As parents, we are obsessed with growth: our children’s academic growth. Their mental growth. Their physical growth. Their social growth. But what about our own, personal growth?
When we become parents, the stimulus for the type of growth that is unrelated to children is often no longer there. Our lives become too busy, too involved, too home-centric. Emotionally, we become too preoccupied with the minutiae of daily domestic living that exclude the outside world. After all, isn’t the whole world supposed to exist within our spouse, within our children, once we attain the biological Holy Grail?
One weekend, I was teaching yoga on a private island in the middle of the Javanese sea. I ended up spending the whole weekend with someone who came to my class on the beach, talking about Fate and Destiny, watching the sunset and snorkeling with my daughter. The weekend passed like an innocent, yet deeply spiritual, dream.
Running for the plane that Sunday evening, I caught sight of Paul Coelho’s book, By The River Piedra I Sat Down And Wept. I stopped dead in my tracks.
“Come on, Mum,” G yelled, running ahead. ‘We’re late!”
I was compelled by something deep in me to walk into the bookshop and buy the book. I have read this book years ago. It is the story of a man who passed through his hometown on his way to becoming a priest, and his childhood friend Pilar. I had loved this book when I first read it.
Impulsively, I bought it for the man who asked me about Fate and Destiny. I did not have a full address for him: I knew where he worked but not the building that his office was located in. Nevertheless, I bought the book and dropped it in the mailbox in an envelope simply labeled, Antonio Castellano, McKinsey & Company, Jakarta. I hoped that this book would give him better answers than I did.
I did not hear from him for weeks. Not that I expected to. Indonesian post is notoriously unreliable. Small parcels with incomplete addresses have even less of a chance of reaching their destinations.
But torn and tatty, that Coelho’s book did reach him. He took it travelling with him. Coincidentally, he was travelling in Spain, where the story was based, for an INSEAD reunion followed by soul-searching time. He read the book and wrote me a long, beautiful email that changed my life. I quoted an excerpt on the last page of the book that I dedicated to him, about strength, pain, learning, joy, growing.
Only this weekend, Friday 15th of August 2014, when the core of my being was engulfed with momentary darkness, I read Antonio’s first email to me, about the pain of growing mentally, emotionally and spiritually. We need to grow, to move towards self-realisation. After all, is that not the purpose of our life, rather than merely fulfilling aspects of biology?
I don’t want to emerge from the shell of my safe, comfortable existence. I haven’t wanted to, for a very long time. In my family, the whole world exists. There is nothing else to risk for, to move towards, to grow for. But Antonio Castellano, the boy from Sicily, is the teacher that the Universe sent to me when I thought I had nothing else to learn.
I was happy being a part-time doctor. I didn’t have to think too hard, I enjoyed my work and I adored my boss, my boss’s family and my colleagues. I existed in a safe, comfortable world, where I could still justify my existence by telling myself that I save lives whilst bringing up children.
But soft, brutal, gentle, he led me to the deeper recesses of my mind, to the deep lagoon where unanswered questions and unborn dreams stagnate. I could not pass through this life without liberating them first. So I dived in, via the safe seas of his blue Sicilian eyes. It culminated in my 10,000+ word long essay, Ten Most Beautiful Equations in the World. The equations liberated and exhilarated me, gave me the answers that three years in Oxford could not.
He led me, oh so gently. We talked about Theoretical Physics and God, after his long day at work doing deals. We talked about scientists in Einstein’s time, men who lived in the small attics of Zurich, fuelled by a passion that made the hunger, frustration and sacrifice worthwhile, driven only by the belief that within the grasp of Man’s limited potential is the unbounded potential to understand the mind of God.
I wrote down Heisenberg’s Principle of Uncertainty.
He did not know what those symbols meant.
“Translate?” he asked me.
“You already know them,” I told him. “You have always known them. In words, not symbols, that’s all.”
And so he wrote for me, deep insights from his soul.
And so he read to me, the words that matter. He is one man who could go from English to French to Italian and back to English seamlessly, poetically.
I grew, mentally, emotionally and spiritually with him.
“Why did it take you so long to contact me after you have received my book?” I asked curiously.
It took him a long time to answer that question. Just as I had taken a long time to answer the first ever question he asked me, on that magical weekend on that magical island several years ago, the question about Fate and Destiny. Dear Antonio, here is one half of the answer to your question (on Fate); I will answer the second half (on Destiny) at the end of my life, if I have the strength to grow more. I pray that I do.
‘Qu’est ce que c’est le hasard?’
L’ombre de mon ignorance.
Message of the day: Dear readers, take the risk. Send someone a book that echoes the words in your soul. If the stars are aligned, it will be a growing opportunity for you. Embrace it.