Manuel is a free man – Part 1

Paulo Coelho

Manuel has worked for 30 years non-stop, gives his children an education, sets a good example, devotes his entire time to work, and never wonders: “Is there any meaning to what I am doing?” His sole concern is to know that the busier he is, the more important he will be in the eyes of society.

His children grow up and leave home, he is promoted at work, then one day he is given a watch or a pen in recognition of all those years of dedication, the friends shed a tear or two, and the long-expected moment arrives: he is retired, free to do whatever he likes!

The first few months, every now and again he pays a visit to the office where he worked, chats with the old friends, and relishes the pleasure of doing what he has always dreamed of: sleeping late. He goes for walks on the beach or in town, then there is the house in the country he managed to buy with so much sweat, discovers gardening and little by little penetrates the mystery of the plants and flowers. Manuel has time, all the time in the world. He travels, using part of the money he has managed to put aside. He visits museums, in the space of two hours learns what painters and sculptors from different eras took centuries to develop, but at least he has the feeling that he is improving his culture. He takes hundreds, thousands of pictures and sends them to friends – after all, they have to know how happy he is!

Some more months go by. Manuel learns that gardens do not follow exactly the same rules as men – what he has planted is going to take a while to grow, and it is use trying to see if the rosebush has buds yet. In a moment of sincere reflection he discovers that all that he has seen on his travels was a landscape outside the window of a tourist bus, monuments that are now stored away on 6×9 photos, but the truth is that he felt no special emotion – he was more concerned about telling his friends than he was in living the magic experience of finding himself in a foreign country.

He still watches all the newsreels on television, reads more newspapers (because he has more time), considers himself to be a very well-informed person, capable of discussing things that he did not the time before to study.


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  1. marja says:

    Interesting story Unfortunately there are many like Manuel who haven’t had time to really live

  2. Petru Simion says:

    I am so curious about the … rest of the story.
    Can’t wait !

    It makes me thing about a few things.
    One is, a guy that I met while being in vacation in Cuba.
    He was spending quite some time in the ocean, sitting in water up to his neck, and looking at young ladies :-)
    We chatted, and he told me he was Jewish. This will relate to what he told further on, knowing that usually Jewish people are very careful about their money.
    He told me:
    You know, all my friends are saving, and saving, and paying as much as they can at the end of the year toward their mortgage. When I ask them why are they doing this, they say
    – So that we can pay the house faster.
    – An then ?
    – Well, after that we will travel, and stuff, because we have more money.
    – So you think that after years and years of being tied up about money, saving every penny, not traveling or taking vacations, you will all of a sudden FEEL HAPPY SPENDING ?

    The guy was so right.

    Coming to North America, from Eastern Europe, where the bad thing of having more or less same income and opportunities as everyone else, resulted in spending all the money, as there was no purpose in saving them, I learned about a very bizarre concept. That of giving the bird in your hand, for the nicer one that is on the fence.
    Chase the dream translates in fact to taking part in the Rat Race. Chasing the peace of cloth that the puppeteers have hanged to a wire that goes in a … circle. Circle again :-)
    Young people work while being in school, in university, they work during their vacations. So they have practically no vacations.
    I asked them, what will you remember when you will be older. That you worked all the time ?
    When they graduate, they try to find …. work.
    And work, and work again, selling their youth, for a presumptive happiness when they will be …. old.
    I could describe for a long long time the whole facets of this ugly aspect of life in North America, health deteriorating, compromising million of things to achieve the .. dream.
    And leave alone the fact that they do not think about how less things one is capable of doing, when they are old. Just because THEY ARE NOT YOUNG ANYMORE. And because, PEOPLE THAT THEY CAN HANG AROUND WITH ARE NOT YOUNG EITHER :-)
    That they might not have the health and strength to do those things that they postponed.

    But let’s just assume that they will be healthy, and strong.
    Still, what is someone that saved some amount of money to retire early thinking about the chunk of money that needs to spend from.
    How does that person thing in term of, how am I gonna die ?
    Cause if you spend them too fast, and you live the money, you are in deep trouble. Now you did not work for so many years, and you are really, really old, and have to go back to work.
    Or if you do not spend them and you die ? Didn’t you sacrificed your youth for nothing ?

    On the other hand, if one takes the time to build a foundation, but also have fun while young, then he feels good about having to work when being old. The thoughts are, hey, I had my fun, I have to pay now, by working, but this is something that is a consequence of the decision I made. And I HAD FUN.
    On the second hand, being old and working keeps you alert, and … young. And hey, very important, you do not have to think about how to spend the chunk of money. Life is much more simple.

    So, I am very, very curious about the .. rest of the story.

