In The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho uses the titular character to give voice to confronting the lessons we’ve learned:
“…before a dream is realized, the Soul of the World tests everything that was learned along the way. It does this not because it is evil, but so that we can, in addition to realizing our dreams, master the lessons we’ve learned as we’ve moved toward that dream. That’s the point at which most people give up. It’s the point at which, as we say in the language of the desert, one ‘dies of thirst just when the palm trees have appeared on the horizon.'”
I love the way Alan Jacobs’ echoes a similar sentiment in the preface to his book, Breaking Bread with the Dead. “Like the poet Yeats,” he writes. “I often find that thought, and indeed life as a whole, is like a winding stair: you keep revisiting the same points, the same themes, but at higher levels of experience.”
Jacobs’ continues, “From those ascending vantage points a given idea, a given feeling, a given perception, is recognizably itself and yet somehow different. One’s understanding of it becomes richer, sometimes in ways that are continuous, sometimes in ways that are revolutionary.”
While I’ve been in pandemic-induced exile in the Midwest these past few months, everything I’ve learned has been tested. Life has come along to rattle all the mental machinery I’ve put in place. “Have you really learned your lesson?” it keeps asking.
Pay carful attention and you’ll see how a season of life rhymes with the one that preceded it and perhaps even the one that will follow it too.