“Hippie” by Paulo Coelho (2018)

“She [Karla] returned to her spot in Dam Square, opened the book she had been reading, known then to only a few (which lent its author cult status): The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien, a tale of mystical lands like those she intended to visit (pg.16).”

I sit up immediately in my hammock overlooking the first rising sun in Panama City and think out loud: ‘What a coincidence, I brought that novel with me!’

“Hippie” by Paulo Coelho, who was named a United Nations Messenger of Peace in 2007, accompanied me on my journey around Panamá during spring break. This book teaches me the importance of living in the moment and enjoying every part of life: how to be comfortable alone and how to form a community with others.

Coelho’s novel, which approximately takes place during the 1960s and 70s, shares his experience traveling as a young hippie from Amsterdam, North Holland to Kathmandu, Nepal on a “Magic Bus.” Leading up to the trip, Coelho meets a force to be reckoned with, Karla, a young Dutch woman, a traveling spirit.

What did it mean to be a hippie during this time? Most people thought of them as young, long-haired, tie-dyed clothes and worn jeans wearing rejectors of established societies’ norms. Oh, and they loved Janis Joplin!

But reading this book, the term hippie refers to the wandering soul. Those in touch with spirituality and religion, yearning for bigger truths, like Coelho’s journey. Or learning what connects us, even when life makes us all strangers, like Karla’s voyage. The main goal of this novel is learning about yourself and exploring the world around you.

Coelho longed for a deeper truth that could bring him closer to universal peace and relieve the suffering of daily life: injustice, despair, powerlessness.

“As though everything truly had to be faced without fear, as a mere fact of life – we don’t choose the things that happen to us, but we can choose how we react to them (pg. 49).”

Individually, none of us can control how life affects us. One moment, we have a job, the next, we are stuck inside avoiding a world-wide pandemic. Only, in this moment, we can begin to look internally and find new ways to entertain our thoughts and hearts.

Another journey of thought is with Karla. Karla thought of herself as incapable of love, of opening herself up to the power of what caring for another person means. Karla thought of traveling as an escape, a distraction to avoid something that she believed was internally wrong with her.

Reflecting on the barrier that keeps her from connecting with the world around her, she had enough. “Because a life without love isn’t worth living. What is a life without love? It’s a tree that bears no fruit. It’s sleeping without dreaming, (pg. 248).”

When we become receptive to other people’s love, it sets an example of understanding others’ suffering. The lives that go unnoticed. More can be learned of how big our empathy stretches.

Instead of turning away from the things that scare us like loneliness, online school and the unknown, we can choose how we wish to react, and we can choose to act in the light of others. That is how we survive as a species.

One doesn’t need to travel to Panamá, learn a new language, dress like a hippy and board the “Magic Bus.” Just read this book. It may not change your life, but it offers a new view of it.

Edited by Diana Martinez-Ponce, Hannah Alleyne