Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Zahir by Paulo Coehlo

Do you know Paulo Coehlo's self-history? He is one of those people living in our generation that has barely scraped the surface of our collective consciousness and yet, his story is one "for the books" if you will. A few quick highlights: He was born in Brazil in 1947 and wanted to become a writer. His parents did not approve and when they could not stop him from pursuing a writing career, they figured he was mentally ill. He was twice committed to an institution that gave him electro-shock therapy. After he was released, finally, he joined a theater group and began working as a journalist. In 1968, Coelho joined the "hippie" generation of Brazil, but was targeted by the fascist regime that reigned. He was imprisoned and tortured. After he freed, he left his dream of writing and worked for awhile in the music industry writing lyrics. Eventually, he was called to return to writing.

While this is merely a sprinkling of his life's story, there is far more to Paulo Coehlo than the above history or even that this book has to offer. From The Zahir I gained a number of insights, but above of all, I discovered that I would have to go and hunt my own Zahir before I could ever truly understand what Coehlo has written.

The subheading of the novel is: A Novel of Obsession, and I suppose, in one way it's true. But, what I got out of the novel wasn't obsession, it was faith. It was about true love, the kind of love that grows deep roots throughout time, that can weather storms so big and vast you lose each other in the middle, but still find your way back to each other. It's a story about rebirth, about finding your true story, about recapturing love.

I could have underlined every other line in the novel; Coelho has a way of writing words that speak directly to the heart of whomever is reading his words. A random opening of the book leads me to: "...what we need to learn is already there before us, we just have to look around us with respect and attention in order to discover where God is leading us and which step we should take next." (143) And, seriously, that was a random opening of the book. It doesn't stop there though, his wisdom continues: "I also learned a respect for mystery. As Einstein said, God does not play dice with the universe; everything is interconnected and has a meaning. That meaning may remain hidden nearly all the time, but we always know we are close to our true mission on earth when what we are doing is touched with the energy of enthusiasm."

If Coehlo(and Einstein) are correct, does that mean that when the energy of enthusiasm does not touch our lives, we are far from our mission? Where, then, are our periods of learning? Learning cannot always be touched with enthusiasm. The hardest parts of our lives are usually a drought of enthusiasm. But if everything is interconnected and everything has a meaning, then the difficulties in our lives must have a place too. That can't mean we're far away from our mission, but something about the light of our mission has been dimmed. It's either inside of us to make the light come back, or it's God's way of saying that we're in the wrong place.

Unfortunately, Coehlo does not have an answer for that. Or possibly, I haven't yet read his novel that does answer that question. So as I finish editing this post, I am thinking about what exactly my Zahir is. The Zahir is the person, thing or object that gradually takes over our every thought until we are unable to think of anything else. According to Coehlo, it could be a state of holiness or a state of madness. Living in Israel sometimes feels like a state of madness, although I'm sure it's supposed to feel like a state of holiness. Either way, my Zahir is here, somewhere, waiting for me to notice it until I can think of nothing else save obtaining this precious thing.

It's a little overwhelming, and maybe the Zahir doesn't even exist. But, just in case it does, I won't be lending out my copy of this novel any time soon.

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