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Choose Your Own Adventure on World Book Day 2015

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“Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end,” said the King in Alice In Wonderland sequel Through The Looking Glass.

There is nothing quite like the consuming experience of enjoying a good book. The feel of it in your hands, its presence and weight appreciated and cherished. The wondrous smell of the tome, whether brand spanking new or retrieved from a dusty shelf in a second-hand bookshop. The sensation of the textured pages and the quietly pertinent sound as they turn. The way the letters and words form in paragraphs that resemble star-filled galaxies. A book is a delight to behold and tumble into like Alice down the rabbit hole.

From Alice In Wonderland to The Wizard of Oz to Around the World in Eighty Days to Le Petit Prince, Jack Kerouac’s On The Road and Alan Bennett’s A Life Like Other People’s, to Orwell’s Why I Write and Rumi’s poems, and Jean-Dominique Bauby’s The Diving-Bell and The Butterfly – a soul-floodingly beautiful work – books take us on magical trips.

They make us ponder, they inspire us, they thrill us, they haunt us, they articulate our own thoughts and remind us that time is fleeting and the world is small.

Today – Thursday March 5, 2015 – is World Book Day.

Life is a book. You are not the reader, you are the protagonist. Many esoteric traditions posit that the best way to live is to observe your life as if you’re the reader even though you are simultaneously living every sentence, every paragraph, every page and every chapter as the leading player of your own life story. It is that duality of being both fully absorbed in the action – present – with the overriding notion of being distinct from it – non-attachment.

The plot twists and turns, it rises and falls in peaks and troughs, each element informing – as Joseph Campbell put it – the hero’s journey. Without the shade, we cannot know light. In a good book even moments of seeming humdrum serve a greater purpose – to heighten the excitement even more. Oscar Wilde deemed life to be too important to be taken seriously and while the more challenging aspects of our stories may test our patience, if we experience them with grace and humour we’ll emerge victoriously in the end.

Characters come and go – some major, some minor players – but all leave an indelible impression somehow. Some of the players in my life won’t even realise how they affected me but there are so many I am grateful for, if not all, for they have made me who I am now. Interactions with others reflect the self.

How you see yourself is key. If you know and embrace your self – your true being, not your ego-driven persona – then the world around you shines those qualities back to you. If you are a protagonist who expects to see the good, the good will be what you see.

A colourful chalk-written sign on a wall I once saw read: “Our only true mission in life is learning to know and love ourselves.” If we truly appreciate ourselves, we might not be able to understand the whole world and all those in it for that is an abstraction, but we will certainly interact with our own world and the people who inhabit it – the settings and characters on the pages of our books – in a genuine and loving way.

The narrative arc swoops over as what once was the status quo is challenged and either embraced (ideally, for change is the catalyst for growth) or sunk into deeper. That is the choice the protagonist makes – whether to create the life he or she really wants or to accept their ‘lot’.

Ultimately it comes down to trust, belief, in yourself. As the Queen told Alice, you should believe that anything is possible – as long as you know what you want. She said: “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Life is a book you fill the pages of. You’re down the rabbit hole. It’s spellbinding and exhilarating and is filled with opportunity and promise. Be yourself, be kind, smile always, love unconditionally and have no regrets. There’s no such thing as a wrong choice if you follow your heart. Which route will you take? Where will the latest chapter find you?

* If these words have resonated with you, I urge you to send someone who has made a mark on your life story the gift of a book that means something to you. Anonymously if you like, but with love.

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Lasso the moon

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Whenever a bell rings, an angel has just got their wings.

Yesterday I watched It’s A Wonderful Life, the James Stewart classic. He plays George Bailey, who always dreamed of travelling the world but sidelined his wanderlust to take care of his family and friends in the small town of Bedford Falls. When his guardian angel Clarence shows him what the world would have been like had he never been born, George realises that everything he ever did reverberated in the lives of those around him.

Even though George didn’t fulfil his dreams, his was still a meaningful, a wonderful, life. As his daughter Zuzu reminds him at the end of the film, “Whenever a bell rings, an angel has just got his wings.”

Earlier in the film George tells his gal Mary about how he wants to see the world, then offers to lasso the moon for her.

Later, as he makes one of his first choices to turn away from his ambitions, a phrase on the wall reads: “You can only take with you that which you give away…” like a smile, like kindness, like love.

It’s one of those films I always cry at even though I must have seen it dozens of times, just like E.T.

In Spielberg’s finest, Elliott protects his friend from outer space by evading the authorities and cycling his BMX across the moon to get him back to his spaceship so he can head home.

I cry because I’m sad that George parks his dreams but am inspired by his kindness. I cry because I’m touched by the connection E.T. and Elliott have to say goodbye to but know that he will always be “right here”, in the little boy’s heart.

It’s the winter solstice today which, like these two films, reflect the vestiges of hope inherent in life.

In the Northern Hemisphere December 21 is the shortest day and longest night of the year. At the end of the darkest hours, the light always emerges.

That’s why you should keep following your dreams. How many people give up just before the light comes? What if the greats who lived before had given up when all was dark?

Along the way, if your heart is filled with hope and emanates love and kindness you’ll get back tenfold that which you give away.

So as long as you keep riding your bike across the moon, you’ll surely get your wings. And who knows, one day you may even lasso that orb of night.

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