Archives for December 2017

The test

by Houssaye

John Blanchard stood up from the bench, straightened his Army uniform, and studied the crowd of people making their way through Grand Central Station. He looked for the girl whose heart he knew, but whose face he didn’t, the girl with the rose. His interest in her had begun thirteen months before in a Florida library. Taking a book off the shelf he found himself intrigued, not with the words of the book, but with the notes penciled in the margin. The soft handwriting reflected a thoughtful soul and insightful mind.

In the front of the book, he discovered the previous owner’s name, Miss Holly Maynell. With time and effort he located her address. She lived in New York City. He wrote her a letter introducing himself and inviting her to correspond.
The next day he was shipped overseas for service in World War II. During the next year and one month, the two grew to know each other through the mail. Each letter was a seed falling on a fertile heart. A romance was budding. Blanchard requested a photograph, but she refused. She felt that if he really cared, it wouldn’t matter what she looked like
When the day finally came for him to return from Europe, they scheduled their first meeting – 7.00 p.m. at the Grand Central Station in New York.

“You’ll recognize me,” she wrote, “by the red rose I’ll be wearing on my lapel.” So at 7.00 p.m. he was in the station looking for a girl whose heart he loved, but whose face he’d never seen. I’ll let Mr. Blanchard tell you what happened:

A young woman was coming toward me, her figure long and slim. Her blonde hair lay back in curls from her delicate ears; her eyes were blue as flowers. Her lips and chin had a gentle firmness, and in her pale green suit she was like springtime come alive. I started toward her, entirely forgetting to notice that she was not wearing a rose. As I moved, a small provocative smile curved her lips. “Going my way, sailor?” she murmured.

Almost uncontrollably, I made one step closer to her, and then I saw Holly Maynell. She was standing almost directly behind the girl. A woman well past 40, she had graying hair tucked under a worn hat. She was more than plump, her thick-ankled feet thrust into low-heeled shoes. The girl in the green suit was walking quickly away. I felt as though I was split in two, so keen was my desire to follow her, and yet so deep was my longing for the woman whose spirit had truly companioned me and upheld my own.

And there she stood. Her pale, plump face was gentle and sensible, her gray eyes had a warm and kindly twinkle. I did not hesitate. My fingers gripped the small worn blue leather copy of the book that was to identify me to her.

This would not be love, but it would be something precious, something perhaps even better than love, a friendship for which I had been and must ever by grateful. I squared my shoulders and saluted and held out the book to the woman, even though while I spoke I felt choked by the bitterness of my disappointment. “I’m Lieutenant John Blanchard, and you must be Miss Maynell. I am so glad you could meet me; may I take you to dinner?” The woman’s face broadened into a tolerant smile. “I don’t know what this is about, son,” she answered, “but the young lady in the green suit who just went by, she begged me to wear this rose on my coat. And she said if you were to ask me out to dinner, I should tell you that she is waiting for you in the big restaurant across the street. She said it was some kind of test!”

Christmas prayer

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EM PORTUGUES: Os ví­cios pessoais
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At a certain point during my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, we came to a flat, monotonous field of wheat stretching all the way to the horizon. The only thing breaking the dull landscape was a medieval column with a cross on top, marking the pilgrims’ way. Petrus – my guide – put down his backpack and knelt down.

Have pity on those who pity themselves, and think life has been unjust to them – for they will never manage to engage in the Good Fight.
But have more pity on those who are cruel to themselves, and can only see evil in their own acts, and who consider themselves guilty for the injustices of the world. For they know not Your law which says: even the strands of hair on your head have been counted.

Have pity on those who command and those who serve many hours of work, and sacrifice themselves in exchange for a Sunday, when everything is closed and there is nowhere to go.
But have more pity on those who sanctify their work and go beyond the limits of their own madness, and end up in debt or nailed to the cross by their own brothers. For they know not Your law which says: be as prudent as a serpent and as simple as the pigeons.

Have pity on those who eat, drink and are merry, but are unhappy and lonely in their abundance.
But have more pity on those who fast, censure, forbid and feel saintly, and who preach Your name in public places. For they know not Your law which says: if I testify about myself, my testimony is not true.

Have pity on those who fear Death and do not know the many kingdoms they have crossed and the many deaths they have died, and are unhappy because they think that everything will come to an end one day.
But have more pity on those who have known their many deaths and think they are immortal, for they know not Your law which says: he who is not born again may not see the kingdom of God.

