“Fool,” cried the witch. “You will suffer greatly for this when I have conquered your world!”
Tony’s latest read-aloud for the children is The Magician’s Nephew. I’ve read the Chronicles of Narnia countless times, and just like with the Lord of the Rings, whenever I read them, I seem to identify with a different character. This time around, the one who impressed me the most was Jadis. Yes, Jadis, the proud, ruthless queen of mighty Charn, and the future White Witch of Narnia. You might think that the arch-villainess of the series is an odd choice for a heroine, especially given my current obsession with the deposition of dictators. And you’d be right. But questionable ethics aside, Jadis is a woman of strength, power, and unbounded faith.
When she arrives precipitously in an unknown world after a sleep of thousands of years, there is no doubt in her mind that she will soon conquer it single-handedly, becoming its absolute ruler. When she commands a stranger, it is with the full expectation of unquestioned obedience. And when her usual methods fail, and she is unable to turn people instantly to dust, she unhesitatingly switches gears, unshaken in her conviction that she can and will succeed. Actions and speeches which from an ordinary person would sound ridiculous, have more than an echo of heroic grandeur when performed by her. Her own absolute belief that if she wills it, it will happen, casts an unconscious spell around her, virtually compelling suspension of disbelief from everyone else. For a moment, when you are in her presence, she draws you into her world, and everything she says seems both magnificent and irresistible. But her impressive ability to create belief in other people is secondary in importance to the ability she has developed, over countless years of relentless determination, to maintain an unshakable belief in herself. That is why she is consistently able to succeed in situations where another person would see no possible way.
It is true that Jadis and I have somewhat different ambitions. But like her, I once thought that I could do anything. When Tony and I were still in college, a person we deeply admired explained to us his secret to success. “When I set a goal,” he told us, “Providence shifts. It is as if, in a way, my goal has already been accomplished, because I have set it. From then on, whenever I run into an obstacle, I remind myself that Providence has already shifted, and then find a way to accomplish my goal. Each time you shift Providence and then see your goal accomplished, you become more powerful.”
I believed that, truly and completely. So much so that a few months after we decided we needed Italian citizenship, we flew to Italy and walked into a government office to say in broken but carefully practiced Italian, “I am Italian. The grandfather of my grandfather was born in Italy.” It took months of determination, countless frustrating hours of wading through red tape, dozens of changes of plan, help from the right friends, and miracles on both sides of the Atlantic. But no matter how many people told me (and there were many) that it could not be done, I knew that it would happen. Providence had already shifted.
So when I read James Allen’s classic essay, As a Man Thinketh, I knew it was true not only because it made sense, but from my own experience. “Let a man radically alter his thoughts,” says Allen, “and he will be astonished at the rapid transformation it will effect in the material conditions of his life. . . . A man cannot directly choose his circumstances, but he can choose his thoughts, and so indirectly, yet surely, shape his circumstances.” It was just like Allen described. There we were, living in Italy exactly as we had imagined, and it had all come straight out of our heads. No outside force had propelled or drawn us there. It was a desire and a dream that we had believed into reality.
It was the same with the business we started in college. Tony and I always dream big. Maybe too big. In our mind’s eye, even from the beginning, we saw our company growing, creating a serious niche for itself, and standing with NIKE and Adidas. And right up until the week it failed, we believed it would succeed.
When our company failed, it’s hard to describe the devastation we felt. It wasn’t just that our livelihood had disappeared. All at once, the transfiguring mirror of our belief in what we could accomplish had been shattered. We couldn’t see ourselves or anything else in it anymore. Suddenly, we couldn’t picture ourselves shifting Providence even by our desperate and exhausted efforts, let alone just by thinking it. Our ability to create our own future had evaporated, simply because we no longer believed in it.
Now it’s been two years since our business failed and our life crashed in on us. Since then, we’ve been tossed about like driftwood, unable to fix on a goal, unable to do anything much but barely survive and stay together. We’ve bounced around from job to job, house to house, and even country to country so much that the very thought of moving again makes me physically ill. Our financial state has ranged from bad to awful. On the up side, we have become more patient and loving with each other, and even more devoted to our faith. Our little family has been fairly welded together in the furnace of adversity. And things haven’t been uniformly hellish. I’ve chronicled most of the happy and exciting moments on this blog. I don’t write much about the almost constant pressure, stress, depression and often despair I’ve felt during these past two years. That goes in the private journal.
And now we’ve finally gathered our courage to try again. That’s why we’re in Tunisia, living in a cheap beach bungalow, working away on our new business, and trying hard to keep at bay the bogeymen of past failures. I’d like to end this post with a bang. In fact, I started writing it two months ago. I had it inside and wanted to say it, I just couldn’t finish it. I guess I wanted to wait to post it until we actually had already brilliantly succeeded. But life doesn’t really work that way. To put it in Christian terms, “faith precedes the miracle.” So here it is. Even on days like today when I don’t feel like it will happen, I still believe it will, and try to act accordingly. I’ve been climbing this mountain backwards in the dark with bleeding feet and a raging thirst for quite a while now. But I still believe in the summit. Or as Jadis would say, “Tomorrow, I will begin the conquest of the world.”