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Manuscript Found in Accra, Page 2

Paulo Coelho

  Defeat ends when we launch into another battle. Failure has no end; it is a lifetime choice.

  Defeat is for those who, despite their fears, live with enthusiasm and faith.

  Defeat is for the valiant. Only they will know the honor of losing and the joy of winning.

  I am not here to tell you that defeat is part of life; we all know that. Only the defeated know Love. Because it is in the realm of Love that we fight our first battles—and generally lose.

  I am here to tell you that there are people who have never been defeated.

  They are the ones who never fought.

  They managed to avoid scars, humiliations, and feelings of helplessness, as well as those moments when even warriors doubt the existence of God.

  Such people can say with pride: “I never lost a battle.” On the other hand, they will never be able to say: “I won a battle.”

  Not that they care. They live in a universe in which they believe they are invulnerable; they close their eyes to injustices and to suffering; they feel safe because they do not have to deal with the daily challenges faced by those who risk stepping out beyond their own boundaries.

  They have never heard the words “good-bye” or “I’ve come back. Embrace me with the fervor of someone who, having lost me, has found me again.”

  Those who were never defeated seem happy and superior, masters of a truth they never had to lift a finger to achieve. They are always on the side of the strong. They’re like hyenas, who eat only the leavings of lions.

  They teach their children: “Don’t get involved in conflicts; you’ll only lose. Keep your doubts to yourself and you’ll never have any problems. If someone attacks you, don’t get offended or demean yourself by hitting back. There are more important things in life.”

  In the silence of the night, they fight their imaginary battles: their unrealized dreams, the injustices to which they turned a blind eye, the moments of cowardice they managed to conceal from other people—but not from themselves—and the love that crossed their path with a sparkle in its eyes, the love God had intended for them, but which they lacked the courage to embrace.

  And they promise themselves: “Tomorrow will be different.”

  But tomorrow comes and the paralyzing question surfaces in their mind: “What if it doesn’t work out?”

  And so they do nothing.

  Woe to those who were never beaten! They will never be winners in this life.

  “Tell us about solitude” said a young woman who had been about to marry the son of one of the richest men in the city but was now obliged to flee.

  And he answered:

  Without solitude, Love will not stay long by your side.

  Because Love needs to rest, so that it can journey through the heavens and reveal itself in other forms.

  Without solitude, no plant or animal can survive, no soil can remain productive, no child can learn about life, no artist can create, no work can grow and be transformed.

  Solitude is not the absence of Love, but its complement.

  Solitude is not the absence of company, but the moment when our soul is free to speak to us and help us decide what to do with our life.

  Therefore, blessed are those who do not fear solitude, who are not afraid of their own company, who are not always desperately looking for something to do, something to amuse themselves with, something to judge.

  If you are never alone, you cannot know yourself.

  And if you do not know yourself, you will begin to fear the void.

  But the void does not exist. A vast world lies hidden in our soul, waiting to be discovered. There it is, with all its strength intact, but it is so new and so powerful that we are afraid to acknowledge its existence.

  The act of discovering who we are will force us to accept that we can go further than we think. And that frightens us. Best not to take the risk. We can always say: “I didn’t do what I should have done because they wouldn’t let me.”

  That feels more comfortable. Safer. And, at the same time, it’s tantamount to renouncing your own life.

  Woe to those who prefer to spend their lives saying: “I never had any opportunities!”

  Because with each day that passes, they will sink deeper into the well of their own limitations, and the time will come when they will lack the strength to climb out and rediscover the bright light shining through the opening above their head.

  And blessed be those who say: “I’m not brave enough.”

  Because they know that it is not someone else’s fault. And sooner or later, they will find the necessary faith to confront solitude and its mysteries.

  For those who are not frightened by the solitude that reveals all mysteries, everything will have a different taste.

  In solitude, they will discover the love that might otherwise have arrived unnoticed. In solitude, they will understand and respect the love that left them.

  In solitude, they will be able to decide whether it is worth asking that lost love to come back or if they should simply let it go and set off along a new path.

  In solitude, they will learn that saying no does not always show a lack of generosity, and that saying yes is not always a virtue.

  And those who are alone in this moment need never be frightened by the words of the devil: “You’re wasting your time.”

  Or by the chief demon’s even more potent words: “No one cares about you.”

  The Divine Energy is listening to us when we speak to other people, but also when we are still and silent and able to accept solitude as a blessing.

  And in that moment, Its light illuminates everything around us and helps us to see that we are necessary, that our presence on Earth makes an immense difference to Its work.

  And when we achieve that harmony, we receive more than we asked for.

  For those who feel oppressed by solitude, it’s important to remember that in life’s most significant moments we are always alone.

  Take the child emerging from a woman’s womb: it doesn’t matter how many people are present; the final decision to live rests with the child.

  Take the artist and his work: in order for his work to be really good, he needs to be still and hear only the language of the angels.

