Encounter on 5th Avenue

By Paulo Coelho

I was just leaving St Patrick’s Church in New York when a young Brazilian came over to me.
‘It’s great to see you,’ he said, smiling. ‘There’s something I wanted to tell you.’
I was equally pleased at this encounter with a stranger. I invited him for a coffee, told him about my awful trip to Denver, and suggested that he go to Harlem on Sunday to attend a religious service there.
The young man, who was in his twenties, listened to me without saying a word.
I talked on. I said that I had just read a novel about a terrorist group that launches an attack on St Patrick’s Church, and that the author had described the scene in such detail that I had noticed many things I had never seen on previous visits. That was why I had decided to go to the church that morning.
We spent nearly an hour together, drank two coffees, and I dominated the entire conversation. Afterwards, we said goodbye, and I wished him a good trip.
‘Thanks,’ he said, moving off.
That was when I noticed the sad look in his eyes; something was wrong and I didn’t know what. Only after walking a few blocks did I realise what it was: the young man had come over to me saying that there was something he needed to talk to me about.
During the whole time we spent together, I had been in control of the situation. At no point had I asked him what he wanted to tell me; in my desire to be friendly, I had filled up all the spaces, I hadn’t allowed one moment of silence when the young man could have transformed a monologue into a dialogue.
He may have had something really important to share with me. Perhaps if I had been truly open to life at that moment, I too would have had something to give to him. Perhaps both my life and his would have changed radically after that encounter. I will never know and I am not going to torture myself with the fact that I failed to take advantage of a potentially magical moment: mistakes happen.
But ever since then, I have tried to keep alive in my memory that farewell scene and the sad look in the boy’s eyes. I was incapable of receiving what was destined for me and so was equally incapable of giving what I wanted to give, however hard I tried.

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  1. Jubilation says:

    I have been in that situation many times and I don’t like it one bit, makes you feel so stupid. my head starts spinning,I loose interest. Especially when they tell you that they haven’t finished when you interrupt them to put your two words in. I really think it is a selfish act, always wanting to talk about yourself and not letting the others have a go and not respecting other people’s feelings.

  2. Marie-Christine says:

    it happens sometimes…

  3. aditya says:

    HI Paulo !

    I have put the idea on the wol site and there was some discussions too. I am awaiting your querries / comments. The help I need from you is basically an evaluation of the idea and if possible any other help, which a person in your position can provide.


  4. Megan O says:

    Moments of conviction can be the most life-changing. That boy didn’t realize the impact that his encounter would have on you. Maybe that was part of his journey and purpose to have served as a teacher in your life… and likewise he was placed in your journey to leave you convicted for some future encounter elsewhere.

  5. Joanne says:

    El ubiera no existe…

  6. Carmen Larisa says:

    Dear Paulo,

    Everyone makes mistakes… It’s vey important to accept that and go on without feeling guilty. We should learn from our mistakes, see what went wrong and why and try not to make the same mistake again.
    I like to talk very much and I believe that sometimes this can be disturbing for the listener who probably doesn’t have any opportunity left to say what he or she wants. But I am trying to learn how to talk less and listen more, or how to stop when it’s too much…
    Another thing is that I have this custom of saying things in an open manner, without a “curtain” as I don’t like masks and I really prefer to be sincere than to lie. But I find it difficult sometimes not to hurt sensitive people, because I know what’s it like, as I am one of them. Being a diplomat and yet say everything frankly requires a lot of attention and delicacy.
    I also like to be told the truth, because reality is worth infinite more than lying and pretending, even if it is often difficult to accept it.
    Maybe that person simply wanted to have a word with you, maybe you being there and talking to him was enough, otherwise he would have insisted more, I suppose… If not, I’m convinced that life will give you and him the opportunity to meet again or at least to talk again (e-mails, Myspace and so on).
    Talking can be a gift and also a punishment; it depends on those who communicate whether to make it an enoyable issue or not.
    You should not blame yourself for what happened; just pray for that man, if he had a problem, God will help him solve it and next time someone wants to talk to you, ask what is all about in the first place, not to have hard feelings later… At least this is what I am trying to do in my everyday life.
    By listening to others’ needs more carefully, you’ll listen to yourself more, too as we are all connected like in an infinite web made of threads of energy.

    All my love and appreciation,
    Carmen Larisa

  7. Marmara says:

    …Provavelmente nada… Provavelmente tudo….
    “Ní£o sou nada,
    Nunca serei nada.
    Ní£o posso querer ser nada.
    í€ parte disso, tenho em
    mim todos os sonhos do Mundo.”
    ílvaro Campos

  8. Kathleen says:

    This was a sad story. I felt for both of you. You didn’t realise and I’m sure the young man would have realised that and gotten over it. My first thought on reading this was similar to Lisa’s. Maybe this was meant. It was a lesson. Sometimes I imagine that these people whom you come across and learn from aren’t even real, like they have just materialised to teach you something.
    Love Kathleen xx

  9. Nuno Firmino says:

    A armadilha da solidí£o

    A fama nunca aconchega a solidí£o, apenas o amor tem esse poder

    O problema é quando nos habituamos, e nem notamos mais a bíªní§í£o que é, ao nosso lado, ter alguém que incondicionalmente nos ama. Acontece que, muitas das vezes, nem lhe damos a merecida importí¢ncia e sonhamos com pessoas distantes…

    Grande abraí§o

  10. Marie says:

    Oops, I missed out the word ‘not’ after the first ‘did’

  11. Marie says:

    Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…..perhaps you did receive exactly what was destined for you and yet, perhaps you did. It was certainly not a mistake; you realised something important from your encounter with the young man, so perhaps that was your magical moment. You gave him just what you were capable of at that time, even if you will not know what that was and even if another time you might do things differently.
    But what an example of how easy it is to let our ego/mind take over from our heart and a wonderful reminder of how hard we must work to pay attention to the now and be fully present.
    So you’re still human :-)

  12. Master of Universes says:

    :)”If you come across Buddha, just kill him”

  13. Sara Nicole says:

    This is a mistake many, many people make. We fail to see the needs of other people so we can fufill our own needs.
    Perhaps this is or isn’t what you were trying to get across in your entry.
    It is hard sometimes to forget yourself for a moment and listen to another. Especially when you have so much to say.
    And I am glad that you are not going to dwell on this because of course it was not on purpose, it was a learning moment.
    Sometimes beautiful things come from mistakes.

