by cheri sabraw
Most of us have read Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist, the prototypical tale of a traveler’s search for meaning, who discovers what he had been looking for in his own backyard. He accomplished this revelation by the hard work of wrestling with himself.
This journey–that of searching for meaning–is not one every person is prepared to embark upon. Those who go through life living theirs largely unexamined do so for a number of reasons: the Self’s protection, stubbornness, genetics, and laziness.
Great novelists and playwrights have told the stories of heart-breaking, agonizing, yet stimulating searches for meaning. In Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, a young woman pays a life-time penance for her adulterous indiscretion, a sentence exacted by community members who shun her and her illegitimate daughter Pearl, for whom she paid “a great price.” Through solitude and aloneness (she lives at the edge of town) and charity (she sews and embroiders for community members), she grows stronger and the reader senses that by the novel’s conclusion, the woman’s suffering has contributed to her depth of character.
And then there is Willy Loman, Arthur Miller’s tragic figure in Death of A Salesman. To search for meaning and examine his life would not be possible for him. Wholly unenlightened–a big-talking adulterer, selfish father, and braggadocio, Willy Loman is the conductor of his own family’s train-wreck. We find ourselves intellectually unsurprised by his suicide, brought on by the little bubbles of profound regret and anger trying to work their way to his consciousness, but that are unable to break the surface. He dies unenlightened.
I’d like to think that as death approaches, all of us ask the big questions about our lives, about those whom we have touched and not touched, about our deepest relationships, about what mark we had hoped to stamp upon our loved ones, our friends, our associates.
Strangely, many people go to their graves having done zero introspection, more concerned about the placement of their bedpan than the quality of their legacy.
Then again, how does the outsider, the family member, or the caring observer know whether or not someone is self-reflective?
We are all travelers.
We are all on a journey. It’s just that some journeys labor to go forward despite the tonnage of past generations, shackles that some people stubbornly refuse to uncouple from their present lives.
In what type of conversation with yourself and with others do you engage?
If such conversation explores your motivations, shortcomings, and deepest fears, then you are on your way to enlightenment, no matter what your age may be.