30 SEC READ: He needs your hand (ENG, ESPA)


Illustration by Ken Crane

_______________________
EN ESPANOL AQUI >>> El necesita tus manos
_______________________

A Master and his disciple were walking through the deserts of Arabia. The Master used each moment of the journey to teach his disciple about faith.
“Entrust your things to God,” he said. “Because He never abandons His children.”

When they camped down at night, the Master asked the disciple to tie the horses to a nearby rock.
The disciple went over to the rock, but then remembered what he had learnt that afternoon. “The Master must be testing me. The truth is that I should entrust the horses to God.”
And he left the horses loose.

In the morning he discovered that the animals had run off. Indignant, he sought out the Master.
“You know nothing about God! Yesterday I learnt that I should trust blindly in Providence, so I gave the horses to Him to guard, and the animals have disappeared!”

“God wanted to look after the horses,” answered the Master. “But at that moment he needed your hands to tie them up and you did not lend them to Him.”

Poles and rules

14882190_10154532088431211_5230830756353128955_oIn the fall of 2003 I was walking late one night through the center of Stockholm when I saw a woman walking along using ski poles. My first reaction was to think of some injury she must have suffered, but then I noticed she was moving quite fast and with rhythmic movements as if she were on a patch of snow – except that all that was around us was the asphalt of paved streets. The obvious conclusion was: “that woman is crazy, how could she pretend to be skiing in the middle of the city?”

Back in the hotel, I mentioned the incident to my editor. He said that I was the crazy one: what I had seen was a sort of exercise called “Nordic walking”. He explained that besides the movement of the legs, the arms, shoulders and back muscles are also used to make it a much more complete exercise.
When I go for a walk ( which is my favorite pastime, together with archery), it is to be able to reflect, think, look at all the marvels around me, and chat with my wife while we are walking along. I found my editor’s comment interesting, but thought no further of it.
One day I was in a sports store buying material for my arrows when I noticed new poles used by mountaineers – made of aluminum, they are light and can be opened or closed using the same telescopic system as a tripod for a camera. I remembered the Nordic walking and thought to myself: why not try it? I bought two pairs, for myself and my wife. We adjusted the poles to a comfortable height and the next day decided to try them out.

What a fantastic discovery! We climbed a mountain, then came back down, really feeling that the whole body was in movement, the balance was better, we were less tired. We walked double the distance we usually cover in an hour. I remembered that I had once tried to explore a dried-up stream but it was so difficult with all the stones that I gave up. I thought that with the poles it would be easier, and I was right.

My wife got into the Internet and discovered that you burn 46% more calories than on a normal walk. She grew very enthusiastic and “Nordic walking” has become part of our daily routine.
One afternoon, just for distraction, I also decided to get into the Internet to see what I could find on the subject. I was surprised to see page after page, with federations, groups, discussions, models and … rules!
I don’t know what made me open the page about rules. As I read I became horrified – I was doing it all wrong! My poles should be adjusted higher, a certain rhythm had to be followed, a certain angle of support had to be kept, the shoulder movement was complicated, the way of using the elbow was all different, everything followed rigid, technical, precise rules.

I printed all the pages. The following day – and the others that followed – I tried to do exactly as the specialists ordered. The walk began to lose interest, I no longer saw all the wonders around me, I spoke very little to my wife, I could think of nothing except the rules. At the end of a week I asked myself: why am I learning all this?

My objective is not to do gymnastics. I don’t think that the first people who did their “Nordic walking” had anything in mind apart from the pleasure of walking, improving their balance and moving the whole body. We knew intuitively what was the ideal height for the poles, just as we could intuitively deduce that the closer they were to the body, the better and easier the movement. But now, because of the rules, I had stopped concentrating on the things I liked and was more concerned about losing calories, moving my muscles and using a certain section of the spine.
I decided to forget all that I had learned. Now we go out walking with our two poles, enjoying the world around us and feeling happy at seeing the body being made to work, being moved and balanced. And if I want to do gymnastics instead of “meditation in movement”, I’ll look for a gymnasium. At the moment I am quite content with my relaxed and instinctive “Nordic walking”, even though I may not be losing 46% more calories.

I’ve no idea why human beings have this mania of setting rules to everything.

(taken from >”Like a flowing river”trong>)

Review on THE SPY

(Review by LOTUS )

Memories are full of caprice, where images of things we’ve experienced are still capable of suffocating us through one small detail or insignificant sound.”

