Paulo Coelho always writes such life affirming books. You know you’ve read a good book when it has made you examine your life more deeply and given you inspiration. This is what he does.
Veronika decides to die. It appears to me that she attempts to end her life out of sheer boredom. She has everything to live for -steady job, attractive looks, loving family, and plenty of male interest. But it seems like she has shut herself off by keeping a distance from these men and taking rooms in a convent with a curfew. She has painstakingly cultivated that boredom. Even her job at a library does not fully utilize her talents.
She lands up in a mental institution and is told that she has just days to live. And it is under this premise that she learns to value her life and others are impacted to do the same.
I first read this book towards the end of my time teaching in Taiwan, when I had to make quite a few decisions about what to do and where to go on my return. I was inspired by one of the inmates of this institution, Eduard, who wanted to be a painter. His parents, however, were set on his following a path like his father, to be a diplomat. He knew it would cause them the utmost pain to follow his true calling. And thus, unable to follow his desires and forced to limit himself to their wishes, he went mad.
I realized out of this that if you aren’t true to yourself, you literally will go mad. I had the choice of either going home to Port Elizabeth to stay with my parents, or going to live in Johannesburg with the man who today is my Dearest Husband, and study a Montessori teaching diploma.
Let it be said that my parents were supportive whichever way I chose, but I think they were a bit taken aback when I’d already made arrangements to move up furniture before I’d met the man in person. (This was an Internet romance).
I knew what I really wanted to do was go to Joburg and pursue the dream of this man, and I would be miserable if I didn’t try. And this book cemented that decision for me.
Now I’m faced with a new decision (Looking after Nicholas / going back to work) and I was hoping to find some answers. This question is a lot more difficult because there is income involved, and I don’t want to be unemployed at the end of a certain time when I want to go back. I need a Plan B, some way to make money from home. And, as yet, I haven’t figured it out.
But as I was reading, I found myself examining other motives for leaving that didn’t involve my baby.
The head of the clinic, Dr Igor, has a theory about madness. He figures it is a result of “Vitriol”, or Bitterness, that has permeated our lives.
To quote, p80:
Certain people, in their eagerness to construct a world which no external threat can penetrate, build exaggeratedly high defenses against the outside world, against new people, new places, different experiences, and leave their inner world stripped bare. It is there that Bitterness begins its irrevocable work.
The will was the main target of Bitterness….The people attacked by this malaise began to lose al desire, and within a few years, they became unable to leave their world, where they had spent enormous reserves of energy constructing high walls in order to make reality what they wanted it to be.
It occurs to me that I also have walls around me limiting self growth. And the consequences are not only for reflection on my next steps forward, but also in my relationships with my co-workers. It may be a bit strange to spill my soul out on a blog to people who don’t know me in real life, and keep my personal life to myself at work. Perhaps it isn’t that extreme. But it did get me thinking – I don’t open up as much as I should, and there is lots of room for improvement, whichever direction I go.
One last morsel from this book, which reminded me of the infertility journey, or indeed any difficult path you have chosen.
A group of patients are listening to a talk, and the speaker tells the story of people going to hear a Sufi master. They were told that the talk would start at 2, but he only arrived four hours late. He arrived appearing drunk and flirting with one of the audience. Out of thousands that were originally there, only nine remained. He got up completely sober and said: (p88):
You have passed through the two hardest tests on the spiritual road: the patience to wait for the right moment and the courage not to be disappointed with what you encounter. It is you I will teach.
I know I’ve waited and endured disappointments in my path towards finding Nicholas. Now the challenge is parenthood.