The journey in The Alchemist hits home with every reader because it is the journey of life’s meaning. Santiago, a young shepherd, repeatedly has the same dream of a child telling him to go in search of the Egyptian pyramids and leave his routine life of wandering with his sheep behind. Santiago loves the sense of adventure his life has on a daily basis, however, wishes not to grow old without fulfilling his Personal Legend—his life’s spiritual purpose.
After seeking the advice of both a gypsy and an old man who claims to be a king, he sets off to find the pyramids he has only seen in his dreams. Convinced to sell his sheep, with only two stones to guide him, he sets off on his quest.
The adventure that comes is one of personal growth, situational happenings, and reminds you to listen to your heart. Paulo Coelho, proclaimed Brazilian author, writes beautifully in his most personal novel about the power of following your dreams. In many ways The Alchemist is a metaphor of Coelho’s own life. He always dreamed of being an author but received many rejections before one publisher brought The Alchemist to life in Brazil, and then to the United States, where it received endless support and affirmation.
True to everyone, the book’s lesson is about following your dreams, listening to your heart, and making the decisions to not stay complacent. The shepherd is given two stones, one black and one white, intended to operate as omens and lead him to his Personal Legend. It is the value of making a choice that has the ability to drive us to what we really want, as it is the act of the decision that sets us into motion. Each decision Santiago makes leads to a new adventure. As the reader you see Santiago unfold from a vulnerable young man to a pioneer. With each experience he is confronted with doubt but as he listens to his heart, asks questions, and seeks goodness he ultimately finds what he is looking for.
Ultimately, The Alchemist is a novel about the importance of the journey and how without the journey our meaning, our Personal Legend, will be unknown.
On Sunday August 5, 2018, I had the pleasure of being able to attend the Interfaith Commemoration of the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima. It was held at Judson church located adjacent to Washington Square Park in New York City. The day marked the 73rd anniversary of the bombing.
At this beautiful event, religious leaders from all faiths spoke to the need for humans coming together, regardless of faith, to prevent such another traumatic event from rocking this earth. Given the political field today, their pleas had serious weight.
From the Japanese-American youth choir to the dancers, the night was truly a night of beauty and of hope. The individual who left the greatest impact, however, was a Hiroshima survivor, Tomiko Morimoto West. She was thirteen years old when the bomb dropped on her city. Her whole family was killed immediately except for her grandfather. He died soon after from his injuries and she reflected on her strength at such a young age. Japanese soldiers were collecting bodies and she stood up to them, refusing to let them take him, for she wanted to burn him as per tradition, herself. She recounted, “If I could muster the strength to do that, I could do anything.” And here I sat in the audience, in utter and complete awe of this woman. She was standing in a room in the country which dropped the bomb on her own city, wiping out her whole world. Instead of calling for vengeance or any notion of the sort, here she stood asking everyone in the room, to always remember to love and to treat your family members with kindness. Her strength and her poise was unparalleled and humbling.
In today’s world, where nuclear buttons are boasted and threatened ever so casually over twitter, I couldn’t imagine what these survivors and descendants of survivors from the only nuclear weapons dropped, are feeling. The effects of such weaponry are still felt today and yet, the world seems to not take such devastation seriously.
Overall, I couldn’t have spent a Sunday night better. I encourage anyone reading this to heed Tomiko’s message about reaching for love and kindness. Moreover, I urge people to research the widespread effects of nuclear warfare, before entering rather casual conversations about dropping nukes. Nuclear warfare is the farthest thing from a joke and it must be taken and addressed in an appropriate, grave manner. There is a reason they have only been used in one war; let us work towards keeping it that way.
The United States distinctively remembers the 1970s as the era of hippies—when the Beatles were blasted on stereos, anti-Vietnam protests unified many of those in their twenties, and hallucinogens were on the rise. In deep contrast, the late 1970s in Cambodia will forever be remembered by Cambodians as a time of genocide. A time defined by families being uprooted from their homes and being separated while the Khmer Rouge regime under the leadership of Pol Pot, attempted to turn Cambodia into a socialist agrarian society. It’s mind boggling to consider that these events occurred during the same time. Their group remembers this past based on a series of events that occurred in close proximity to them, and impacted “their people.” This phenomenon is called collective memory, referring to how a group of people remember the past based on similar, large scale experiences or happenings that make history and forever change the landscape of the world. For instance, Germany’s collective memory of World War II has made Germans very culturally sensitive, but also now a progressive nation that has used its dark past to recreate a brighter future.
Each generation has several collective memories that has shaped their lives and also serve as as relatable conversation points. While recently speaking with my step-sister, I learned that one of her professor’s earliest collective memories was when the United States landed on the moon. He was four years old and vividly remembers playing with blocks in his living room as his family gathered around the television to watch as the U.S won the race to space. Generations later the collective memory of my time, as a United States’ citizen, is unequivocally 9/11.
