On the road to Serendip: I am not alone

Once upon a time, there were three princes from Serendip. They needed to be trained to be great thinkers if they were going to take over the kingdom from their father one day. The king had them embark upon an education which included critical thinking and writing (I have no doubt their education was writing intensive). The tutors seemed to do a fine job, but the father wanted more for his sons, so he encouraged them to leave the kingdom (by kicking them out). They strolled around the desert for awhile finding the tracks of what they deemed a camel: blind in one eye, lame in one leg, missing a tooth, and carrying a pregnant woman. Like Sherlock Holmes, they deducted what might have been from clues left in their path. They were accused of stealing the camel when they described it, because how else could they know the particulars, unless they had taken it?

Fortunately, the camel owner that pointed the finger at the young men was proved wrong when the camel was found. Of course, the sons of the king were correct in their assessment–as they’d had a fine education (the tutors must have had some fine university education to teach the sons so well–I’m assuming, of course).

The boys go on to many and sundry adventures using their skills to navigate the world around them, so I understand: The Three Princes of Serendip is the English version of the Peregrinaggio di tre giovani figliuoli del re di Serendippo published by Michele Tramezzino in Venice in 1557.” It’s based on a story that has a longer and more complicated history than this publication date indicates, but it’s a way cool story. I don’t read Italian.

So, I haven’t read the whole thing. Few translations exist in English. BUT, I know this: the word serendipity comes from Serendip–this Serendip–and today I was reading Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From and the story of the three princes from Serendip came into my life again. Once again, I say (I wrote about this recently), Horace Walpole coined the term, serendipity, in the mid-18th century based on the story of these young men who are both accidental and wise travelers.

I have heard that like any mystical place, Serendip (supposedly Sri Lanka, used to be Ceylon under the British), is a place you cannot find unless you do not set out to find it. You must stumble upon it when the time is right. In other words, you’ll need serendipity to find Serendipity.

(Of course, if you were interested in trading on the ancient Silk Road, you’d get to Sri Lanka easy enough–it was a well-known stopping off point for travelers from East to West. Can you imagine the fascinating history of this island in the Indian Ocean at the tip of India? I’ve always wanted to go there. I hear the cuisine is marvelous.)

Misty mystical Sri Lanka

On the road to Serendip. That’s my thing. I learn this way; I teach this way; I believe I exist this way: in serendipity. I used to hang out in libraries and wander stacks to find things to read; I used to do the same thing in bookstores; I did the same thing for my bachelor’s degree for years and years; I now do the same thing on the internet and in my personal and professional lives. I wander. I often wander with purpose and goals, but I do wander. And I revel in it.

Today, I was wandering in a good book, but I was sleepy.  I have been so busy lately that I actually took a day off and allowed myself to take a nap–it was glorious. Just before I fell asleep, a haiku flashed into my mind. I grabbed a pen and jotted, then dropped off.

Just me traveling

on the road to Serendip;

I am not alone.

I have had several lovely visions just before slipping away to dreamland. I figured out a way to frame art in an unusual fashion in that nebulous realm–letting go of every worry–and letting my brain just futz in and around itself. I keep a pen and notebook handy almost always (well, I have a trouble keeping pens). After I write down what seems important to me, I can really rest.

This haiku reminds me of what matters to me most: I must work hard; I must learn; I must write; I must read; I must be open to new experiences; I must metaphorically travel. I must keep moving. If I stopped my learning quests, my intellectual traveling, I think I’d curl up and shrivel. The best of my questing is that I am rarely alone. Besides writing about whatever I feel like writing about on this blog (such lovely freedom), I often write about being part of a commons and what that means. Knowing that Serendipity is not only a goal, but a way of life that brings me joy and friendship, is a comfort to me, and I am not alone. Others travel this road with me. I find them as I go along, and they find me. It’s magical.

One last vision from Sri Lanka: from the Festival of the Tooth. Oh my. I have a thing about teeth–very worrisome things. I love that there’s a festival about a tooth somewhere in the world, though I don’t fully understand it or know much about it. It’s there. And it looks like the below. If stories from the East were alive for me now, like the one about the three princes from Serendip, right now in front of my eyes, I would want them to look like this.

Esala Perahera, the Festival of the Tooth, in Sri Lanka


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Filed under Old Stories and New Thinking, Serendipity

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