I heard on NPR today that there is a school in Philadelphia, I think, that’s assigning Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist as required reading for all high-schoolers. My first reaction was to laugh. Not that I stood out as particularly cynical among my peers, but I can’t imagine anybody getting me to take The Alchemist seriously past the age of 11.
But then I wondered if this might be my problem. What if it’s not such a bad thing that there should be a culture where it’s normal to celebrate a 14-year-old for managing to move a tangle of cords from one box to another? I’m not being sarcastic here. These kids live in a kinder, gentler world, so why shouldn’t they remain innocent enough to take The Alchemist seriously at the age of 16? If I grew up in a harsher reality that made me too cynical to admire the famous clock or to enjoy The Alchemist, maybe I shouldn’t be projecting that inner misery onto people who, through no fault of their own, are more fortunate?
A friend of mine told me yesterday that she is saving to buy a trip to Europe for her daughter and the daughter’s girlfriend. The daughter and the girlfriend are my age and quite successful professionally, so my question to the friend was, “Hey, isn’t Helen a little too ancient for you to help her out financially?”
And now I feel like I’m begrudging Helen the opportunity to remain a daughter who is pampered by her mother in a world that is gentler than mine. I guess that, on some level, what I really feel is envy of Helen, Ahmed of the Clock, and high-schoolers with their copies of The Alchemist. There is no need for them to be schooled in hardship because this is not the kind of life that awaits them. And that’s a good thing.