A man lying on the ground

By Paulo Coelho

On 1st July, at 13:05 hrs., there was a man aged about fifty lying on the promenade in Copacabana. I passed him with a glance and went on my way towards a stall where I always drink fresh coconut water.

Being from Rio, I’ve passed hundreds (thousands?) of men, women and children lying on the ground. As someone who travels, I’ve seen the same scene in practically all the countries I’ve been to – from wealthy Sweden to dire Romania. I’ve seen people lying in the street in all seasons of the year: in the biting winter of Madrid, New York or Paris, where they huddle around the warm air floating up from the subway stations. In the relentless sun of Lebanon, among buildings destroyed by years of war. People lying on the ground – drunks, homeless, tired – are not a novelty for anyone.

I drank my coconut water. I was in a hurry to get back for an interview with Juan Arias, from the Spanish newspaper El Paí­s. On the way, I saw the man was still there, in the sunshine – and everyone who passed acted in exactly the same way as I had: they looked, and walked on.

The fact is – not that I was aware of this – my soul was tired of seeing the same scene, over and over again. When I passed that man again, something great force made me kneel down and try to help him up.

He didn’t react. I turned his head, and there was blood near his temple. Now what? Was it a serious wound? I cleaned his face with my shirt: it didn’t look serious.

Just then, the man started mumbling something which sounded like: “tell them to stop beating me.” Well, at least he was alive; now all I had to do was get him out of the sun and call the police.

I stopped the first man passing and asked him to help me drag him to the shade between the promenade and the beach. He was wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase and parcels, but he put them down and came to help me – his soul must also have been tired of seeing that scene.

Having got the man into the shade, I walked towards my building, knowing there was a police post on the way, where I could get help. But before getting there, I passed two policemen.

– A man has been hurt over there opposite number such-and-such, I said. I put him on the sand. You should send for an ambulance.

The policemen said they’d make arrangements. Right, now I’d done my duty. A good scout, “Be Prepared”. Do a good turn daily! The problem was in the hands of others now, they were responsible. And the Spanish journalist would be arriving at my place in a few minutes.

I hadn’t gone ten places when a foreign man stopped me. He spoke in broken Portuguese:

– I had already told the police about the man on the sidewalk. They said that as long as he wasn’t a thief, it was none of their business.

I didn’t let the man finish. I walked back to the policemen, certain that they knew who I was, someone who wrote in the newspapers and appeared on television. I returned with the false impression that success can, at times, help to resolve many things.

– Do you belong to some official authority? – one of them asked, noticing that I’d asked for help more urgently this time.

They had no idea who I was.

– No. But let’s solve this problem right now.

I was badly dressed, my shirt stained with the man’s blood, my shorts were made from an old pair of jeans I had torn up, and I was sweating. I was an ordinary, anonymous man, without any authority beyond that of having grown tired of seeing people lying on the ground, for dozens of years, without ever having done a single thing about it.

And that changed everything. There’s a moment when you go beyond any mental block or fear. A moment when your eyes look different, and people know you’re being serious. The policemen went with me and called an ambulance.

On the way home, I reflected on the three lessons from my walk. a] everyone can stop an action when it is pure romanticism. b] there’s always someone there to say: “now you’ve started, go all the way.” And, finally: c] everyone is an authority, when he is quite convinced of what he is doing.

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  1. Ciao Paulo, darsi agli altri sia che questi siano conosciuti o sconosciuti è l’ unica risposta e l’ unica via di uscita alla prigionia di una opprimente e sterile normalití . Nel darsi si è tutti uguali, con la medesima autorití  o con la medesima nullití . Darsi è gioia ma è anche fatica, molta fatica ed ecco perchè oggi questo darsi agli altri diviene sempre pií¹ una rarití .Occorre coraggio e luce per darsi con normale senso di umanití .E’ sempre un piacere leggerti. Ciao Rosetta

  2. Marie-Christine says:

    “Et enfin, chacun est une autorite lorsqu'il est tout a fait convaincu de ce qu'il fait”

  3. Marie-Christine says:

    “Dieu repond : J’ai fait quelque chose pour eux, je t’ai fait toi”
    Guerrier de la Lumiere Paulo Coelho.
    That’s so beautiful.

  4. John says:

    Hold on! isnt this what life expects from us? humanity is entirely dependant on humanity to exist and carry on existing?

    Isnt the fact that you stopped to help this man an act of altruism, life helping itself? and isnt the fact that had you not done this previously, ignorance at work?

    When we evolve and realise that things will only change if we decide to change them – then we take on the true challenge and responsibility of living lives as a warrior.

    I think that you missed an important lesson here Paulo, that lesson being that ignorance is the real enemy and that it took spiritual fatigue to push you into action and help this man. If we all understoood and accepted our role as warriors then we would act this way more frequently and slowly, bit by bit, we would change the world for the betterment of Haumnity?

    I have a question for you Paulo – did you help this man because you were tired of seeing him there or did you do it because at some level you love him and know it is your duty (as part of life) to help him?

  5. Kathleen says:

    So true. You can romanticise about being a hero/heroine but in real life many people don’t bother.

    I once dreamt of an old grey haired desolate man who needed help and the following day a man exactly as in my dream was sitting on the ground near the street in front of the hospital I worked at. I wondered what he was doing there but didn’t go over to see if he needed anything. I thought a nurse or a doctor is bound to come out and see him and check on him. I worried a little for my own safety in case he was mentally ill and would strike out at me but I always think of that moment and how maybe it was a reminder to me that I also need to stick my neck out a bit sometimes. It’s everyone’s responsibility.

  6. luce says:

    It confirms that nothing is obvious, that prejudice is enemy to fight and if we try hard enough it can make big difference !

  7. Liara Covert says:

    This story reminds each human being that until they evolve to take their true thoughts and feelings seriously, nobody else will. As you have courage to set examples, you hope people will follow suit.

  8. Jhia says:

    D] Never get tired of doing little things for others…

    sometimes those little things occupy the biggest part of their hearts…ü

  9. wanbliska says:

    It is amazing to recall about that feeling of conviction. As air, I could never catched it, but I know what you are talking about. It’s like a power that deserve divine stamp, instantaneously. Offers you to act until the end, foiling all the obstacles in front of you. I know it exists, and at a time, I used to play with in reaching it. until I understood, that was really hard to catch it. I told to myself, that was not a chance, when it worked on, or not…

    I noticed conviction comes in a sudden, as if we were suddendly becoming great warriors, that would brave the biggest tempest, that the sea would have never seen. But it’s volatile, and the time during which we are acting in truth, as a kind of purity, is so filled by things in movement, that we often don’t have a clue, about that magic moment, that occured. That perfect path from thought to creation, through heART.

    Said, I’ve never really been stopped when helping someone, so, unless a lack of memory, I did “all the way”.
    Yet, in other forms of giving, yes, unfortunately. Funny that I never thought about a) before…

    Finally, it makes me remember a sentence in “Arizona dream”, by Emir Kusturica. When Faye Dunaway said to Johnny depp: “one person knows that you could fly, and he’ll make you fall”
    … I found this quite positive, but there’s a little truth in it.

    Thank you Paulo.
    With love.