The worldwide bestselling author, Paulo Coelho, returns with a new novel titled The Spy. In this novel, Coelho takes its readers on a journey through early 20th century Europe, with a new character in the spotlight.

When Mata Hari arrived in Paris she was penniless. Soon she was feted as the most elegant woman in the city. A dancer who shocked and delighted audiences; a confidant and courtesan who bewitched the era’s richest and most powerful men. But as paranoia consumed a country at war, Mata Hari’s lifestyle brought her under suspicion. Until, in 1917 she was arrested in her hotel room on the Champs Elysees and accused of espionage. Written as a series of letters, The Spy tells the unforgettable story of a woman who dared to break the conventions of her time, and paid the price.

_______________________

One of the things I like about The Spy is that it’s written from the perspective of a woman, similar to Coelho’s previous novel Adultery. Coelho manages to take you on a journey, through the eyes of Mata Hari highlighting how men are viewed by women in light of the male mannerisms. Some of the male mannerisms that unknowingly irritate the hell out of women include men and their need to explain everything; and their need to always express their opinions on the state of the economy (I’m guilty of both :P). By writing from the perspective of a woman, Coelho also highlights how patriarchal societies were (and still are) when it came to what professions women were entitled to take up and how they were viewed in society.

Coelho also manages to bring the same sense of wonder with his writing in The Spy. He’s ability to write about a specific story but make it relatable even in the very minute details surely makes him one of the best authors I’ve come across. Like most of his other novels, The Spy is FILLED with quotable quotes (a big win).

Another highlight of The Spy is that it is based on real events. While Coelho’s life remains the primary source of inspiration of his writing, he’s able to portray Mata Hari’s story with such detail that you would swear it was fictional. It’s THAT amazing.

Paulo Coelho has come a long way after having written The Alchemist. With The Spy¸ the reader can expect the same sense of relatability to the main character as Coelho does with so many of his other novels. You’ll walk away from this novel having learned more about European society in the WWI-era, particularly the atmosphere around civil society before the war.

The Spy will definitely add value to any home library offering a light read but a story that will remain with the reader long after finishing the last page.

My Secret Life: Paulo Coelho, author

Excerpts from the interview published on Independent UK. To read the full Q&A, CLICK HERE

The household I grew up in… doesn’t exist anymore, but my childhood will never disappear.

You wouldn’t know it but I am very good at… archery. The gigantic tension before the shooting of an arrow, and the total relaxation seconds later is my way of connecting to the universe.

You may not know it but I’m no good at… singing. However, every time there is a guitar around I will sing, and my real friends will tolerate it.

I wish I had never worn… an old hippie jacket, covered in patches and metal stars.

My favourite item of clothing… Japanese yukatas [kimonos].

It’s not fashionable but I like
… to sleep naked.

My favourite work of art... The Arnolfini Portrait by Van Eyck, the most important painting in the world. With all due respect, the Mona Lisa is overrated.

My favourite building... Chartres Cathedral, in France. Original stained-glass windows and a labyrinth that reminds me of the journey we take from life to death.

A book that changed me… Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller. It was while reading this that I discovered you need to use blood to write every single page.

Movie heaven
… Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone), followed by Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean)

My greatest regret… I don’t have one. I’ve done everything I wanted to do, even if I have had to pay a very high price – which has been the case most of the time.

My secret crush... Audrey Hepburn.

My real-life villain... Fundamentalists – and you can find them in every single religion on this planet.

The last time I cried… I cry very easily. It can be a movie, a phone conversation, a sunset – tears are words waiting to be written.

My five-year plan… To continue to breathe.

The dawn of time

Looking back toward the dawn of civilization: we could not survive alone. So we were obliged to come together. We lived in a symbolic world in the classic (holistic) sense. Not because it was politically correct or because it was imposed by society or because it was good for our health – rather, it was because we had no wall separating the magic from what we call ‘reality’.

So in the very beginning, when you heard thunder – it was God speaking. You looked to the mountain – it was God who lived there. You looked to the fire – a God was also there.
So compared to the beginning, we were what we still are now – but which we no longer recognize — we were ONE. Full of imagination and creativity.
Human beings were like cells from the same body, and these cells interacted with one another, for better or for worse.
But then we lost this “oneness” as society became more schizophrenic.

