The day I sat down to read this book, quite by chance I observed two entirely unrelated events. One was a TED Talk by Iain McGilchrist, a Fellow at All Souls college, at the University of Oxford: discussing what’s happened to our soul or spirit. And the second, an event on a TV show for pop-star hopefuls. One contestant, a lady in her early thirties, had been driven for as long as she could remember to become a singer. So much so, when she was 9-years-old, she had made up her mind to seek a place at a school specialising in music education. She worked hard and won a scholarship. At the school, she achieved a great deal, but her success was in opera singing when she really wanted to be a pop singer. However, she stuck with opera to please her teacher, her parents, grandparents and other family members. In other words, she lived the life they wanted for her, not the life she was supposed to live. It was only on the death of her younger brother did she realise, in the words of Heaney, “You see, a life doesn’t last forever, and then you become dead.”. At the moment she promised herself to switch from opera to popular music-her lifelong dream-and competing for a place on the TV show was her starting point to start living the life she was supposed to live.
“A Yorkie's Tale” operates on a number of levels – for a child, the beautiful illustrations will engage their young minds as well as the array of diverse characters which populate the story – a rat, an owl, a possum, a parrot and many more – plus it’s a well-written to boot. For the adult reader, woven into the plot are messages we all need to remember. For example, we all live in our own world, but actually, there is a much bigger world out there – we have so much to learn and experience. Equally, it’s not about how we look on the outside, but what’s important is who we are on the inside: our spirit or soul. As Heaney says, “It’s the spirit that puts the light in your eyes and the love in your heart.” This is what McGilchrist explored in his presentation.
Heaney also recognised that leaving the familiar is always uncomfortable but a discomfort which has to be borne to find the life you should be living. This is shown, in the above example, by the hard decision the promising pop star had to make and relay to her family and teacher. But notwithstanding, it’s a complicated world, meaning that what is good for one is not necessarily good for others.
Heaney doesn’t make light of deciding to live the life you’re supposed to. He recognises it’s only the start, and nothing is easy. Our chosen path can lead to uncertainty, to moments of doubt and even regret. Being strong is necessary. “The road you are on, the quest undertaken, immovable obstacles seem placed in your way. Ne’er turnaround now; to learn, you must stay…or the truth you shall miss.”
“A Yorkie’s Tale” is full of great life lessons we all need to absorb or be reminded of. To treasure friendships; the importance of generosity and kindness; take nothing for granted and look for the richness of the world in which we live; joy and contentment can be discovered almost anywhere; and that latter exist as much inside us as outside.
Heaney continues, we should not fear death since our mortality urges our spirit to seek out what our lives mean, and living the life you’re meant to live is about embracing the totality of the life you live.