Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Substance of Dreams

Do you ever have the feeling that you’re reading a book right at the exact time in your life that you’re supposed to be reading it?

That’s the feeling I had as I read By The River Piedra I Sat Down & Wept by Paulo Coelho. It was a book I’d never heard of until I stumbled across it in the library. In the library, I usually enter into a breathless euphoria where I imagine I can read many more books in three weeks than I actually have time for, and often find myself carrying an armful of books to the checkout counter.

I read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho a few years ago, and really enjoyed it. In fact, it made the 2012 Top 10 List. With so many other novels lingering on the reading agenda, however, I didn't look into else Coelho has written. When I saw By The River Piedra I Sat Down & Wept in the library, though, I remembered how much I had enjoyed his other novel, and it wasn't too long (only around 200 narrow pages), so I decided to check it out.

I read the book in just a few days, propelled by the sense that I was actually reading my own story. Still in the midst of a transition to the opposite side of the country, I continue to search for my place in Connecticut. It’s exciting, but sometimes I am filled with doubts about what I am and am not doing here. In the book, the main character, Pilar, is searching for her place in life, and experiences spiritual renewal, even as she fights against emotions and circumstances that threaten to extinguish all she has learned. That’s only the barest description of the novel, and obviously I’m not going to tell you how it turns out. Yet I was instantly drawn to the emotions and struggles she experienced, because I felt that in some way they mirrored my own. And it was vital for me to continue her story, to see how my own would turn out.

Of course her story is not mine, exactly, but as I traveled on her spiritual journey, while she questioned her own dreams, her longing for significance matched the yearning deep in my own heart.

The nature of dreams has been in the forefront of my thoughts lately. I realized the other day that, as cheesy as it sounds, my Pinterest quote board is full of quotes on dreams. Some days, those quotes leave me disillusioned and frustrated. Other days, they give me hope that I can create the life I work for. I dream of being a writer, but writing is an uphill battle. Every article, every word can be a struggle. Yet there are times when the words unearth sentiments buried within me and sentences pour out of me, and I feel fulfilled as a writer in that moment. The substance of my dreams is composed of those moments, and disillusionment threatens to undo the dream when I realize that not every writing venture will feel as though I have effectively fought to gain the higher ground.

I used to think that attaining a dream meant that life would be perfect. I’m understanding, slowly, that this will not be the case. Aaron and I were talking about dreams yesterday, and he pointed out that one of our favorite authors, George R.R. Martin, who is very successful right now, still experiences stress and likely doubt about his story. There are days when he probably receives angry letters from fans who want the story to be completed, or phone calls from editors asking if he’s made any progress (and with the way life is, that probably happens all in one day). Yet I hope that he has days when words pour out of him, and every action the characters take on the page perfectly advances the story forward.

Even if I do find a measure of success in writing, there will still be times when it takes all day to write a six hundred word article, and even then only have a rough draft, because every day does not contain unlimited amounts of inspiration. One of the main characters in Coelho’s novel espoused an idea that resonated with me. He said that every day, people encounter a magic moment in which they have the potential to “perform miracles” (Coelho 8), and alter the course of that day and their lives. Yet so many people pass up on this magic moment. I think that is because we instead find temporary fulfillment in the distraction of everyday life, terrified to live up to our potential. There are days where, instead of writing or connecting with Aaron, I waste an hour on Pinterest. And then I've lost my magic moment. That doesn't mean all magic in the day is lost, of course. But it does mean that I wasted time in which I could have been working towards my dreams.

Instead of being overwhelmed by the distractions I allow, I must work for contentment and joy right where I am in life. From such a place of joy, I will be able to grow and even embrace the difficulties that come along the way. In the lonely moments of the day when every word is an ordeal, it’s easy to give into distraction, but such interference robs me of contentment, because that means that I am not willing to honestly face up to my problems. Even though it’s not much fun, it’s always better for me to confront the trials, because then I can begin to work through them.

I won’t forget Pilar’s story anytime soon. Coelho’s words truly moved me and caused me to ponder where I am in my life, and that is a treasure not found in many novels.

Works Cited:
Coelho, Paulo. By The River Piedra I Sat Down & Wept. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1996.

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