Have pity on those who cannot see anyone but themselves, and are shut in their limousines, locked in their air conditioned penthouse offices, and suffer in silence the solitude of power.
But have pity on those who go without everything, and are charitable, and seek to overcome evil with love only, for they know not Your law which says: he who has no sword, may he sell his cloak and buy one.

Have pity on us, Lord. For we often think we are dressed when we are naked, we think we commit a crime and in reality save someone. Do not forget, in Your mercy, that we unsheathe the sword with the hand of an angel and the hand of a demon gripping the same hilt. For we are in the world, we continue in the world and need You. We always need Your law which says: when I sent you without bag, pouch or sandals, you lacked nothing.

Petrus stopped praying. The silence continued. He was gazing at the wheat field around us.

(in THE PILGRIMAGE )

Adventure

avatarWhat the future holds for you depends entirely on your capacity for love.

And for that, you must have absolute and total confidence in what you are doing. Don’t let others say: ‘That road is better’ or ‘That route is easier’.

The greatest gift God gave us is the power to make decisions.

The adventure of the days to come needs to be full of romance, because the world needs that; therefore, when you are mounted on your horse, feel the wind on your face and enjoy the sense of freedom.

But don’t forget that you have a long journey ahead. If you surrender totally to the romance of it all, you might fall.
If you don’t stop occasionally to let both you and your horse rest, your horse might die of thirst or exhaustion.

And precisely at the moment when everything seems to be going well and your dream is almost within your grasp, that is when you must be more alert than ever. Because when your dream is almost within your grasp, you will be assailed by terrible guilt.

You will see that you are about to arrive at a place where very few have ever set foot and you will think that you don’t deserve what life is giving you.
You will forget all the obstacles you overcame, all that you suffered and sacrificed. And because of that feeling of guilt, you could unconsciously destroy everything that took you so long to build.

That is the most dangerous of obstacles, because renouncing victory has about it a certain aura of sanctity.

But if a man understands that he is worthy of what he has struggled so long for, he will realise that he did not get there alone and must respect the Hand that led him.

taken from MANUSCRIPT FOUND IN ACCRA

Generous In Death

A man was traveling from one city to another when he heard that a ferocious battle had taken place and that his cousin was among the wounded soldiers. He rushed to the place and saw that his cousin was on death’s door.

He offered him a little water from his canteen, but just at that moment another wounded soldier beside him groaned, and the cousin asked him to give the water to his neighbor.

“But if I go over there, you may not survive! All your life you have been always so generous!”

Gathering his last ounce of strength, the wounded man replied:

“That’s another reason to be generous, now that I’m about to die.”

The talking donkey

A peasant was returning home when he saw a donkey in the field.

“I’m not just any donkey,” said the animal. “I saw the messiah being born. I’ve lived for two thousand years and I am alive to give this testimony.”

Alarmed, the peasant ran to the church and told it to the parish priest. “Impossible,” he said.

The peasant took the priest by the hand and took him where the donkey was. The animal repeated everything it had said.

“I’ll say it again: animals don’t speak,” said the priest.

“But you heard it!” the peasant insisted.

“How foolish you are! You’d rather believe in an ass than in a priest!”

The mountain will tell me when I am old

I have chosen a mountain to define my limits. In 1989 (I was just over 40yrs and I had already published The Alchemist and The Pilgrimage in Brasil), I was on my second sacred pilgrimage in the Pyrenees. I saw a mountain in the distance called Pic du Gez and I said, ‘okay, I have nothing to do today, so I’m going to climb that peak’.

First, it was very difficult to get close to the base – from a distance it looked so easy. When I finally arrived at the bottom, I had about five hours to climb about 2,000m. Not a big deal. So I started climbing, and I got lost. I had no water, no food, I had nothing. Eventually, I made it to the top and looked around. It was summer. There was no snow, it looked like the moon and I thought, ‘I don’t know my way back. I can’t take the same route that I took to get here’. I spent nearly four hours climbing and I had no energy for the descent (which is more difficult than the ascent). So I sat down, and my first decision was that I wasn’t going to smoke – I needed to preserve all my energy.
As I looked around, I saw a city in the distance and I said ‘I’m going to that city’.
And again, it seems easy to navigate when you see something like that in the distance. So I started my descent, heading towards the city, but soon after I began I could no longer see the city anymore. I said, ‘my God, I may die here’. And then I thought ‘well, that’s not so bad. I die on a mountain. Winter will come, my body will disappear and I will become a legend’.

