My mom has always been a big fan of Paulo Coelho. In my early teenage years, I tried to read some of his books, but nothing really resonated with me.
One day, when I was around 17, I decided to join the local library and just roam around a little bit. Under P, there was Paulo Coelho and among all the familiar books, I had noticed one I hadn’t seen before, “Veronika decides to die”. I was sure my mom simply hadn’t heard of it and that was why we didn’t have it at home, so I decided to rent it and share the great news with her.
Oh, it’s a difficult one, I would not recommend it. I haven’t read it myself either, she said. Suicide, psychiatric hospital — you’ll have nightmares for sure.
My mom was my hero (and remains to this day), so her opinion mattered. I was sure that she was right and returned it the same day. A good whodunit was a much better choice for me at that time.
Fast forward to Christmas 2020. I received Coelho’s new book “The Archer” as a gift. I read it in a day and felt sad that I finished it so quickly, so I simply had to go back to the classics. I thought I should start from the one book I hadn’t read.
“Veronika decides to die” is scary, my mom was right, but not for the reasons she listed. It is scary because it’s relatable. And it’s relatable because it uncovers all the dust we try to hide in the corners of our soul.
I believe there is a good reason “The Alchemist” is a better known and liked book. It inspires you to achieve your dreams, with uplifting quotes that make you get up and do that one thing you always wanted to. And if you have already achieved something ‘impossible’ in the past — you know the following is universally true:
And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it. (Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist)
But on the other side, there’s Veronika, asking you to re-evaluate your choices. Are these really your choices? Or did you perhaps settle down a little bit and led life that was expected of you? You likely gave it a thought, decided that although standard, these choices are good enough to fit your personality and agreed with yourself that nobody gets everything they wanted. You list your achievements, think how exceptional you are and congratulate yourself.
The chronically embittered person only noticed his illness once a week, on Sunday afternoons. Then, with no work or routine to relieve the symptoms, he would feel that something was very wrong, since he found the peace of those endless afternoons infernal and felt only a keen sense of constant irritation. (Paulo Coelho, Veronika decides to die)
And that is why it is a much tougher pill to swallow.
Veronika is a young girl in Slovenia, who decides to commit suicide but fails. She wakes up in a hospital, and is told that although she did not manage to kill herself, she severely damaged her heart and will die in the next couple of days.
The awareness of death brings her the will to live. Really live.
She would consider each day a miracle, which indeed it is, when you consider the number of unexpected things that could happen in each second of our fragile existences. (Paulo Coelho, Veronika decides to die)
Is this what happened to all of us during the pandemic? One day, life stopped and death was all of a sudden a very real possibility. We did not know when (or if) we would get to see our friends and families again. Stores, restaurants, cinemas, gyms, offices — all closed overnight. We had to slow down. Time for thinking about our life and choices seemed endless.
Looking back, I would say two questions formed in my mind.
The first thing that happened is that I started being more grateful for simple things that put a smile on my face. All the little things I always took for granted. Similar to Veronika, I did not understand how come I never noticed the beauty of life around me.
A sunny day. Walk in the nature. Even rain, if you’re lucky to be in a warm house. Skype call with friends. Reading a book on the couch. Laughing with my partner while making coffee. Pigeon song in the morning. Fresh sheets. Smell of cinnamon. Sending gifts to friends and family.
The second question I had for myself is — what are you doing? How are you spending your days, now without anything else to distract you? Are you living your life or someone else’s vision?
After some difficult inner dialogues, I cannot say I answered all of the questions above. But I keep asking them and listening to what my heart has to respond.
However, these questions helped me realise that when it came to really important choices in life, I never took an easy road, but those decisions never made me unhappy. On the contrary, they have always been the key to every success I had.
‘Stay mad, but behave like normal people. Run the risk of being different, but learn to do so without attracting attention.’ (Paulo Coelho, Veronika decides to die)