Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College
A journey . . . no, the journey of life is the road of discovery that will never cease to amaze. There is no other thing like it one could ever encounter, and no matter how long one has been walking this journey, there will still be something out there just waiting to change one's course on the road. Sometimes these surprises are unpleasant, but sometimes they are for the better, and one can actually learn from them. This was the case for the narrator in "Zaabalawi," a short story by Naguib Mahfouz. This was also the case for Sylvia in the short story "A White Heron," by Sarah Orne Jewett. As a consequence of their unexpected detours in the journey of life, these characters come to see the world in a new light.
I myself had to go through a journey to become the person I am today. I used to loathe socializing with others because it made me nervous and I didn't have much confidence in myself. In middle school, I had about three people I could call friends, and even that was pushing it. Then, I went to high school, and I realized that I knew practically nobody there. It dawned on me that this would be my last opportunity to make any attempt at finding the true meaning of friendship before I was coldly flung into the adult world. I not only was looking for friendship; I also needed to find something to look forward to everyday, something that could give my life new energy and get me through what was yet to come. I needed to find my Zaabalawi. I searched high and low for friends and people who could tell me the genuine meaning of friendship and honest emotion. Like the narrator in "Zaabalawi," I made every single effort I could to find what I was looking for.
The main character in "Zaabalawi" is down on his luck and in need of a cure when he finally asks himself, "Should I not seek out Sheikh Zaabalawi?" (86). The protagonist of this story first hears of Zaabalawi when he is a child, and his father tells him that Zaabalawi is a true saint of God. It is this that makes the main character set out on his journey, which is the beginning of his internal struggle to change. The mere fact that he is willing to set out on a journey that can take him God knows where means that he is willing to make sacrifices to reach his goal, even if that means getting out of his old ways of life. This determination is made quite apparent when the protagonist sets out to find the local sheikh for the second time. The map that the narrator is given serves as a wonderful guide and helps him get through the streets (91), but it also serves as a reminder that his goal won't be obtained so easily. The map isn't going to pinpoint the location of Zaabalawi. He still has to work hard to get where he wants to be. Only he can find Zaabalawi if he really tries.
"A White Heron" follows a girl named Sylvia, who lives a very comfortable life in the countryside with her grandmother. That is, until a strange man looking for a beautiful rare bird arrives and causes her to consider what she truly believes in. It was all very awkward for me in the beginning. Like Sylvia, I didn't really know how to handle other people when I had to interact with them (60). I can even go as far to say that I was startled by them at times because I would be trying so hard to get on their level and reach out to them that their kindness and willingness to co-operate would catch me off guard. As time went on, I learned more about the people that were in my life, and I developed friendships with them that surprised me. It never occurred to me that I could actually get along with other people, and, like Sylvia, I began to gain confidence with myself. In Sylvia's story, "At last evening began to fall, and they drove the cow home together, and Sylvia smiled with pleasure when they came to the place where she heard the whistle and was afraid only the night before" (63). Sylvia becomes more confident in herself, and along with this confidence comes independence from the influence of her grandmother and the hunter in the story. Although she doesn't know it yet, she will soon make a decision based on her own feelings, not based on what the others want.
I reached a dilemma in my life. Even though I had made friends, I still couldn't fathom what the true meaning of friendship was. What exactly made my friends stay and meet me the next day no matter what mistakes I had made the day before? The main character in "Zaabalawi" is just as determined as I was to discover the whereabouts of Zaabalawi. Just as the narrator comes so close to his goal, into his road comes an unexpected detour, which requires him to drink wine. The main character then falls into a drunken sleep and, as he says, has:
"a beautiful dream the like of which I had never experienced. I dreamed that I was in an immense garden surrounded on all sides by luxuriant trees, and the sky was nothing but stars seen between the entwined branches, all enfolded in an atmosphere like that of sunset or a sky overcast with cloud. I was lying on a small hummock of jasmine petals, more of which fell upon me like rain, while the lucent spray of a fountain unceasingly sprinkled the crown of my head and my temples. I was in a state of deep contentedness, of ecstatic serenity. An orchestra of warbling and cooing played in my ear. There was an extraordinary sense of harmony between me and my inner self, and between the two of us in the world, everything being in its rightful place, without discord or distortion. In the whole world there was no single reason for speech or movement, for the universe moved in a rapture of ecstasy" (93).
