When I was a senior in high school I took a multicultural literature class. I remember very little from high school, but I remember this class and I remember my teacher. She was young and had recently returned from a year traveling around the world. She assigned us to read a book called The Alchemist. She loved the Alchemist. She talked about how important it was for her to read the book after seeing the world, in the midst of transition. And she wanted us to read it, as seniors, sitting on the precipice of the universe, at the start and end of a journey.
So I read it when I was 17 years old. And I loved it. I was so inspired by my teacher's experience of the book that I was determined to have the same experience as her. I was probably one of very few students in my class who really understood the story, but even I couldn't begin to value the story of the boy and the pursuit of his Personal Legend.
I find myself once again in transition, staring out into the universe, with the world at my fingertips. A coworker reminded me of The Alchemist and gave me a copy to re-read. I've been reading it now with completely different eyes, with a whole bushel of experiences at my back and a taste of my own Personal Legend.
My favorite part of the book is when the boy and the alchemist are held in the military camp and the boy is asked to prove himself by turning into the wind. So he comes before the desert, the wind, and finally the sun, petitioning for their help in his great task. The desert, wind, and sun do all that they can to help the boy, but the sun finally says that despite his wisdom, he does not know how to turn the boy into the wind.
"Then whom shall I ask?"
The sun thought for a minute. The wind was listening closely, and wanted to tell every corner of the world that the sun's wisdom had its limitations. That it was unable to deal with this boy who spoke the Language of the World.
"Speak to the Hand that wrote all," said the sun.
The wind screamed with delight, and blew harder than ever. The tents were being blown from their ties to the earth, and the animals were being freed from their tethers. On the cliff, the men clutched at each other as they sought to keep from being blown away.
The boy turned to the hand that wrote all. As he did so, he sensed that the universe had fallen silent, and he decided not to speak.
A current of love rushed from his heart, and the boy began to pray. It was a prayer that he had never said before, because it was a prayer without words or pleas... He could see that not the deserts, nor the winds, not the sun, nor people knew why they had been created. But that the hand had a reason for all of this, and that only the hand could perform miracles, or transform the sea into a desert...or a man into the wind. Because only the hand understood that it was a larger design that had moved the universe to the point at which six days of creation had evolved into a Master Work.
The boy continues his journey across the desert to the Pyramids of Egypt, following his Personal Legend in pursuit of his treasure. When he at last reaches the Pyramids, having lost everything, he discovers his treasure was back home, at the crumbling church where he started his journey.
The boy turns to the heavens and shouts, "You old sorcerer. You knew the whole story. The monk laughed when he saw me come back in tatters. Couldn't you have saved me from that?"
"No," he heard a voice on the wind say. "If I had told you, you wouldn't have seen the Pyramids. They're beautiful, aren't they?"
Similarly, I find myself turning to the Hand that wrote all, with my hand over my lips. Better not to speak.
We cannot begin to know all the reasons for the turns and travails in our own Personal Legends. But I think perhaps it is enough, to have seen the Pyramids along the way. Had we known where we were going all along, we would never have seen them. They too have been created with a purpose, if only to inspire awe.