The wording of the title seems to imply I have a definitive answer. Yet on any given day my answer might be different. My lack of conviction on this and other “favorite” questions has often felt like a problem to me: one that indicated that I had no core, no strength of conviction, or no knowledge of myself. I either assumed my lack of an answer was because I am too wishy-washy (when I was feeling bad about myself) or because I am too intellectually curious (when I’m feeling good about myself).
Many books have vied to be the answer to that question for me over the course of my life: Leaves of Grass, Wuthering Heights, Tuesdays with Morrie, A Gift from the Sea, Simple Abundance, The Artist’s Way…the list could go on and on because reading has always been a staple in my life. And I have always had this crazy concept of commitment when it comes to reading that if I start a book, I have to finish it. This creed results in my slogging through books at times (I have done this lately, making me think that I no longer liked to read).
Then the other day when I started reading “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho. TODAY, this is my answer to the question/statement of this blog’s title. I know I’m arriving late to this party: the book was published in 1988, and the number of translations and books sold is staggering…but it is brand new TO ME. It came to me on a free table at work, and it appeared for me exactly when it needed to appear.
I have recently been in a dark place…a very scary place. For someone who has LOVED Christmas her whole life to want to turn her back on it forever, sleep through it (or skip it as John Grisham wrote — the comedy movie version of his book is what I watched yesterday trying to get out of my bad mood) is not a good sign for holding onto a joy of living. I was also finally considering giving up on this blog, one of the few things that has brought me joy and kept me going the last couple of years. But during this time I was also reading Paulo Coelho’s book.
This morning I read this:
“Everyone on earth has a treasure that awaits him,” his heart said. “We, people’s hearts, seldom say much about those treasures, because people no longer want to go in search of them…few follow the path laid out for them — the path to their Personal Legends, and to happiness. Most people see the world as a threatening place, and, because they do, the world turns out, indeed to be a threatening place.
“So, we, their hearts speak more and more softly. We never stop speaking out, but we begin to hope that our words won’t be heard: we don’t want people to suffer because they don’t follow their hearts.”
“Why don’t people’s hearts tell them to continue to follow their dreams?” the boy asked the alchemist.
“Because that’s what makes a heart suffer most, and hearts don’t like to suffer.”
The alchemist then told the boy…”What you still need to know is this: before a dream is realized, the Soul of the World tests everything that was learned along the way. It does this not because it is evil, but so that we can, in addition to realizing our dreams, master the lessons we’ve learned as we’ve moved toward that dream. That’s the point at which, as we say in the language of the desert, one ‘dies of thirst just when the palm trees have appeared on the horizon.’
“Every search begins with beginner’s luck. And every search ends with the victor’s being severely tested.”
When I read this, I recognized the place where I am; I could hear my heart again (which had become quiet) and I came back to the keyboard and back to the blog. I have read a lot of inspiring and positive blogs and books recently trying to light my way out of the black hole, but for some reason, this spoke to me in a way that nothing else I read did. I believe it is because it was what I needed to read and it was put there to help me on this part of my life’s journey.
Now I feel that it is fitting that the answer to the question, “What is the best book you ever read?” can change throughout your life. Because the best book you ever read is the one that touches you and communicates to you when you need it. Today I give a hearty “Thank You,” to the person who put this book on the free table to share it, to Paulo Coelho for writing it, and to the Soul of the World for communicating it to him.
P.S. As I sat down to write this, I realized this was also the topic of the Daily Post prompt today. It was my moment of clarity for what has been bothering me…if that isn’t a message from the Universe, I don’t know what is.