How to Follow Your Heart

I was standing at Gate 53 of Dulles International Airport on a Saturday morning of the early spring, feeling a little lost. I was waiting for my flight to go on a work trip overseas. My flight was still two hours away. I could have gone to the lounge to chat with my colleagues, review the work documents, read a newspaper, or take a nap. But for some reason I was just standing there feeling restless like a dog stranded in the elevator. I was nonetheless quite familiar with the feeling, as it was a confusing time in my life, for various reasons, and everything felt up in the air, wanting directions.

Suddenly, a thought grabbed me from nowhere–“I want to read The Little Prince!” If you don’t know it already, it’s a children’s book by a French pilot during the WW II about the cosmic travel of a young prince from a small, faraway planet. I read the book when I was six. So you can imagine it was not the first thing I expected to come to my mind when standing in a buzy airport about to go on an IMF mission. I was a little shocked and took a moment to check within to make sure that I heard myself correctly. And I could feel this little voice inside of me, a desire, subtle yet clear–“I want to read The Little Prince!” The voice was not loud or aggressive, but firm nonetheless. Ok, crazy girl, I thought, you want to find a children’s book published half a century ago in an airport. Good luck!

Somehow labeling myself as crazy didn’t stop the voice from nudging me to go looking. But where should I go? I was shooting in the dark here. There was a newspaper stand across the hallway. I approached the Mexican lady standing there,

“Do you sell books by any chance?” (Obviously they didn’t. What was I thinking? The place was no bigger than my refrigerator.)

“No we don’t.”

“Do you know if there’s a bookstore around?”

She looked up at the ceiling and thought about it, and answered in a voice that didn’t inspire much confidence, “Uhh, I think there is one if you walk down 50 gates. But maybe it’s closed. I don’t know. Sorry.” She shrugged and looked away.

What to do?

Forget about it, I thought. It’s too far. I’m dragging a suitcase along. There isn’t any bookstore. And even if there is one, do I really expect an airport bookstore to cater to my who-knows-where-it’s-from whim for an old children’s book? It’s a lost case.

But somehow I started walking in the direction the woman pointed to. I was nudged, again, by a subtle desire I couldn’t exactly describe. It was like a little candle fire in me, flickering but resilient, moving me along against all logical calculation of probability.

That fifty-gate distance was even longer than I thought. The walk quickly got tiresome and boring, with my suitcase feeling heavier by the minute. I was very sure that I was totally out of my mind. Still, I kept on walking… until I almost tripped over a stack of books piled up from the floor.

A bookstore! My heart lit up. But I glanced around and quickly got discouraged again. It was not exactly the three-story Barns & Noble at Georgetown that I was used to. It had only got a handful of shelves, most of them stuffed with business books, magazines and popular fictions– the typical airport store. A lanky young man with shy eyes hiding behind big glasses walked up to me,

“May I help you?”

“Yes. I’m looking for a book called ‘The Little Prince’. Do you have it?”

The lost expression on his face made my heart sink. “Uhh, I’m not sure. I’m just watching the store here. The guy who’s in charge went for breakfast.”

Ha, don’t they always…? I must have been looking desperate, because he hastened to save the situation, “But I can look for it. What kind of book is it? What does the cover look like?”

I couldn’t provide much useful information. But he went off searching anyway– in the history section, maybe because I mentioned it was an “old” book. I shook my head in disbelief, while thinking myself no less a fool.

I stood there for what seemed like a million years, then looked around, then finally decided to leave. This was hopeless. And as I turned around, I glanced down the bookshelf right in front of me. At the center of the bottom shelf lied a blue-covered paperback. The letters on the cover read “The Little Prince”! I walked closer, couldn’t believe my eyes until I picked it up and held the book in my hands. I felt like being touched by magic, standing there transfixed.

I spent my plane ride reading the book from cover to cover, and then again. I laughed and cried with it. I had such a good time and finally began to realize where my seemingly absurd desire to read the book had come from, how appropriate the book was to me at the time, and what a blessing it was that the Universe didn’t let me give up looking despite myself…

A favorite person of mine, St Thérèse of Lisieux, said that God only shows miracles to people who don’t have faith, because for those that have already put their complete trust in God, miracles are not needed at all. So according to her, I guess I’m firmly established in the camp of apostates, as I’ve been graced with so many miracles through my life, large and small, that I can hardly count, including the one of The Little Prince. I feel very, very grateful for each and every one of them. But sentiments aside, what’s the point of my story?

First of all, this is not a story touting the virtue of perseverance as in “if first you don’t succeed, try, try again”. Contrary to the popular belief, sheer willpower doesn’t usually get you very far, in case you haven’t tried it. I wasn’t intending to persevere in my book searching effort at all. In fact, I was quite against it. I kept on looking simply because I was compelled by a force larger than my doubts and I trusted it, more than less. And that force is a desire. My friend St Thérèse also said that the Universe never inspires a desire without creating the circumstances that make its fulfillment possible. This I can totally identify from personal experience. I would even go one step further to say that desire is a grace and a miracle in itself. It is something that mysteriously arises in you, seemingly effortless, with such ease and natural appearance, yet points you towards your vocation, your mission in this life, your highest destiny. And if you have the courage to follow it, you will never be disappointed because you are not alone on this journey–you have the Universe as your powerful ally, so powerful that no matter how sloppy your following is, as is mine, everything will be made perfect in the end.

But a desire is not a whim. It’s not a patch for broken pieces or a feel-good psychological construct, both of which all of us have plenty. It is, indeed, a divine inspiration. Then how can you tell? How can you make sure you’re following your heart instead of your lunacy? You can’t. But as in creating any other form of art, you can always horn your skills by plenty of practices, by learning from both your trials and your triumphs, and by listening within intently. You may find an overarching sense of peace within you when you follow your true desires, no matter how doubtful, scared, or anxious you are. Still, there is no guarantee that you will succeed. But as you follow this practice, what’s success and what’s failure will get fuzzier and fuzzier as time goes on. And one day you will close your eyes in gratitude and say, “All is grace. All is grace”.

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