Stories & Reflections
By Paulo Coelho
On the 29th of May 2002, hours before writing the last sentence of my book ‘Eleven Minutes’, I went to the Grotto at Lourdes in France to fill up a few bottles of holy water from the fountain there. When I entered the cathedral grounds, a man of about 70 years old came up to me and said: “You know you look like Paulo Coelho?” I answered him that that was who I really was.
The man gave me a hug and introduced his wife and grand-daughter. He told me how important my books were in his life, ending with the phrase: “They make me dream.”
I had already heard that said several times, and it has always made me glad. At that moment, however, it scared me a bit, because I knew that “Eleven minutes” touches on a delicate, strong, shocking question: the journey of a Brazilian prostitute in search of her soul. I walked over to the fountain, filled the bottles, returned, asked the man where he lived (in the north of France, near Belgium) and wrote down his name.
Right there and then I decided to dedicate the book to that man, Maurice Gravelines. I hold an obligation towards him, his wife, grand-daughter, and myself: to talk about what bothers me, not about what everyone would like to hear.
Some books make us dream, others show us reality, but none can elude what is most important for an author: honesty to what he writes. Writing about sex was for me a challenge I had faced since my youth, when the hippie revolution devised a whole lot of new modes of behavior in this respect, sometimes stretching the limits of common sense. After those crazy years we went through a conservative period because of the advent of mortal diseases, and marked by that persistent question: “but is sex really all that important?”
We live in a world of standard behavior: standards of beauty, quality, intelligence, efficiency. We believe there is a model for everything and we also think that we will be safe if we follow that model.
And for that very reason we set a “sex standard,” which in fact consists of a series of lies: vaginal orgasm, virility above all else, better to pretend than to leave the partner disappointed, and so on. A direct consequence of this type of attitude is that millions of people are left frustrated, unhappy and guilty. And this has caused all sorts of aberrations such as pedophilia, incest or rape. Why we behave like this with something that’s so important?
In the same way that an author never knows the course that his books are going to take – and that is why he lets the text take off in unexpected directions – we too have to live our contradictions, above all in areas as sensitive as sex and love. The man who wants to follow a standard the whole time will be obliged to think today what he thought yesterday and always wear a tie to match his socks. Can you think of anything more boring?
The society that today approaches sexual behavior with a “standard,” without respecting individual differences, should try to remember one of the most beautiful poems on the human condition, the hymn to Isis discovered by Nag Hammadi, which scholars claim was written between the 3rd and 4th centuries of our age:
Because I am the first and the last
I am the venerated and the scorned
I am the whore and the saint
I am the wife and the virgin
I am the mother and the daughter
I am the arms of my mother
I am the sterile one, and my children are many
I am the well-wed and the spinster
I am the one who gave the light and the one who never gave birth
I am the wife and the husband
And it was my man who bore me in his belly
I am the mother of my father
I am the sister of my husband
And he is my rejected son
Respect me always
Because I am the scandalous and the discreet.
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