Thursday, November 8, 2012

Thoughts from The Prophet

During a stretch of years that has taken me all over the place, it's been nice to have a few sources of consistency in my life. For the most part, I thrive on variety, but even the most antsy among us benefit from having some sort of anchor to remind us that our today has something in common with our yesterday and tomorrow. For me, one of the most important sources of consistency has been my reading habit, which has evolved from being a personal interest into a full-blown dependency. 

My books have been with me along every step of the journey—even before my "journey" was an actual journey. I haven’t been writing much about that side of the adventure in recent months, but rest assured, I’m still on the book-a-week program. One thing I love about reading-while-adventuring is that it seems like every book is relevant to something in my life, no matter what the book is about, what I’m going through that week, or where I’m going through it. It’s become a sort of side game for me while reading a book to see how long it takes to arrive at that “ah hah” moment, where I suddenly realize that what I just read is totally relevant to my life beyond the book. Admittedly, sometimes it's a stretch—but hey, it’s a game and I don’t like losing... not even in imaginary games that I play in my own head.

Every now and then—maybe once a year—I come across a special type of book that really is about everything. Books like these stand out to almost every reader, often becoming bestsellers, then classics, and in rare cases, sacred texts. To give you a better sense of exactly the type of book that I’m talking about, here’s a quick list of some of the books that have hit me in that sweet spot.

Tao Te Ching - Lao Tzu (6th Century BC)
The Old Man and the Sea - Ernest Hemingway (1952)
God Speaks: The Theme of Creation and Its Purpose - Meher Baba (1955)
The Giving Tree - Shel Silverstein (1964)
The Missing Piece Meets the Big O - Shel Silverstein (1981)
The Four Agrements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom - Don Miguel Ruiz (1997)
The Giver - Luis Lowry (1993)
Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel García Márquez (1985)
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies - Jared Diamond (1997)
The Fortress of Solitude - Jonathan Lethem (2003)

These are not necessarily my favorite books—although a few of them are. They are just books that seem to have a universal application to life. If you’ve read any one these books—no matter who you are, or when and where you read it—my bet is that it spoke to you in a way that seemed beautifully, or creepily, relevant to your immediate life.

This week I was lucky to finally read another book that fits the bill. I recently snatched a fifty year-old copy of The Prophet off the shelf in the “library” at the Peace Corps office, and wasted no time digging into a classic that I probably should have read a long time ago. I highly recommend it to you, no matter who ore where you are. More than anything, I just want to share a few passages that gave me a new perspective on the life I currently live as a Youth Outreach volunteer in Colombia. Here’s the first:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

A later section on the theme of “Work” offers this gem of a quotation: 

Work is love made visible.

The last bit that I wanted to share pushed me to reflect on one of the most common sources of stress for Peace Corps Volunteers: the home-stay. Even though we all sign up looking for a challenge, almost all of us eventually come to a point where we just might kill a kitten for the chance to be a little bit more comfortable. In a section titled “On Houses,” Gibran’s prophet challenges his audience, asking:

... tell me, people of Orphalese, what have you in these houses? And what is it you guard with fastened doors...
... have you only comfort, and the lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and then becomes a host, and then a master?

The Prophet, widely hailed as Kahlil Gibran’s masterpiece, gave me a fresh take on my day, my week, and everything going forward, and that’s a big part of what I’m looking for each time a pick up a new book. I hope you come across something today that does the same for you. 

Pura Vida,


*If you are going to leave a comment to say that The Alchemist or Siddhartha should be on my list... please don't. Yes I read them and yes, I enjoyed them, but they already get plenty of shine so I left them out. Please feel free to leave any other comments, with or without book recommendations!


  1. "Work is love made visible."

    I disagree, unless I'm classifying Gabriel or Jaime as 'work,' and I don't.

    1. That's generous. Baby G Money is definitely a piece of work.

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  3. Great post Drew! The Shell Silverstien classics are definitely some of my most treasured books as well. Did you know that Michael has a tatoo of the Missing Piece and Big O?? It is such a great story with a valuable lesson.

    Keep turnin those pages!