We were individuals, but at the same time we were the tribe – society. There are some studies showing that at the very beginning we were monotheists as we could not put god everywhere.
But then polytheism gradually emerged. We started naming places and giving gods and goddesses specific tasks.

Embedded in our genes is this sense of oneness which does not imply sacrificing our individuality. We had this connection with nature because we could not remain in the same place for long. We had to stretch and go beyond our limits because the basics – food, water, shelter – were elsewhere, so we had to move. This meant that we did not get attached to any one place, which also affected our values because we were constantly going beyond our comfort zone – we were forced to go to the second, third, fourth, etc. mountain – but then eventually, everything changed.
Moving from hunters to dwellers – we settled down, we stopped moving.

Time to be ready to new adventures!

1 MIN READ: the law and the fruits

Illustration by Ken Crane
In the desert, fruit was scarce. God called one of his prophets and said:

– Each person may only eat one fruit a day.

The custom was obeyed for many generations, and the ecology of the place was preserved. Since the remaining fruit supplied seeds, other trees appeared. Soon, the entire region was turned into fertile soil, which was the envy of other towns.

But the people continued to eat one fruit a day – they remained faithful to what the ancient prophet of their forefathers had told them. However they never allowed the inhabitants of other villages to take advantage of the abundant harvest with which they were rewarded each year.

The result was that fruit rotted on the ground.

God called a new prophet and said:

– Let them eat as much fruit as they like. And ask them to share the abundance with their neighbors.

The prophet came to the town with the new message. But he was stoned – for by now the custom was ingrained in the hearts and minds of each of the inhabitants.

With time, the younger villagers began to question the barbaric old custom. But, since the tradition of the elders was unbending, they decided to abandon the religion. Thus, they could eat as much fruit as they wished, and give the rest to those in need of food.

The only people who remained faithful to the local church, were those who considered themselves saints. But in truth they were unable to see how the world changes, and recognize how one must change with it.

Online Bookstore HERE
Kindle (four languages) HERE

 

10 SEC READ: Another wrong step

As if nothing had changed overnight, the warrior takes another wrong step and dives once again into the abyss. Ghosts provoke, loneliness torments him.
Now that he is more aware of his acts, he did not think this would happen.

But it did. Shrouded by darkness, he talks to his master.

“Master, I fell again into the abyss “, he says.” The waters are deep and dark”.

“Remember something “, responds the master. “It is not the diving that causes the drowning, but the staying underwater”

The warrior uses his remaining strength to get out of the situation he is in.

in in WARRIOR OF THE LIGHT: A MANUAL

10 sec reading: My wife and the burnt light

My wife and I were reflecting on the past year, whilst dining at a restaurant.

I started to complain about something that hadn’t happened the way I wanted it to.

My wife focused her attention on a Christmas tree that someone put there. I thought that she wasn’t interested in the conversation, so I changed the subject:
“This tree has a beautiful illumination”?, I said.

“Yes, but if you look carefully you can see one burnt light among dozens.
“ It seems to me that instead of thinking of this year as dozens of enlightened blessings, you chose to look at the one light that did not glow”

 

Today…

I am going to think of this day as the first day of my life.

If it’s cloudy, I want to watch to see in which direction the clouds are going. I always think that I don’t have time or don’t pay enough attention.

Above my head exists a sky about which all humanity, over thousands of years, has woven a series of reasonable explanations.
Well, I will forget everything I learned about the stars and they will be transformed once more into angels or children or whatever I feel like believing at that moment.

Time and life have given me plenty of logical explanations for everything, but my soul feeds on mysteries. I need mystery, I need to see the voice of an angry god in a rumble of thunder, even though many of you here might consider that heresy.
I want to fill my life with fantasy again, because an angry god is far stranger, far more frightening and far more interesting than a phenomenon explained by the sages.

For the first time, I will smile without feeling guilty, because joy is not a sin.
For the first time, I will avoid anything that makes me suffer, because suffering is not a virtue.

I will not complain about life, saying: everything’s always the same and I can do nothing to change it. Because I am living this day as if it were my first and, while it lasts, I will discover things that I did not even know were there.

Even though I have walked past the same places countless times before and said ‘Good morning’ to the same people, today’s ‘Good morning’ will be different. It will not be a mere polite formula, but a form of blessing, in the hope that everyone I speak to will understand the importance of being alive, even when tragedy is threatening to engulf us.

