It was when I saw Christopher Columbus pointing towards the pier that I decided I wanted to study Literature.
I was in Barcelona at the time. Leaving my family in the mall that stood on the quay I chose to wander into the city without so much as a map for guidance. Keeping my back to the sea, I had only a general sense of where I was heading, only remembering which direction the sea, and hence the pier, was, as I wandered through crisscrossing alleys with high Gaudi-an balconies and narrow European streets.
Though at first my only aim had been to explore the city- I had always wanted to visit Barcelona as a boy- very soon, I found direction in my journey. Crossing a busy intersection, I was forced to stop and read one of the blue road signs that showed what lay beyond which avenue and it was there that I read the three words that would shape my future: ‘Arc De Triomphe’.
The arrow pointed diagonally into a different section of the city. Thinking, at first, that it would probably not be too far off and that I would most certainly regret not seeing it if I turned back, I changed course and walked without thinking- instinct my only guide. In the course of the hour that followed, I walked a long way without success. At the height of my disillusionment, I felt that I probably wouldn’t be able to return because I had come such a long way off.
However, the strange thing is, everything was still beautiful. The air was still cold and comforting and the sun radiated hope. As I turned the corner- the last of many I had promised myself before- there it stood in all its red-bricked glory: The Arc of Triumph. I couldn’t believe it. For ten minutes, I just stood there- the sun shining on my shoulders.
As I turned to my wristwatch, I learned that it was bordering on six at the time, and within a half hour at most, the sun would set. Out of sheer practicality, I had to return.
My journey back wasn’t as straightforward as one would imagine at first. Though I had kept my bearings, I hadn’t accounted for the intermediate dead ends, or the meandering streets, and at one instant, was almost lost again. I had been walking for a long time and, in truth, begun to worry if I’d really be able to find my way back.
That was when I saw Columbus. Perched atop his two-hundred foot pillar, his right index finger pointing towards not only the sea, but as fortune would have it, the very quay I had abandoned only hours ago.
It was in that one evanescent instant that I understood the significance of everything that had happened that day. Of my instinctual wandering eventually finding purpose, of my will in pursuing that purpose, and its fulfillment embodied within the Arc of Triumph itself. It was then I realized I had to trust my instinct. To let my heart guide me in my endeavors.
While my wandering reminded me of how I had never been sure of what I had wanted to do until I was in senior year, the manifestation of the Arc at the height of my despondency taught me that, if I stuck with it long enough, I could convince my parents to let me pursue Literature- the subject of my choice- and not Medicine, as they had proposed for me. But, perhaps, it was the arrival of Columbus that proved the most significant of all, for, even after I had found my own Arc of Triumph, I had become lost, and though I had at the time, in some small part of me, regretted my decision to venture on my own, he had brought me back and reminded me that, as long as I followed my dreams, everything would turn out all right in the end- I didn’t have to worry- and, this is why, even now, as the better part of my extended family urges me to study medicine, I insist Literature is the only field I wish to go into.
Grey and outstretched, it was beneath the finger of the man who had become famous for getting lost that I found myself.
Upon mapping my route in the hotel that evening, I discovered that I’d covered more than six kilometers in my journey. And yet, the most important step I took that day, was deciding where my future lay.