I love or how intensely I love. And even if I could control someone else — to bring her love and presence to me — I wouldn’t overturn her own will, because that wouldn’t respect her.
Love is something which Coelho addresses in complicated ways in his novels, but he teaches that love is central to the reason we are here in this life. In his novel, “By The River Pedra I Sat Down And Wept,” he writes of our responsibility of accepting love.
“Love is always new,” Coelho writes. “Regardless of whether we love once, twice, or a dozen times in our life, we always face a brand-new situation. Love can consign us to hell or to paradise, but it always takes us somewhere. We simply have to accept it, because it is what nourishes our existence. If we reject it, we die of hunger, because we lack the courage to stretch out a hand and pluck the fruit from the branches of the tree of life. We have to take love where we find it, even if that means hours, days, weeks of disappointment and sadness. The moment we begin to seek love, love begins to seek us. And to save us.”
My experience is that love makes the rest of life worth living. Without love, all the money and power and possessions in the world would be worthless. Nothing would be worth having. As Coelho said, love “is what nourishes our existence.”
It seems to be a paradox. We can’t cause love to come when we need it. We have to endure “hours, days, weeks of disappointment and sadness” when we don’t have what we need. Yet the only way out of this sadness is to continue to seek love. So love seems to inevitably be about both happiness and disappointment. It seems we can’t have the fruit of real love without a lot of loneliness before it comes.
Few things can really damage a human soul like loneliness, but it seems as though we have to endure the pain of loneliness as we wait for the love which seeks us. Again, Coelho doesn’t try to sugar-coat this pain of waiting.
“Human beings can withstand a week without water, two weeks without food, many years of homelessness, but not loneliness,” he writes in his novel, “Eleven Minutes.” “It is the worst of all tortures, the worst of all sufferings.”
So if I conclude that I can find a way to have the other things which I want in life — but I have to endure pain for love — does that mean we should throw away love when it doesn’t materialize as we need it to?
Coelho doesn’t think so. He teaches that all of Creation has brought us to love someone because we sought that love.
“So, I love you because the entire universe conspired to help me find you,” he writes in “The Alchemist.”
Does that imply that there’s no free will? Does that imply we’re fated to do whatever some impersonal fate gives us? Not in the least. It means that if we love someone — really love the person with real love as opposed to its many counterfeits — we can’t escape it and we shouldn’t try.
“You will never be able to escape from your heart,” Coelho writes. “So it’s better to listen to what it has to say.”
My heart doesn’t make life easy for me. Life would be easier if I wanted simpler and more available things, but I have a feeling that if I accepted one of the more available choices — those which don’t move my heart — I would end up even worse. Because the only thing in life worse than not being with the right partner is to be stuck with the wrong one.
Years ago, I told God what I wanted. All of Nature conspired to show her to me. Until that changes, I have to listen to my heart. Since I can’t escape it, I listen to what my heart has to say, even at the cost of loneliness for the present.
I believe 2019 will be a good year for me. I might be stuck waiting for the love I need, but I’m redoubling my faith that I can still be the world-changing man who I saw in my future as a little boy. If I don’t have faith in myself, how is anybody else going to believe in me?
Let’s believe that we’re going to create for ourselves in 2019 all that we’ve needed to find.