I will pay attention to the words of the song the minstrel is singing in the street, even though others are not listening because their souls are heavy with fear. The music says: ‘Love rules, but no one knows where it has its throne; in order to know that secret place, you must first submit to Love.’

And I will have the courage to open the door to the sanctuary that leads to my soul.
May I look at myself as if this were the first time I had ever been in contact with my own body and my own soul.
May I be capable of accepting myself as I am: a person who walks and feels and talks like anyone else, but who, despite his faults, is also brave.

May I be amazed by my simplest gestures, as if I were talking to a stranger; by my most ordinary emotions, as if I were feeling the sand touching my face when the wind blows in from Baghdad; by the most tender of moments, as when I watch my wife sleeping by my side and try to imagine what she is dreaming.

And if I’m alone in bed, I will go over to window, look up at the sky and feel certain that loneliness is a lie, because the Universe is there to keep me company.

And then I will have lived each hour of my day as if it were a constant surprise to me, to this ‘I’, who was not created by my father or my mother or by school, but by everything I have experienced up until now, and which I suddenly forgot in order to discover it all anew.

And even if this is to be my last day on Earth, I will enjoy it to the full, because I will live it with the innocence of a child, as if I were doing everything for the first time.
 
 
taken from THE MANUSCRIPT FOUND IN ACCRA

240_f_123907239_1whci5fj9byebxyut5hlvetoh2iyccf3

30 SEC READ: Success

Success comes to those who do not waste time comparing what they are doing with what others are doing; it enters the house of the person who says every day: ‘I will do my best.’

People who seek only success rarely find it, because success is not an end in itself, but a consequence.

Obsession doesn’t help at all, it becomes confused as to which path to follow and ends up taking away the pleasure of living.

The truly rich person is the one who is in contact with the energy of Love every second of his existence.

You must have a goal in mind, but, as you go along, it costs nothing to stop now and then and enjoy the view around you.

At such moments, it is important to ask yourself: ‘Are my values still intact? Am I trying to please others and do what they expect of me, or am I really convinced that my work is a manifestation of my soul and my enthusiasm? Do I want success at any price or do I want to be a successful person because I manage to fill my days with Love?’

Do that in 2017. HAPPY NEW YEAR!

10 sec read: The umbrella

As tradition dictates, upon entering his Zen master’s house, the disciple left his shoes and umbrella outside.

“I saw through the window that you were arriving,” said the master. “Did you leave your shoes to the right or the left of the umbrella?”

“I haven’t the least idea. But what does that matter? I was thinking of the secret of Zen!”

“If you don’t pay attention in life, you will never learn anything. Communicate with life, pay each moment the attention it deserves – that is the only secret of Zen.”

2016: closing cycles

ESPANOL AQUI: CERRANDO CIRCULOS
PORTUGUES AQUI: ENCERRANDO CICLOS
_____________________________

One always has to know when a stage comes to an end. If we insist on staying longer than the necessary time, we lose the happiness and the meaning of the other stages we have to go through.
Closing cycles, shutting doors, ending chapters – whatever name we give it, what matters is to leave in the past the moments of life that have finished.

Did you lose your job? Has a loving relationship come to an end? Did you leave your parents’ house? Gone to live abroad? Has a long-lasting friendship ended all of a sudden?
You can spend a long time wondering why this has happened.

You can tell yourself you won’t take another step until you find out why certain things that were so important and so solid in your life have turned into dust, just like that.
But such an attitude will be awfully stressing for everyone involved: your parents, your husband or wife, your friends, your children, your sister.
Everyone is finishing chapters, turning over new leaves, getting on with life, and they will all feel bad seeing you at a standstill.

Things pass, and the best we can do is to let them really go away.

That is why it is so important (however painful it may be!) to destroy souvenirs, move, give lots of things away to orphanages, sell or donate the books you have at home.

Everything in this visible world is a manifestation of the invisible world, of what is going on in our hearts – and getting rid of certain memories also means making some room for other memories to take their place.
Let things go. Release them. Detach yourself from them.

Nobody plays this life with marked cards, so sometimes we win and sometimes we lose.
Do not expect anything in return, do not expect your efforts to be appreciated, your genius to be discovered, your love to be understood.

