I wanted to share today a brief passage from one of my novels that I'm editing this week. It's all about outer things and our inner lives. The conversation is taking place in Cairo, in 1934.
The wise, older Ali Shabeezar is speaking to young Walid and his friend Mafulla. They're discussing a man who has immersed himself in criminal activity, because of a lifetime focus on the wrong things. Ali sees the man's life as a cautionary tale and says to the boys:
“One of the great surprises of life is that when you focus and fixate on external things like money, power, status, or fame as your main goals, your ultimate ends, the values that drive you, you diminish yourself, and to the point that, if you actually attain any of these things, you’ll be less likely to handle them well than a person who gains them almost by accident, as a by-product of good work well done. The individual who pursues things of the spirit, and the wellbeing of others, is different. If, along the way, any of these highly regarded external things comes to him, or all of them, for that matter, then he will much more likely be able to be their master, and not their slave. There will be healthy, and not harmful, results.”
“Why do things work this way, Uncle?” Walid was always curious to understand.
“Well, you see, the inner must be the foundation for the outer, or nothing really goes well. Any large building that’s without deep and solid foundations is unstable and can collapse in a storm, or when it’s otherwise pounded and stressed by external forces. A tent needs no foundation. It’s temporary. A tower does. In a similar way, if you want your life to rise high and last long, you must anchor it deeply. Dig down beneath the shifting sands of worldly fortune, glamour, and fame. Establish footings deep in the soul. That way, you can truly flourish. Then, all the riches of the world can come to you, and you’ll never be diminished as a result. You will, by contrast, flourish. A man or woman with inner strength can use all outer things for good purpose, and with beneficial consequences. The world works this way to help remind us where the most important things are to be found.”