The Fountain of Youth does exist — in the mountains, the beach, and lesser known paths in between. – Tim Kemple
I have read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho every year since I received it as a graduation gift from my AP Chemistry teacher. Although I haven’t read it particularly recently, the thought above made me think about The Alchemist‘s story and the journey that would help me find my own treasures in this life.
In The Alchemist, the protagonist is a Spanish shepherd boy named Santiago. Twice, while he sleeps beneath a sycamore tree in the ruins of an abandoned church, he dreams of a child who takes him to the Egyptian pyramids and tells him, “If you come here, you will find a hidden treasure.” Santiago goes to the Egyptian pyramids. Along the way he gives up and loses all that he has many times over and endures a treacherous desert crossing. He meets an alchemist who possesses the Elixir of Life, which keeps him from growing old, and the Philosopher’s Stone, which transforms metal into gold. The Alchemist helps the boy reach the pyramids and leaves him to finish the journey on his own.
At the pyramids, Santiago begins to dig for his treasure when bandits seize and beat him. As death is near, he tells them of his dream and the treasure he thought he would find. The bandits decide to leave and one tells him, “Two years ago, right here on this spot, I had a recurrent dream, too. I dreamed that I should travel to the fields of Spain and look for a ruined church where shepherds and their sheep slept. In my dream, there was a sycamore growing out of the ruins of the sacristy, and I was told that, if I dug at the roots of the sycamore, I would find a hidden treasure. But I’m not so stupid as to cross an entire desert just because of a recurrent dream.”
The boy returns to the Spanish church and finds a chest of great treasure. He asks the Alchemist, “You knew the whole story…couldn’t you have saved me from that?” and an answer on the wind replies, “No. If I had told you, you wouldn’t have seen the Pyramids. They’re beautiful aren’t they?”
What would have happened if Santiago had dreamed of a treasure under a sycamore tree? He would have found it and married the easily impressed and provincial merchant’s daughter he was fancying. They would have bought a large place, possessed many fine things, and lived a comfortable life without need or want. He would be admired by his friends and neighbors. It’s really not a bad ending. In fact, it’s what most of us are longing and striving for each day. But that’s only because we have not thought to live another way.
It’s natural to desire to find treasure right where we are. But what does it profit us to find it if we have not yet learned how to use it? I would offer that Santiago used his treasure very differently after his journey than he would have before. The process refined him as the alchemists were refined by the fires at which they purified metals and learned to give up the vanities of the world. He learned the Language of the World and to speak to the desert, the wind, and the sun. He learned that he, only a boy, could perform miracles. There now burns in Santiago different desires for his treasure. The treasure itself that he was seeking had changed. He could no longer desire a treasure that would give him an easy life and an endless accumulation of possessions. He had become unaccustomed to the emptiness of that life.
I am just beginning to learn that I will live a longer and fuller life if I fill it with experiences and relationships rather than things.
Where can we find our treasure? Where is the Elixir of Life?
In the mountains, the beach, and lesser known paths in between.