Stop turning on your emotional television to watch the same program over and over again, the one that shows how much you suffered from a certain loss: that is only poisoning you, nothing else.

Nothing is more dangerous than not accepting love relationships that are broken off, work that is promised but there is no starting date, decisions that are always put off waiting for the “ideal moment.”

Before a new chapter is begun, the old one has to be finished: tell yourself that what has passed will never come back.
Remember that there was a time when you could live without that thing or that person – nothing is irreplaceable, a habit is not a need.
This may sound so obvious, it may even be difficult, but it is very important.

Closing cycles. Not because of pride, incapacity or arrogance, but simply because that no longer fits your life.

Shut the door, change the record, clean the house, shake off the dust.

Stop being who you were, and change into who you are.

Bene Gesserit Litany against fear

I must not fear.

Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.

Only I will remain.

_____________________________

from 1965 novel Dune by Frank Herbert
Illustration by 5scanner

1 min reading: A Christmas tale

PARA LER EM PORTUGUES CLIQUE AQUI: Um conto de natal
PARA LEER EN ESPANOL, VEA AQUI >
Cuento de Navidad


A medieval legend tells us that in the country we know today as Austria the Burkhard family – a man, a woman and a child – used to amuse people at Christmas parties by reciting poetry, singing ancient troubadour ballads, and juggling. Of course, there was never any money left over to buy presents, but the man always told his son:

“Do you know why Santa Claus’s bag never gets empty, although there are so many children in the world? Because it may be full of toys, but sometimes there are more important things to be delivered, what we call “invisible gifts”. In a broken home, he tries to bring harmony and peace on the holiest night in Christianity. Where love is lacking, he deposits a seed of faith in children’s hearts. Where the future seems black and uncertain, he brings hope. In our case, the day after Father Christmas comes to visit us, we are happy to be still alive and doing our work, which is to make people happy. Never forget that.”

Time passed, the boy grew up, and one day the family passed in front of the impressive Melk Abbey, which had just been built. The young Burkhard wanted to become a priest. The family understood and respected the boy’s wish. They knocked at the door of the monastery and were given generous welcome by the monks, who accepted the young Buckhard as a novice.

Christmas Eve came around. And precisely on that day, a special miracle happened in Melk: Our Lady, carrying the baby Jesus in her arms, decided to descend to Earth to visit the monastery.

All the priests lined up and each of them stood proudly before the Virgin trying to pay homage to the Madonna and her Son.

At the very end of the line, young Buckhard anxiously waited his turn. His parents were simple people, and all that they had taught him was to toss balls up in the air and do some juggling.

When it came his turn, the other priests wanted to put an end to all the homage that had been paid, since the ex-juggler had nothing important to add and might even mar the image of the abbey.

Nevertheless, deep in his heart he also felt a great need to give something of himself to Jesus and the Virgin. Feeling very ashamed before the reproachful gaze of his brothers, he took some oranges from his pocket and began to toss them in the air and catch them in his hands, creating a beautiful circle in the air.

At that instant, the baby Jesus, lying in Our Lady’s lap, began to clap his hands with joy. And it was to young Buckhard that the Virgin held out her arms to let him hold the smiling child for a few moments.

(based on a medieval story)
 
 

Online Bookstore HERE
Kindle (four languages) HERE

 

The pine tree in St. Martin (ENG, PORT, ESPA)

________________
PARA LER EM PORTUGUES CLICAR AQUI> O pinheiro de St. Martin
PARA LEER EN ESPANOL CLICAR AQUI > El pino de St. Martin
________________

On Christmas Eve, the parish priest of the little village of St. Martin, in the French Pyrenees, was getting ready to celebrate Mass when he began to smell a delicious perfume. It was winter, the flowers had disappeared a long time ago – and yet there was this pleasant smell as if springtime had appeared out of season.

Intrigued, he went outside to look for the cause of such a marvel, and came across a boy sitting in front of the school door. By his side was a kind of golden Christmas tree.

“But what a beautiful tree!” said the vicar. “It seems to have touched the sky, for it gives off such a divine scent! And it’s made of pure gold! Where did you find it?”

The young man did not seem very happy at what the priest had said.

“It’s true that what I carry with me was growing heavier and heavier as I went along, and the leaves did get harder. But it can’t be gold, and I’m afraid of what my parents are going to say.”

