Duly Quoted

"A library is a hospital for the mind."

“True love is an act of total surrender.”

Book: By The River Piedra I Sat Down And Wept, by Paul Coelho

Thanks to Zach, who delivered this book to my humble doorstep at the eerily perfect time in my life. And then fed me sushi. Off of a conveyor belt. On my birthday. What a peach!
I enjoyed this book. I know a lot of people who have been irritated by it, finding it too “preachy” and “feel-good.” But you know, I like feeling good sometimes. I wouldn’t say Coelho is my absolute favorite, because yes, he does tend to take the this-is-the-meaning-of-life-in-a-novel approach sometimes, but this book was more than worth reading, and still beautiful.

———-

All of us have had this experience. At some point, we have each said through our tears, “I’m suffering for a love that’s not worth it.” We suffer because we feel we are giving more than we receive. We suffer because our love is going unrecognized. We suffer because we are unable to impose our own rules.
But ultimately there is no good reason for our suffering, for in every love lies the seed of our growth. The more we love, the closer we come to spiritual experience. Those who are truly enlightened, those whose souls are illuminated by love, have been able to overcome all of the inhibitions and preconceptions of their era. They have been able to sing, to laugh, and to pray out loud; they have danced and shared what Saint Paul called “the madness of saintliness.” They have been joyful—because those who love conquer the world and have no fear of loss. True love is an act of total surrender.

Perhaps love makes us old before our time—or young, if youth has passed. But how can I not recall those moments? That is why I write—to try to turn sadness into longing, solitude into remembrance. So that when I finish telling myself the story, I can toss it into the Piedra. That’s what the woman who has given me shelter told me to do. Only then—in the words of one of the saints—will the water extinguish what the flames have written.
All love stories are the same.

You have to take risks, he said. We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen.

Pitiful is the person who is afraid of taking risks. Perhaps this person will never be disappointed or disillusioned; perhaps she wont’ suffer the way people do when they have a dream to follow. But when that person looks back—and at some point everyone looks back—she will hear her heart saying, “What have you done with the miracles that God planted in your days? What have you done with the talents God bestowed on you? You buried yourself in a cave because you were fearful of losing those talents. So this is your heritage: the certainty that you wasted your life.”
Pitiful are the people who must realize this. Because when they are finally able to believe in miracles, their life’s magic moments will have already passed them by.

But love is much like a dam: if you allow a tiny crack to form through which only a trickle of water can pass, that trickle will quickly bring down the whole structure, and soon no one will be able to control the force of the current.
For when those walls come down, then loves takes over, and it no longer matters what is possible or impossible; it doesn’t even matter whether we can keep the loved one at our side. To love is to lose control.

Love is a trap. When it appears, we see only its light, not its shadows.

Ridiculous, I thought to myself. There’s nothing deeper than love. In fairy tales, the princesses kiss the frogs, and the frogs become princes. In real life, the princesses kiss princes, and the princes turn into frogs.

All this was so new to me. Life takes us by surprise and orders us to move toward the unknown—even when we don’t want to and when we think we don’t need to.

But he was wrong. Because I had fought with my heart and defeated it long ago. I was certainly not going to become passionate about something that was impossible. I knew my limits; I knew how much suffering I could bear.

“I am just like everyone else who listens to their heart: a person who is enchanted by the mystery of life. Who is open to miracles, who experiences joy and enthusiasm for what they do. It’s just that the Other, afraid of disappointment, kept me from taking action.”
“But there is suffering in life,” one of the listeners said.
“And there are defeats. No one can avoid them. But it’s better to lose some of the battles in the struggle for your dreams than to be defeated without ever even knowing what you’re fighting for.”

Yes, my mind was wandering. I wished I were there with someone who could bring peace to my heart—someone with whom I could spend a little time without being afraid that I would lose him the next day. With that reassurance, the time would pass more slowly. We could be silent for a while because we’d know we had the rest of our lives together for conversation. I wouldn’t have to worry about serious matters, about difficult decisions and hard words.

I began to imagine how I would like to be living right at that moment. I wanted to be happy, curious, joyful—living every moment intensely, drinking the water of life thirstily. Believing again in my dreams. Able to fight for what I wanted.
Loving a man who loved me.

But love is always new. Regardless of whether we love once, twice, or a dozen times in our life, we always face a brand-new situation. Love can consign us to hell or to paradise, but it always takes us somewhere. We simply have to accept it, because it is what nourishes our existence. If we reject it, we die of hunger, because we lack the courage to stretch out a hand and pluck the fruit from the branches of the tree of life. We have to take love where we find it, even if that means hours, days, weeks of disappointment and sadness.
The moment we begin to seek love, love beings to seek us.
And to save us.

I also knew that from this moment on I was going to experience heaven and hell, joy and pain, dreams and hopelessness; that I would no longer be capable of containing the winds that blew from the hidden corners of my soul. I knew that from this moment on love would be my guide—and that it had waited to lead me ever since childhood, when I had felt love for the first time. The truth is, I had never forgotten love, even when it had deemed me unworthy of fighting for it. But love had been difficult, and I had been reluctant to cross its frontiers.

“There’s another reason you’re happy,” I said, as we left the small village with the strange statue.
“What’s that?”
“You know that I’m happy. You’re responsible for my being here today, climbing the mountains of truth, far from my mountains of notebooks and texts. You’re making me happy. And happiness is something that multiplies when it is divided.”

