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Beauty and The Spoon

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I’m often reminded of a story in Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, where a boy seeks advice on happiness from a wise man, who lives in a magnificent castle.

The wise man gives a spoon with two drops of oil to the boy, and tells him to walk through the castle without spilling any. The boy does as he’s told, and upon returning, the wise man asks him what he thought of the beautiful tapestries and artwork from around the world, displayed on the castle walls.

The boy replies that he didn’t notice anything, because he was focused on the drops of oil. The wise man sends the boy back through the castle, ordering him this time to pay attention to the tapestries and artwork. The boy complies, and upon returning, the wise man asks him why the oil in the spoon is gone. The boy replies that he didn’t pay attention to the spoon, because he was focused on the tapestries and artwork.

I almost got T-boned yesterday… closest I’ve ever come to a really, really, really bad wreck.

We’ve been supporting local mom-and-pop restaurants twice a week by ordering takeout. I was driving home on a 45 mph stretch of road with stoplights handling cross traffic, when a Benz came barreling into the intersection from the right, through a light that had been red in that direction for at least 20 seconds. I know, because I’d been watching my green light from a quarter-mile away.

I slammed on my brakes and the Benz swerved, almost clipping my front fender. In that momentary flash where time stood still, I could see that the driver was probably in her mid-40s, wearing a yellow-striped collared shirt, a mask, and gloves.

The mask and gloves were socially responsible, I suppose, but not really the point.

The point is that whenever we get behind the wheel, we have a 1 in 103 chance of dying from injuries sustained in a car crash. Cardiovascular disease? One in 6. Cancer’s 1 in 7. You can read the same New York Times article, written before the pandemic hit, with a Google search.

This driver was focused on the virus, evidenced by her mask and gloves, while putting herself at greater risk by being on the road, and even greater risk (to both of us) by running the red light.

She didn’t stop. Quite the opposite… she accelerated off into the literal sunset. I took a breath before hitting the gas pedal and heading home.

Pulling into the driveway, I was reminded of the ending to Paulo Coelho’s story.

The wise man tells the boy that the key to happiness is to be able to see the beauty in the world, but not forget the drops of oil in the spoon. I took that to mean to live with your eyes joyously and curiously open, while staying true to your purpose.

But after that ironic, barely avoided accident, I found another meaning.

I think when we look back on the extraordinary circumstances of 2020, we’ll realize that we, too, may have been better served by focusing on both the beauty and the spoon.

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