Paulo Coelho

Stories & Reflections

Encounter on 5th Avenue

Author: Paulo Coelho

By Paulo Coelho

I was just leaving St Patrick’s Church in New York when a young Brazilian came over to me.
‘It’s great to see you,’ he said, smiling. ‘There’s something I wanted to tell you.’
I was equally pleased at this encounter with a stranger. I invited him for a coffee, told him about my awful trip to Denver, and suggested that he go to Harlem on Sunday to attend a religious service there.
The young man, who was in his twenties, listened to me without saying a word.
I talked on. I said that I had just read a novel about a terrorist group that launches an attack on St Patrick’s Church, and that the author had described the scene in such detail that I had noticed many things I had never seen on previous visits. That was why I had decided to go to the church that morning.
We spent nearly an hour together, drank two coffees, and I dominated the entire conversation. Afterwards, we said goodbye, and I wished him a good trip.
‘Thanks,’ he said, moving off.
That was when I noticed the sad look in his eyes; something was wrong and I didn’t know what. Only after walking a few blocks did I realise what it was: the young man had come over to me saying that there was something he needed to talk to me about.
During the whole time we spent together, I had been in control of the situation. At no point had I asked him what he wanted to tell me; in my desire to be friendly, I had filled up all the spaces, I hadn’t allowed one moment of silence when the young man could have transformed a monologue into a dialogue.
He may have had something really important to share with me. Perhaps if I had been truly open to life at that moment, I too would have had something to give to him. Perhaps both my life and his would have changed radically after that encounter. I will never know and I am not going to torture myself with the fact that I failed to take advantage of a potentially magical moment: mistakes happen.
But ever since then, I have tried to keep alive in my memory that farewell scene and the sad look in the boy’s eyes. I was incapable of receiving what was destined for me and so was equally incapable of giving what I wanted to give, however hard I tried.

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