It is at this point that the main character of the story reaches a turning point. He becomes at peace and is able to come to terms with himself. His dream displays the harmony and contentedness that he has longed for in himself. It is perfect. Unfortunately, when he wakes up, he discovers that he has just missed Zaabalawi, who sits right next to him the entire time he is asleep! The main character of this tale is distraught because Zaabalawi is so close, yet completely out of reach. Does that mean the main character's journey is for nothing? I began to wonder the same thing about my own journey.
I felt as if I was running out of time, but I couldn't understand what I was missing to make myself complete. I had friends, and I had the desire to understand, so what was I missing? I followed in the steps of the protagonist in "Zaabalawi" and ignored my dilemma for a while (94). Once I was able to forget about my quest for the true meaning of friendship, I became fully immersed in my relationship with others and devoted myself full-heartedly to them. Just like the main character from "Zaabalawi," I became happy with my life. I can honestly say I looked forward to every single day.
Then came the end of my junior year of high school and the beginning of my last summer as a child. I decided to go through summer school to knock out a class I would have to take in college. I met a new friend in this class, and he really made me think about what I had done in my high school years. It was during a study break when we decided to grab some ice cream from the store. We began talking about our high school days. We found a comfortable hill that was nicely shaded by a nearby pine tree. He asked me, "If there was anything you could go back and change, what would it be?" That's when it hit me. It all suddenly became clear to me in a way that can only be compared to Sylvia seeing everything that is to be seen:
"Sylvia's face was like a pale star, if one had seen it from the ground, when the last thorny bough was past, and she stood trembling and tired but wholly triumphant, high in the tree-top. Yes, there was the sea with the dawning sun making a golden dazzle over it, and toward that glorious east flew two hawks with slow-moving pinions. How low they looked in the air from that height when one had only seen them before far up, and dark against the blue sky. Their gray feathers were as soft as moths; they seemed only a little way from the tree, and Sylvia felt as if she too could go flying away among the clouds. Westward, the woodlands and farms reached miles and miles into the distance; here and there were church steeples, and white villages, truly it was a vast and awesome world" (65).
Sylvia is above the entire world. Everything that she knows and cares for is set out before her and underneath her. Seeing all of that opens her eyes to what kind of world really is around her. It is at that moment that she realizes what it means to carry the weight of knowing where the white heron is. Finally, seeing the herons makes her feel a strong sense of being, makes her feel she is on the same level as them, and her connection with nature becomes more obvious to her than ever before. She climbs the tree with the intentions of locating the heron for the hunter, but she climbs down the tree and goes home with every intention of keeping the heron safe. She knows what she has to do.
Like Sylvia, I could see the ocean and everything else the world had in store. I felt tiny and suddenly very conscious of the size of the world, but that was all right because all my struggles and feelings suddenly made sense. The question my friend asked me suddenly made sense to me. Even the sudden cold from my rapidly melting ice cream and the soft quizzical gaze my new friend gave me seemed strangely right. His question to me made me think. Was anything I did worth all the trouble? I remembered how I had to fight through my very own barriers to be able to reach out a hand to people who were, at that time, simply my fellow classmates. To my pleasant surprise, when I thought I was reaching out into the darkness, I found the strong grasp of friends I didn't even know I had. That's when I realized how I truly felt.
I turned to my new friend and responded to him by saying, "Ya know, I don't think I would ever want to change anything that has happened." He raised an eyebrow at me and asked me why. I told him that when I came to this school, I came here looking for something. It was something that I felt I desperately needed, yet I had no idea where to find it. It turned out that, through every single event that happened to me, I was able to come a little closer to finding that one thing that I was looking for. It turned out that what I was looking for was there, right in front of me, the whole time. My friend responded, "Me, too."
The protagonist in "Zaabalawi" and Sylvia in "A White Heron" go through the same types of changes in life that I have encountered. Through these changes, we all begin to see life in a new light. This isn't something that only happens in stories; detours in life's journey can happen anywhere and anytime. Of course, they may not always be completely obvious every time they pop up. Sometimes they appear as lessons that we must learn. If one thinks about it, it is these moments that make life richer. These detours that tend to happen in our lives can make us say, "Duh!" Sometimes, like in "Zaabalawi," we learn that the answers we have been looking for have been right in front of us the entire time. We all go through our own little journeys, but each one of them is unique.
Jewett, Sarah. "A White Heron." in English 1B San Joaquin Delta College. Ed. Bob Rennicks. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2012. 58-66. Print.
Mahfouz, Naguib. "Zaabalawi" in English 1B San Joaquin Delta College. Ed. Bob Rennicks. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2012. 85-94. Print.