The boy went on to tell his story:

“This morning I left to go to the big city of Tarbes with the money that my mother gave me to buy a nice Christmas tree. But when I was going through a village I happened to see a lonely old woman who had no family to spend the great feast of Christianity with. I gave her some money for her supper, because I was sure that I could get a discount on the tree I was going to buy.

“When I reached Tarbes, I passed in front of the big prison and there was a bunch of people waiting outside to visit the inmates. They were all sad, for they would spend the night far from their beloved ones. I heard some of them commenting that they did not even have enough to buy a slice of Christmas cake. Right there and then, moved by the romanticism of people my age, I decided that I would share my money with those people, who needed it more than I did. I would keep just a very small amount for lunch; the florist is a friend of my family and he would surely give me the tree, and then I could work for him all next week to pay off my debt.

“However, on reaching the market I found out that the florist I knew had not come to work. I tried as hard as I could to find someone who would lend me money to buy the tree elsewhere, but it was all in vain.

“I convinced myself that I would be able to think better what to do if I had something to eat. When I approached a bar, a foreign-looking boy asked me if I could spare him some money, because he had not eaten in two days. Since I imagined that the child Jesus must once have been hungry, I handed him the little money that I had left, and returned home. On the way back I broke a branch off a pine tree; I tried to make it look nice by trimming it, but it just grew as hard as metal and it’s far from being the Christmas tree that my mother is expecting.”

“My dear boy,” said the priest, “the perfume of this tree leaves no doubt whatever that it has been touched by Heaven. Let me tell you the rest of its story:

“As soon as you left that lonely old woman, she immediately asked the Virgin Mary, a mother like herself, to return to you such an unexpected blessing. The parents of the prisoners were certain that they had come upon an angel, and prayed thanking the angels for the Christmas cakes that they bought. The boy that you met gave thanks to God for satisfying his hunger.

“The Virgin, the angels and Jesus heard the prayer of those who had been helped. When you broke the branch off the pine tree, the Virgin bathed it in the perfume of mercy. As you walked along, the angels touched the leaves and they turned to gold. Finally, when everything was ready, Jesus looked upon the work and blessed it, and from then on, whoever touches this Christmas tree will have their sins forgiven and their wishes fulfilled.”

And so it was. The legend goes that the sacred pine tree is still there in St. Martin, but that its force is so great that all those help their brothers on Christmas Eve, however far they may be from the little village in the Pyrenees, are blessed by it.

(inspired by a Hassidic tale)

Book excerpt: The Spy

Dear Mr. Clunet,

I do not know what will happen at the end of this week. I have always been an optimistic woman, but time has left me bitter, alone, and sad.
the-spy-paulo-coelho-cover-244.jpg
Knopf

If things turn out as I hope, you will never receive this letter. I’ll have been pardoned. After all, I spent my life cultivating influential friends. I will hold on to the letter so that, one day, my only daughter might read it to find out who her mother was.

But if I am wrong, I have little hope that these pages, which have consumed my last week of life on Earth, will be kept. I have always been a realis­tic woman and I know that, once a case is settled, a lawyer will move on to the next one without a back­ward glance.

I can imagine what will happen after. You will be a very busy man, having gained notoriety defending a war criminal. You will have many people knock­ing at your door, begging for your services, for, even defeated, you attracted huge publicity. You will meet journalists interested to hear your version of events, you will dine in the city’s most expensive restau­rants, and you will be looked upon with respect and envy by your peers. You will know there was never any concrete evidence against me — only docu­ments that had been tampered with — but you will never publicly admit that you allowed an innocent woman to die.

Innocent? Perhaps that is not the right word. I was never innocent, not since I first set foot in this city I love so dearly. I thought I could manipulate those who wanted state secrets. I thought the Ger­mans, French, English, Spanish would never be able to resist me — and yet, in the end, I was the one manipulated. The crimes I did commit, I escaped, the greatest of which was being an emancipated and independent woman in a world ruled by men. I was convicted of espionage even though the only thing concrete I traded was the gossip from high-society salons.

Yes, I turned this gossip into “secrets,” because I wanted money and power. But all those who accuse me now know I never revealed anything new.

It’s a shame no one will know this. These enve­lopes will inevitably find their way to a dusty file cabinet, full of documents from other proceedings. Perhaps they will leave when your successor, or your successor’s successor, decides to make room and throw out old cases.