  14. aditya says:

    Hi paulo !

    let me take this oppertunity to remind you about a similar sharing I wanted with you. Every time I tried to conatct you via email, Mr. Felicidade was all coursey but could not put me across to you. I have something important to share with you, comething which you can make happen, something which will be an immense help to all warriors of light. I have been trying this and that, but the concept is such that only someone who can write the words of the wise man in the alchemist will be able to help out with.

    another request.

    hello Aditya, it is not Felicidade’s fault, as you can guess (I receive close to 500 emails per day). And why don’t we discuss your idea here, openly, so all the warriors can also participate? Love, Paulo

  15. Cristina says:

    Probablemente le dio lo que la persona necesitaba al igual usted recibio lo que necesitaba y el momento magico se dio porque hasta ahorita esta en su memoria.

  16. Anlao says:

    I forgot to say thank you. :)

  17. I’m this kind of person that talk and don’t leave a other person talk. Everytime I talk and talk and talk, when I see my partern didn’t say any words and he/she’s sad and disappointed with me. I’m trying to change myself and I’m getting success.
    We need try to change sometimes…to be accept and don’t hurt who we love.

  18. Lisa Baker says:

    The opportunity was not missed.

    The lesson has been learnt.

    Maybe the young man had nothing to say, but was presented to you at this particular moment for you to learn…

    Experiences make us who we are. And it is our choice as to how we respond. Guilt is like jealousy; a pointless emotion that eats through the soul.

    Timing – Who knows, maybe someone whos meeting could alter your world would have been disregarded had you not had the memory of this particular encounter

    Just wait with a smile knowing the REAl person that has something to say is just around the corner….:)

  19. Celia says:

    My precious soul,

    While this story has sadness and holds mystery in it, I really think the boy accepted the presence of you and your need to hold down the fort 2 coffee’s later…

    We must always believe, no matter how many regrets we have, and how many times we want to say.. but if. what if..

    We need to just accept the happening, and be happy as they say it happened .. rather than to miss the train all together..

    I firmly believe, if what the boy wanted to tell you was indeed more important that him listening to you, then … it would not have happend the way it did..

    Love, love love love


  20. Anlao says:

    Today you spoke about failure, mistakes, and being incapable in front of life. Maybe it was just a coincidence, maybe it wasn’t.
    Failure is a too familiar word to me, incapable it was a new one. A surprinsingly startling one. Amazing how in the simplest of context you threw such a whiplash at one’s self. And I absorbed everything you wrote, as if it were more valid than the words I tell myself, as if it had more value.
    I decided not to take my lunch in my office today. I decided to order a soup, and not to read a newspaper. And, as an old native woman came besides me, I said Hi. In the first minutes I knew I had so many wonderful things to tell her, I was born in the places where her daughter has traveled, and I had stories that would match her stories. But I didn’t. Maybe it was your blog, maybe I was just tired of hearing myself talk. I asked another question and listened to her, trying to reason my patience which was tested because she spoke too slow for my taste. At some point, she mentioned how she always walks trough life with her heart open, and I forgot I was supposed to have patience. “How do you keep your heart open, if by mistake you closed it? Do you really want me to believe you never closed your heart in your entire life?” I was in tears, and she was smiling at me:” Of course I did, many times. I closed my heart, I even lost my heart, and when it happened I just had to open a new one.”
    We talked for a while after that. I got to hear her life story and she got to hear mine. Before I left to get back to my work, I gave her a wet napkin because she spilled soup on her navy-blue sweater. It was her husband’s, she always likes to wear his sweaters when he is away. I left feeling more peaceful.
    I guess I should get back to work now…

  21. Josephine (Swe) says:

    Listening is an art…
    it requires we leave our own
    universe for a little time
    to enter the other person’s.

  22. “Perhaps if I had been truly open to life at that moment, I too would have had something to give to him. Perhaps both my life and his would have changed radically after that encounter.”

    “I was incapable of receiving what was destined for me and so was equally incapable of giving what I wanted to give, however hard I tried.”

    Trying to see or read your sentences in a deeper way, and also trying to see similar situations in my own life, ohh God! how many wonderful possibilities we can let pass when we were not able to open that space between me and the other person, that space where the silence, the voice of our hearts, can change our lifes completely. I hope to pay more attention in the necessities of myself that are reflected in the person that is right in front of me. Sometimes it’s a part of me that is needing to come out of myself and I didn’t realized that yet. An encounter between two souls is always a sacred sign, I just need to understand that.

    I love when you share parts of your daily life with us all, Paulo. You’re so true, so sincere and so intense that we can always learn something from you, from your texts, even without live exactly the same situation that you’re talking about.

    Thank you! Muito obrigada!


    Marta :)

  23. Quennie© says:

    Awww… So these things happen to you, too. Oh well.

  24. fLUXman says:

    bo0om paulo,
    how we sometimes wish we had a time machine, we could go back let the young man have his say,
    its just a matter of not perceiving time,
    the culprit behind many of todays disorders of the human mind can be attributed to this thing we call time.
    true nothingness is when we percieve time as a flexible. nothingness is bliss, next to infinity.
    lots of love