“The mysteries of life fascinated me, and I wanted to understand them better. I looked for signs that would tell me that someone knew something. I went to India and to Egypt. I sat with masters of magic and of meditation. And finally I discovered what I was looking for: that truth resides where there is faith.”
Truth resides where there is faith! I looked around again at the interior of the church—the worn stones, fallen and replaced so many times. What had made human beings so insistent? What had caused them to work so hard at rebuilding this small temple in such a remote spot, hidden in the mountains?
Faith.

If pain must come, may it come quickly. Because I have a life to live, and I need to live it in the best way possible. If he has to make a choice, may he make it now. Then I will either wait for him or forget him.
Waiting is painful. Forgetting is painful. But not knowing which to do is the worst kind of suffering.

Try, I said to myself. All you have to do is open your mouth and have the courage to say things you don’t understand. Try!

Simply having the courage to say senseless things made me euphoric. I was free, with no need to seek or to give explanations for what I was doing. This freedom lifted me to the heavens—where a greater love, one that forgives everything and never allows you to feel abandoned, once again enveloped me.

“You shouldn’t have asked,” I said. “Love doesn’t ask many questions, because if we stop to think we become fearful. It’s an inexplicable fear; it’s difficult even to describe it. Maybe it’s the fear of being scorned, of not being accepted, or of breaking the spell. It’s ridiculous, but that’s the way it is. That’s why you don’t ask—you act. As you’ve said many times, you have to take risks.”

I will not talk to my own darkness anymore, I promised myself, closing the door on the Other. A fall from the third floor hurts as much as a fall from the hundredth.
If I have to fall, may it be from a high place.

Our parents taught us to be careful with glasses and with our bodies. They taught us that the passions of childhood are impossible, that we should not flee from priests, that people cannot perform miracles, and that no one leaves on a journey without knowing where they are going.
Break the glass, please—and free us from all these damned rules, from needing to find an explanation for everything, from doing only what others approve of.
“Break the glass,” I said again.
He stared at me. Then, slowly, he slid his hand along the tablecloth to the glass. And with a sudden movement, he pushed it to the floor.
The sound of the breaking glass caught the waiter’s attention. Rather than apologize for having broken the glass, he looked at me, smiling—and I smiled back.
“Doesn’t matter,” shouted the waiter.
But he wasn’t listening. He had stood, seized my hair in his hands, and was kissing me.
I clutched at his hair, too, and squeezed him with all my strength, biting his lips and feeling his tongue move in my mouth. This was the kiss I had waited for so long—a kiss born by the rivers of our childhood, when we didn’t yet know what love meant. A kiss that had been suspended in the air as we grew, that had traveled the world in the souvenir of a medal, and that had remained hidden behind piles of books. A kiss that had been lost so many times and now was found. In the moment of that kiss were years of searching, disillusionment, and impossible dreams.
I kissed him hard; the few people there in the bar must have been thinking that all they were seeing was just a kiss. They didn’t know that this kiss stood for my whole life—and his life, as well. The life of anyone who has waited, dreamed, and searched for their true path.
The moment of that kiss contained every happy moment I had ever lived.

Why had I done that? I could think of no explanation. Maybe because I had been too lazy to think of other avenues to follow. Maybe because I had been afraid of what others would think. Maybe because it was hard work to be different. Perhaps because a human being is condemned to repeat the steps taken by the previous generation until—and I was thinking of the padre—a certain number of people begin to behave in a different fashion.
Then the world changes, and we change with it.
But I didn’t want to be that way anymore. Fate had returned to me what had been mine and now offered me the chance to change myself and the world.

“Every person on earth has a gift,” he began. “In some, the gift manifests itself spontaneously; others have to work to discover what it is.

“The path of the Goddess can only be opened through words and miracles. But that’s not the way the world works. It’s going to be very hard—tears, lack of understanding, suffering.”
“The path isn’t about pain; it’s about the glory of serving,” I answered.
“Most human beings still cannot trust love.”

But how to explain suffering because of a man? It’s not explainable. With that kind of suffering, a person feels as if they’re in hell, because there is no nobility, no greatness—only misery.

“Jesus said, ‘Let the dead bury the dead’ because he knew that there is no such thing as death. Life existed before we were born and will continue to exist after we leave this world.”
My eyes filled with tears.
“It’s the same with love,” she went on. “It existed before and will go on forever.”
“You seem to know everything about my life,” I said.
“All love stories have much in common. I went through the same thing at one point in my life. But that’s not what I remember. What I remember is that love returned in the form of another man, new hopes, and new dreams.”
She held out the pen and paper to me.
“Write down everything you’re feeling. Take it out of your soul, put it on the paper, and then throw it away. Legend says that the River Piedra is so cold that anything that falls into it—leaves, insects, the feathers of birds—is turned to stone. Maybe if t would be a good idea to turn your suffering into its waters.”

“Go and get your things,” he said. “Dreams mean work.”

The energy of hate will take you nowhere, but the energy of pardon which manifests itself through love will manage to change your life in a positive sense.


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Filed under: Paulo Coelho,

One Response

  1. […] liked it lots…a bit too overtly metaphysical and not as kyooOOOte/romaaaaaantic as By The River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept, but a really fast read that I’m glad I looked […]

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