By that time, my name will have been long for­gotten. But I am not writing to be remembered. I am attempting to understand things myself. Why? How is it that a woman who for so many years got everything she wanted can be condemned to death for so little?

At this moment, I look back at my life and realize that memory is a river, one that always runs back­ward.

Memories are full of caprice, where images of things we’ve experienced are still capable of suffo­cating us through one small detail or insignificant sound. The smell of baking bread wafts up to my cell and reminds me of the days I walked freely in the cafés. This tears me apart more than my fear of death or the solitude in which I now find myself.

Memories bring with them a devil called melan­choly — oh, cruel demon that I cannot escape. Hear­ing a prisoner singing, receiving a small handful of letters from admirers who were never among those who brought me roses and jasmine flowers, pictur­ing a scene from some city I didn’t appreciate at the time. Now it’s all I have left of this or that country I visited.

The memories always win, and with them comes a demon that is even more terrifying than melan­choly: remorse. It’s my only companion in this cell, except when the sisters decide to come and chat. They do not speak about God, or condemn me for what society calls my “sins of the flesh.” Generally, they say one or two words, and the memories spout from my mouth, as if I wanted to go back in time, plunging into this river that runs backward.

One of them asked me:

“If God gave you a second chance, would you do anything differently?”

I said yes, but really, I do not know. All I know is that my current heart is a ghost town, one popu­lated by passions, enthusiasm, loneliness, shame, pride, betrayal, and sadness. I cannot disentangle myself from any of it, even when I feel sorry for myself and weep in silence.

I am a woman who was born at the wrong time and nothing can be done to fix this. I don’t know if the future will remember me, but if it does, may it never see me as a victim, but as someone who moved forward with courage, fearlessly paying the price she had to pay.

From “The Spy” by Paulo Coelho.

Character of the week: Santa Claus

One of the problems we have in this world is that too many adults believe in Santa Claus, and too many children don’t
Lee Lauer

A critic is a man who found out when he was about ten that there wasn’t any Santa Claus, and he’s still upset.
James Gould Cozzens

Santa Claus has the right idea: visit people once a year
Victor Borge

I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six. Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph.
Shirley Temple

Christmas is a time when kids tell Santa what they want and adults pay for it. Deficits are when adults tell the government what they want and their kids pay for it.
Richard Lamm

Alas! How dreary would be the world if there was no Santa Claus! There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.
Francis P. Church

Santa Claus is anyone who loves another and seeks to make them happy; who gives himself by thought or word or deed in every gift that he bestows.
Edwin Osgood Grover

Let me see if I’ve got this Santa business straight. You say he wears a beard, has no discernible source of income and flies to cities all over the world under cover of darkness? You sure this guy isn’t laundering illegal drug money?
Tom Armstrong

There are three stages of a man’s life:
He believes in Santa Claus.
He doesn’t believe in Santa Claus
He is Santa Claus.

Hope


According to the dictionary
: a tendency of the spirit to consider something as probable; the second of the theological virtues; expectation; supposition; probability.

For the ancient Greeks: In one of the classic myths of the Creation, one of the gods, furious at the fact that Prometheus stole fire and in doing so gave men their independence, sends Pandora to marry her brother Epimetheus. Pandora brings along a box, which she is forbidden to open. However, just as happens to Eve in the Christian myth, her curiosity gets the better of her: she raises the lid to see what is inside, and at this moment all the troubles of the world spill out and spread all over the Earth. Only one thing remains inside: Hope, the only arm to combat the misfortune that has scattered throughout the world.

In a Hassidic story (Jewish tradition): At the end of the forty days of deluge, Noah emerged from the Ark. He disembarked full of hope, lit some incense, looked around him, and all he saw was destruction and death. Noah cried out:
“Lord Almighty, if you knew the future, why did you create man? Just for the pleasure of punishing him?”
A triple perfume rose to the sky: the incense, the perfume of Noah’s tears, and the aroma of his actions.
Then came the answer:
“The prayers of a just man are always heard. Let me tell you why I did this: so that might understand your work. You and your descendants will use hope and will always be rebuilding a world that came from nothing. In that way we shall share the work and the consequences: now we are both responsible.”