  3. Dianna says:

    Es triste darse cuenta que Manuel esta en todos lados, en nuestra casa, en el trabajo, amigos y conocidos; en mi caso a mi mama le ocurre lo mismo, ella me crio sola y creo que despues de mi papa solo tuvo dos novios, ella aun no se jubila, pero vive de una forma simmilar a Manuel, agradezco el esfuerzo que ha hecho por mi en darme todo lo que ha podido, sin embargo hoy que ya tengo 24 años, ella se siente como en stand by, porque yo era su excusa para matarse trabajando y evitar cualquier contacto con su alrededor con tal de pasar conmigo el poco tiempo que le quedaba despues de trabajar, hoy hace lo posible por tratar de salir de la rutina en la que vive, pero aun asi le cuesta, yo trato de ayudarle a no complicarse la vida y le digo que simplemente viva, pero se que para ella no es facil, yo te digo, es complicado no caer en la rutina de Manuel porque la sociedad muchas veces te obliga a mantener el status Q, yo en lo personal lo detesto porque tengo mis sueños y mis metas por realizar, no es que no me quiera casar ni tener hijos, simplemente son cosas que se dan cuando deben de darse pero la gente quiere verte casada con hijos porque no ven mas alla que eso, por eso cuando me siento arrastrada por los comentarios de la gente que ha sacrificado sus sueños por ser parte del status Q, vuelvo a leer tus libros y me mantengo en la posicion que debo de vivir mi vida con lo que venga, tomando los riesgos que el dia de hoy me presenta, sin miedo porque lo mas que puede pasar es que muera y ante lo inevitable no se puede hacer nada mas que vivir.
    Esta historia pondra a muchos en que pensar, ojala que no solo lo piensen y que actuen!

    Cuidate!!! Bendiciones!!!!

  4. i feel having read the piece, that we become judge and jury to this man’s life. the choices he has made are his own….i just pray that he has found joy…… something we all strife for no matter what the content or quality of our daily living entails.

  5. Heart says:

    Lily…I was just going to write…Manuel, Manuel, just like you..great minds think alike… :)

    Manuel, oh Manuel… just RELAX… in your garden.

  6. Mari Ann Ree says:

    If I got filthy rich tomorrow, I might choose to take some time off to live. Maybe that is why I still carry my passport around. But I am a serious person, like Manuel, so I carry my passport to work each day, and then home again. While I wait to get filthy rich, I enjoy my own country, which at this time of year is next to heaven. Late spring / early summer, so lush, so green, so many flowers, birds, animals. Sea, land, mountains – the tops covered with snow. Clean, bright, lots of clean water… I wish everybody on earth could be lucky enough to live here. Stop on a path, close the eyes and smell the green, the flowers, listen to the birds. I’m sure Cannes is good, but this is like living in a dream. The magic is just outside my doorstep.
    Bus today – 6-7 hours. Great, but I forgot the studying – watched nature as it passed by. Slept a lot. So relaxing! Should have stopped and walked out when passing the mountain platau… I have walked part of a pilgrimage on this mountain platau. I once had a true magical experience there – another case of presence – like on Keblers pass in the US.
    But I could also value travelling to all the places and cultures of past and present, that I have studied: African, Asian, Australia and Oceania, the Americas, Europe, others… Art history, archeology, history, social anthropology, political science, economics… But then – if I met poor or sick people I would have to stop to change the world, at least for those people…
    In order to be happy one has to see the opportunities just where one is in life. If you don’t have money, there are so many great things that do not cost a dime – at least where I live. Write a list and put it on a wall. There have been times when I have had more money, and then I have spent more. But I always try to share some of it with others who are not so fortunate. It is better to help one child in a poor country than just shrug ones shoulders and say that it doesn’t really help in this world where there are so many poor people.
    Back to Manuel. A lot of people want to live a good life without working too hard for it. Some people are clever enough, talented enough or lucky enough to do that. But most of us will have to put in quite a few hours into work in order to make this big clockwork of this world keep on working. I believe we should use less, work less, and appreciate the smaller things in life. But if we all start slowing down to a very comfortable pace – what is going to happen? Will the world economy get even worse? It is scary that nobody really has the answer.

  7. Catherine says:

    I’m thinking of taking up gardening professionally…
    precisely because there are long periods, seasons, sensitivities to attune and adjust to…
    I will feel like less of a puppet of ‘man’… more a caretaker of / and taken care by nature ;o)
    Somethind i can place my trust in

  8. Lily says:

    Manuel, oh Manuel… poor soul with no heart!
    as I’ve left my job recently, I’m very happy, although the reason for my being there in the first place was to be able to put food on my table and bed to rest it, you know, the necessities of life!
    If I had a rich daddy, he would support me and I wouldn’t have to do things I didn’t want to for survival. Or I could have married a rich man. could have, would have, should have?!? If poor manuels heart has turned to stone, he needs a demolition hammer to break it off. C’est la vie!

  9. Mariessima says:

    I feel a bit sad for Manuel.

  10. Irina Black says:

    “There are only 3 kinds of things anyone needs ever do.Things we ought to do.Things we’ve got to do. Things we like doing.I say this because some people seem to spend to much of their time doing things for none of the three reasons,things like reading books they don’t like because other people read them.”(C.S.Lewis)

  11. Catherine says:

    This is almost the image of life I once garnered from observation as a child of generations before me… but then, more and more I think that the pattern above reflects something solid and proven for the passing generations, who -like my grandparents – had the trauma of war before..

    However, more, I feel that the issue is about getting stuck in a rut and this is something that must be guarded of. For those who don’t like the “rat race” or for whom the establishment is suffocating, living in a void or vacuum can become a reality – but that doesn’t mean that there is no purpose or meaning; only perhaps a different rhythm that is Manuel’s way.. a path with different results. Is Manuel happy? Is he working through things honestly and true to himself?

  12. Davis Bear says:

    Poor Manual, how sad…

  13. Alexandra says:

    I take the risk to seem ridiculous, but Manuel is not so bad. Has a normal life, even some entertainment,family, house,garden.Maybe he was made for another destiny? A place where I was feeling as in paradise was the Elba island, in Italy.Love,Alexandra