Because collective memories are often marked by milestones, they have the ability to drastically change the course of history or at least record it in a certain light - for better or for worse. Over the past few weeks I have asked many people between the ages of 18-27 what their first collective memory is and nearly everyone, except our editor Jessica Hoefer, has said 9/11. Hoefer’s first collective memory is the case of Cuban Elian Gonzalez. If you don’t remember, try google image searching “Elian Gonzalez.” For those who don’t know, this was the case of the young Cuban fleeing Cuba with his mom and after having made it to Florida with his mother having died en route, Gonzalez was forced to return to his father in Cuba. This was Hoefer’s first memory of guns and they involved the U.S. federal agents pointing them at a boy her age. So, as you can imagine, it made a lasting impression. Nevertheless, as a New Yorker with many family and friends who worked in the FDNY and NYPD, as an American who heard the sirens, saw the smoke and watched the world change right in her backyard, 9/11 without a doubt will always remain Hoefer’s most powerful collective memory.
The craziest element about collective memories, such as 9/11, is that they evoke such extreme emotions and precise memories. Most people can recount exactly what they were doing when they found out or watched what was happening. I remember dropping my spoon into my large bowl of Cinnamon Life before heading to second grade where our whole school was eerily silent. Meanwhile, my sister distinctively remembers my mom screeching and then bursting into tears and later, her pre-school was canceled because of the attack on America.
Furthermore, a memory that has this power and influence over a mass of people drastically changes the trajectory of history. In the case of 9/11, to date the world’s deadliest terrorist attack killing nearly 3,000 people, deepened the divide of the West versus the rest. This landmark event was the beginning of the “War on Terror.” Rightly so, the world, and the United States was scared. Something of this magnitude had never happened before. As the military power, the U.S. immediately took action in defense of the free world being attacked.
This one collective memory changed our world. Division between the spheres (east and west) had long been in place, but this attack significantly deepened the divide. It not only hurt Americans, but it further victimized innocent people - from civilians in the Middle East to civilians in the United States, Australia, England, etc. Those who looked like they were from the east, and were living in the west became the next wave of victims. The rise of Islamophobia did not focus on the distinction between Muslim extremists and the overwhelmingly peaceful majority of Muslims. The terrorists wanted to dismantle the western world, but in turn they also ended up waging war on their own people. Since 9/11, the Middle East, collectively, has been cast as a land of terrorism —a notion that had led to the War on Terror, which includes the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Since 2001, the Middle East has been perceived as the land of terrorism and Islamic extremism, but what would be the case if 9/11 never happened? Would extremism have continued to rise, ultimately leading to the creation and height of ISIS in 2014? Would Islamophobia exist? Would people be so scared of people who look different than they do? Moreover, what needs to change for this global trajectory to veer from the “us versus them” stigma?
Can the next generation’s first collective memory be one that brings people, of different walks of life, who practice different religions, together? And if so, what would that look like?
As the Brexit situation continues to claim headlines and whilst many others debate the survival rate of the European Union, it causes many Europeans to ask themselves - what exactly does the European Union (EU) do for them? Unfortunately, while the EU is successful at many things - publicity and marketing are not among them. Many do not recognize the incredible benefits that they receive as an EU citizen.
1. Freedom of Movement
Perhaps the most well-known trait of an EU citizen is the ability to live, to work and to retire anywhere you desire, in the European Union. That means a German can: live in France, work in Belgium and retire in Italy. It may seem commonplace to those who have grown up under this system but for those who hail from other countries - it’s an incredible opportunity to expand where you can live without the restrictions of a visa. In fact, it’s 28 opportunities.
2. Jobs, Jobs, Jobs!
Another underrated benefit of the European Union is the numerous jobs it sustains. The EU is a bureaucratic powered machine that requires millions of workers to run it. Simply put, by virtue of existing, the EU offers millions of jobs to Europeans that otherwise might have trouble finding work.
3. Safety while Traveling
Not only are Europeans free to travel where they wish across the vast continent, it’s also safer to do so than practically any other place in the world. Bureaucracy might seem like a pain but it’s that same system that makes sure airlines are safe, and that Europeans are secure when traveling. It is because of the cross coordination of all the countries that they can cooperate on fighting crime using Europol to ensure the safety of its citizens. This means less crime across all States. And not only are people physically safe, but their wallets are safe too. The EU offers a two year guarantee on all products and placed a ceiling on roaming charges across all member states.
4. Ease of Communication
Most recently, the EU passed a law meaning that any European phone number can text and communicate while abroad in another European state as though they were in their home country. This might seem like a small benefit but imagine traveling for a day or studying in another country. With this new rule, there’s no need to get a new number or plan.
The European Union is the incredible, yet often unnoticed collaboration of thousands of diplomats. Whilst it is challenging to coordinate amongst the 28 Member States, it’s even more difficult to manage monetary policy and have a strong communications strategy to show Europeans just how good they have it. Nevertheless, the benefits of the European Union for the world as well as for Europeans and travellers alike are multifold, and ought to be celebrated and shouted from the rooftops - for if they aren’t careful, the EU could fade onto just another page of a history textbook.
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