By Paulo Coelho
(I continue to transcribe notes from my conversations with J. between 1982 and 1990:)
– You have tried to make me understand that one must pay attention to life, people, and everything around us. I have the impression that all you ever do is work (at that time, J. was an executive at a Dutch multinational company).
– Instead of answering your question directly I shall quote from the Indian poet Tagore: “I slept and dreamt that life was joy/ I awoke and saw that life was service/I acted and behold, service was joy.” In fact, through my work I discover life, people, and everything which happens around us.
“The only trap I must beware not to fall into, is to think that each day is the same as the next. In fact, each morning brings with it a hidden miracle, and we must pay attention to this miracle.”
– What is duty?
– A mysterious word which can have two opposite meanings: the absence of enthusiasm, or the understanding that we must share our love with more than one person. In the first case, we are always making excuses for not accepting our responsibilities; in the second case, duty becomes a form of devotion, of unrestricted love for the human condition, and we begin to fight for that which we want to happen.
“I seek to do this through my work: to share my love. Love is also a mysterious thing: the more we share it, the more it multiplies.”
– But in the Bible, work is considered a type of curse which God has forced on men. When Adam commits the original sin, he hears the Almighty say: “in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life. In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.”
– At that moment, God is putting the Universe into motion. Up until that time, all is beautiful, idyllic – but nothing has evolved and, as we mentioned, Adam starts thinking that each day is like another. From then on, he loses the sense of the miracle of his own existence; then the Lord, seeing His creation, understands that he must help him again conquer this sense.
“This sentence must be read in a positive way: weariness will turn into nourishment, sweat will be the bread’s seasoning. In this way, everything will converge perfectly, but first, Adam and all human beings must go down the path of mutual understanding.”
– Why is it that one of man’s great dreams is to one day stop having to work?
– Because he does not know what it is to spend months and years doing nothing. Either because he does not love what he does; no one wishes to be separated from the woman he loves, no one wants to stop doing that which he loves. Or it is because there is no dignity in his going about his work – he has forgotten that work was created to help man, not humiliate him.
“There is an interesting story about this in “The Thousand and One Nights”: caliph Alrum Al-Rachid decided to build a palace in order to demonstrate the greatness of his kingdom. He gathered together the greatest works of art, designed gardens, personally selected the marbles and carpets.
Beside the grounds which had been chosen, was a dwelling. Al-Rachid asked his minister to convince the owner – an old weaver – to sell it so that it might be demolished.
The minister tried in vain; the old man said he did not wish to part with it.
Upon hearing of the old man’s decision, the Court Council suggested he be simply thrown out.
– No – responded Al-Rachid. – He will become part of my legacy to my people. When they come to the palace, they will say: he was a man who worked in order to show the beauty of our culture.
“And when they see the dwelling, they will say: he was just, for he respected the work of other men.”
“The world seems threatening to cowards. They seek the false security of a life void of great challenges, and arm themselves heavily in order to defend that which they think they possess. Cowards are victims of their own egos, and in the end erect the bars of their own prison.”
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