The individual’s three greatest hopes: 1] Meeting the beloved one; 2] to be rich; 3] immortality. (Source: Irving Wallace, The Book of Lists, 1977)

An Arab story: The great Caliph Alrum Al-Rachid decided to build a palace that would mark the grandeur of his reign. Besides the chosen terrain stood a shack. Al-Rachid asked his minister to convince the owner – an old weaver – to sell it to be demolished. The minister tried, but without any success.
Back at the palace, it was suggested that they simply expel the old man from the site.
“No,” answered Al-Rachid. “It will become part of my legacy to my people. When they see the palace, they will say: he was great. And when they see the shack, they will say: he was just, because he respected the desire of others.”

The black tunnel

“I saw only a tunnel, with a man pointing a gun at me and telling me to get out of the car.”

I saw a tunnel too, except this one led to a hotel in Rio de Janeiro, the Glória Hotel. I looked at that hotel, expected the worst and thought to myself: “it’s not fair, I’m only 26 years old!” Fair or not, in the early morning of 27 May 1974 I stood before death and could not see what was happening beside me. Just the tunnel and the hotel. But my story does not matter, it serves only to say that I understand perfectly well what Sorin is telling me in a bar lost in the middle of the Carpatian Mountains.

Sorin Miscoci’s calvary began on 28 March 2005, near Baghdad. He had been designated to spend a week there at the request of a Rumanian TV station and ended up being kidnapped for 55 days.
“Later on, when they freed me, the American security agents asked me how many people were there. And I told them: one. They laughed and said that just wasn’t possible. It was the psychologist who helped me, explaining that in situations like this, nothing in the surroundings has any importance. All you see is the focus of the crisis, what is threatening you, and you simply forget the rest.

Sorin has just got married to Andrea, who strokes his hand. We have been traveling together for three days and we will continue for another week. Cristina Topescu, an old friend who worked as a journalist in the same TV as Sorin, says that when the time came to mobilize the country, few colleagues came forward to speak to the President of the Republic, for fear of losing their jobs.

“I asked God for only one thing: to die with a bullet in the heart. I had already seen videos of prisoners being decapitated; I asked, begged to be shot,” adds Sorin.
Andrea gives him a kiss. He smiles, asks if I want to stay in that restaurant or if we should go to the only karaoke in Sibiu. I prefer to interrupt the conversation at that point – it was better to go and sing together.

On the way to the discotheque, I think about the black tunnel: without wanting to romanticize a dramatic situation, I felt that this happens to everyone. When we are faced with something that really threatens us, it is impossible to look around, although this is the correct and safer procedure. We can’t see clearly, use logic, gather information that can help us and those who try to get us out of that situation.

We reach the karaoke, drink some more, sing Elvis, Madonna and Ray Charles. Ours is an interesting group: Lacrima, who was abandoned by her mother when she was only two months old. Leonardo, who has just got over a depression that lasted two years. Cristina Topescu, who recently overcame difficult moments. Sorin and his 55 days in captivity, and Andrea, who almost lost the person she loved. And me, with scars all over my body and soul.

And even so we drank, sang and celebrated life. To have friends like these gives me more than hope, it makes me understand that the true survivors will never be victims to their torturers, because they manage to keep alive the most important thing in human beings: joy.

20 SEC READ: Together (ENG, ESPA, PORT)


Illustration by Ken Crane

_______________________
EM PORTUGUES: A brasa solitária
EN ESPANOL: La brasa solitária
_______________________

Juan always attended Sunday services at his parish. But then he began to find that the pastor always said the same things, so he stopped going to church.

On a cold winter’s night two months later, the pastor paid him a visit.

“He must have come to try to convince me to go back,” Juan thought to himself. He imagined he could not tell the real reason: those boring sermons. He had to find an excuse, and as he was thinking he pulled two chairs up close to the hearth and began talking about the weather.

The pastor said nothing. Juan, after some vain attempts to start up a conversation, sat in silence too. They both sat there without speaking, just looking at the fire for close to half an hour.

Then the pastor rose, and with the help of a branch that had not yet burned, pulled an ember aside and placed it far from the fire.

The ember, without enough heat to go on burning, began to go out. Juan quickly tossed it back into the middle of the fire.

“Good night,” said the pastor, rising to leave.

“Good night and many thanks,” answered Juan. “No matter how bright it is, an ember removed from the fire will end up going out quickly.
“No matter how clever a man may be, far from his neighbors he will never manage to conserve his heat and his flame.”