Paulo Coelho

Stories & Reflections

Teaching the horse to fly

Author: Paulo Coelho

By Paulo Coelho

Let us divide the word ‘preoccupation’ into two parts – pre-occupation, that is, occupying your mind with something before it actually happens. This is what worrying is: trying to resolve problems that have not even had time to appear; imagining that things, when they do happen, will always turn out for the worst.

Naturally there are exceptions. One of them is the hero of this little story.

An old king of India condemned a man to the gallows. When the king had finished reading the sentence, the condemned man said:

‘You are a wise man, Your Majesty, and curious about everything that your subjects do. You respect gurus, sages, snake-charmers and fakirs. Well, when I was a child, my grandfather taught me how to make a white horse fly. Since there is no one else in the whole kingdom who knows how to do this, my life should be spared.’

The king immediately ordered a white horse to be brought.

‘I need to spend two years with this animal,’ said the condemned man.

‘All right, you will have two years,’ replied the king, already somewhat suspicious. ‘But if this horse does not learn to fly, you will be hanged.’

Overjoyed, the man left with the horse. When he reached his house, he found his whole family in tears.

‘Are you mad?’ they all cried. ‘Since when has anyone in this house known how to make a horse fly?’

‘Don’t worry,’ he said. ‘First of all, no one has ever tried to teach a horse to fly, and the horse might well learn. Secondly, the king is already very old and he might die in the next two years. Thirdly, the horse might die and then I’ll be given another two years to teach the new horse – not to mention the possibility of revolutions, coups d’état and general amnesties. And even if everything remains exactly as it is, I will still have gained two years of life with which I can do anything I like. Does that seem little to you?’

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