I read The Alchemist, a novel by Paulo Coelho, a few years ago. A friend had recommended it and as it was an international best seller, it wasn’t hard to convince me to pick up a copy. I enjoyed the story about a sheep herder’s journey from Andalusia to exotic Egypt and the people he meets along the way. But I confess, once I finished it, I thought no more about the book, nor sought to read any more of Coelho’s works. Recently, however, I came across a column he’d written entitled, “Dairy” in the July edition of Vanity Fair. Two of his comments were pithy enough to recount here:
…if every piece of bread in our universe had butter on it, every slice would dream of jam.
Every moment is precious. Except for this one which you have just wasted. (“Dairy,” by Paulo Coelho as told to Craig Brown, Vanity Fair, July 2013, pg. 62)
The first saying uses humble images, bread and jam, to describe not only our condition in the universe but also our lofty dreams which are sweet but leave us unsatisfied. I don’t have space to play with the images further, except to observe that they were an adroit way to express human longing. The second observation was more sobering. Once I got past the wry suggestion that stopping to read Coelho was a waste of time, the idea opened me to consider time itself and to question what is or isn’t a waste of it.
Like calorie laden jam, which hasn’t much value, we humans do waste a good deal of time longing for things. Our history is a never-ending march toward progress with goals that beget more goals. Does all this longing and consuming and wanting and multiplying on the earth have a final destination? Or do we mindlessly march on in pursuit of progress until the cupboard is empty and the earth is barren?
I’m not talking about conservation here. I advocate nothing at the moment. I merely ask a question. As a species, where are we going?
I feel empty today. Sometimes art raises thoughts that leave me that way. Maybe Plato was right. Maybe poets should be exiled.
(Courtesy of ww.theawge.com.au)