Eventually, I made my way to the city, but I couldn’t sleep that night. My body was completely tense. I had gone beyond my limit.
I called my wife Christina the next day and said, ‘yesterday, I was lost in a mountain, I almost died’.
And she said, ‘okay Paulo, great, but don’t call me very often because our telephone bill is getting very high’. And I thought: “I almost died and here she is talking about my telephone bill because I was always calling collect’ (laughter).

After this experience, I decided that this mountain would tell me when I get old.
So once a year, I return to climb this mountain. One day, I will be unable to climb it and when that day comes, it will be a turning point, telling me that I can no longer overstretch myself that way and that I need to find something else.
I will find something else.

Odessa is like that

Catherine the Great received some boxes of freshly harvested oranges in the dead cold of winter. The note that came with it said they were from a distant port. The note said, ‘See what we are capable of bringing to you? We need your help to grow even more.’ Impressed, she sent a massive amount of money so that this port could develop further.

However, the oranges had been brought from other countries through the Black Sea. Without telling lies, the note to the empress did not explain the whole truth, as I learned when I disembarked there. The phrase I most heard during my 90 days of aimless travels was ‘Odessa is like that.”

When I decided to travel, I knew I needed at least one official commitment each week to help me resist the temptation to return to Brazil too soon. In this case, I agreed to come to Ukraine at the invitation of the government to attend the 20th anniversary forum of the disaster at Chernobyl. The event lasted only one afternoon and the wind was telling me to stay, so I decided to stay another week there. When I was asked what I wanted to do, I explained that I wanted to have some surprise meetings with my readers, giving them only two or three days notice that I was there. Many asked where I wanted to hold these meetings.

“Odessa,” I responded, without hesitation.

Everyone seemed very surprised. They wanted to know why. I told them I chose it because of Sergey Kostin, a person I met in Switzerland. In keeping with a tradition that began in Puente la Reina, the local bookseller there organized a party/book signing for 50 readers, chosen by lottery.

A friend of mine lent us his plane. When we landed, my representative in Russia asked to see an invitation for the party to make sure that everything was on schedule.

“It doesn’t have the date, time or place on it!”

“Odessa is like that,” answered the bookseller, “those who received the invitation will phone the number on the invitation 3 hours before the event and receive the necessary information. Otherwise, we will have many counterfeit tickets.”

We did not think there would be many people there, but I asked my representative not to worry since we didn’t have any expectations. I visited the staircase from the movie Battleship Potemkin,” the only reference I had to the city. Since ‘Odessa is like that,’ the party was a success and there were many more people there than we expected. The bookstore owner introduced me to a gigantic man that he said wanted to make a sculpture of me.

I never accept these offers because they usually mean standing and posing for days at a time, and I intended to return to Kiev the next morning, but the bookstore owner insisted.

“You will only need to stand for one hour, Odessa is like that.”

It was Easter, and Orthodox Easter is an important day for Christianity. I felt like I should accept just to give the man pleasure, as my need to return to Kiev would be a real excuse to limit my stay in his studio.

I went there with some friends. Alexander Petrovich Tokarev, the sculptor, says he spent a sleepless night praying (a custom in the Orthodox Church). Even without sleep, the work begins. I’m a little anxious; I don’t think he will achieve anything in such a short time. His hands were sweating profusely, and though they were moving quickly, his movements were precise, a kind of spiritual ballet. The other works in the studio surrounding me showcased his genuine talent and love to achieve the impossible. I began to feel sad because I would soon have to tell him to stop working because I had to leave.

However, exactly an hour later, the sculpture was finished! I was reminded once again that if you wish to do something, the universe will conspire in your favor.

Why should I have been surprised? After all, Odessa is like that!

The two paths

When they asked Abbot Antonio if the path of sacrifice led to heaven, he answered:

– There are two paths of sacrifice. The first is taken by the man who mortifies the flesh and pays penance because he believes that we are condemned. The man who follows this path feels guilty and judges himself unworthy of living happily.

– The second path is taken by the man who, even though he knows that the world is not as perfect as we would like, prays, does penance and offers up his time and toil to improve the world around him. So he understands that the word sacrifice comes from sacro ofício, holy work. In this case the Divine Presence helps him all the time and he obtains results in heaven.