  Take all of us, when we find ourselves face-to-face with that Unwanted Visitor, Death: we will all be alone at that most important and most feared moment of our existence.

  Just as Love is the divine condition, so solitude is the human condition. And for those who understand the miracle of life, those two states peacefully coexist.

  And a boy, who had been chosen as one of those who was to leave, rent his garments and said:

  “My city thinks I am not good enough to fight. I am useless.”

  And he answered:

  Some people say: “No one loves me.” But even in cases of unrequited love there is always the hope that one day it will be requited.

  Others write in their diaries: “My genius goes unrecognized, my talent unappreciated, my dreams scorned.” But for them, too, there is the hope that, after many struggles, things will change.

  Others spend their days knocking on doors, explaining: “I’m looking for work.” They know that, if they are patient, someone will eventually invite them in.

  But there are those who wake each morning with a heavy heart. They are not seekers after love, recognition, or work.

  They say to themselves: “I’m useless. I live because I have to survive, but no one, absolutely no one, is interested in what I’m doing.”

  Outside, the sun is shining. They are surrounded by their family, and they try to keep up the mask of happiness, because, in the eyes of others, they have everything they ever dreamed of having. But they are convinced that no one there needs them, either because they are too young and their elders appear to have other concerns, or because they are too old and the younger members of the family appear uninterested in what they have to say.

  The poet writes a few lines, then throws them away, t
hinking: “Nobody’s going to be interested in that.”

  The laborer arrives for work and merely repeats the same tasks he did yesterday. He believes that, if he were ever dismissed, no one would even notice his absence.

  The young woman making a dress takes enormous pains over every detail, but, when she wears it to some celebration, she reads the message in other people’s eyes: You’re no prettier or uglier than any of the other girls. Your dress is just one among millions of dresses all over the world, where, at this very moment, similar celebrations are being held—some in great castles, others in small villages where everyone knows everyone and passes comments on what the other girls are wearing. But no one commented on what she was wearing, which went unnoticed. It was neither pretty nor ugly; it was just another dress.


  Younger people realize that the world is full of huge problems that they dream of solving, but no one is interested in their views. “You don’t know what the world is really like,” they are told. “Listen to your elders and then you’ll have a better idea of what to do.”

  Older people have gained experience and maturity, and have learned about life’s difficulties the hard way, but when the moment comes for them to teach these things, no one is interested. “The world has changed,” they are told. “You have to keep up to date and listen to the young.”

  That feeling of uselessness is no respecter of age and never asks permission, but instead corrodes people’s souls, repeating over and over: “No one is interested in you; you’re nothing. The world doesn’t need your presence.”

  In a desperate attempt to give meaning to life, many turn to religion, because a struggle in the name of a faith is always a justification for some grand action that could transform the world. “We are doing God’s work,” they tell themselves.

  And they become devout followers, then evangelists, and finally, fanatics.

  They don’t understand that religion was created in order to share the mystery and to worship, not to oppress or convert others. The greatest manifestation of the miracle of God is life. Tonight, I will weep for you, O Jerusalem, because that understanding of the Divine Unity is about to disappear for the next one thousand years.

  Ask a flower in the field: “Do you feel useful? After all, you do nothing but produce the same flowers over and over.”

  And the flower will answer: “I am beautiful, and beauty is my reason for living.”

  Ask the river: “Do you feel useful, given that all you do is keep flowing in the same direction?”

  And the river will answer: “I’m not trying to be useful; I’m trying to be a river.”

  Nothing in this world is useless in the eyes of God. Not a leaf from a tree falls, not a hair from your head, not even an insect dies because it was of no use. Everything has a reason to exist.

  Even you, the person asking the question. “I’m useless” is the answer you give yourself.

  Soon that answer will poison you and you will die while still alive, even though you still walk, eat, sleep, and try to have a little fun whenever possible.

  Don’t try to be useful. Try to be yourself; that is enough, and that makes all the difference.

  Walk neither faster nor slower than your own soul, because it is your soul that will teach you the usefulness of each step you take. Sometimes taking part in a great battle will be the thing that will help to change the course of history. But sometimes you can do that simply by smiling, for no reason, at someone you happen to pass on the street.

  Without intending to, you might have saved the life of a complete stranger, who also thought he was useless and might have been ready to kill himself until a smile gave him new hope and confidence.

  Even if you were to study your own life in detail and relive each moment that you suffered, sweated, and smiled beneath the sun, you would still never know exactly when you had been useful to someone else.

  A life is never useless. Each soul that came down to Earth is here for a reason.

  The people who really help others are not trying to be useful, but are simply leading a useful life. They rarely give advice, but serve as an example.

  Do one thing: Live the life you always wanted to live. Avoid criticizing others and concentrate on fulfilling your dreams. This may not seem very important to you, but God, who sees all, knows that the example you give is helping Him to improve the world. And each day, He will bestow more blessings upon it.

  And when the Unwanted Visitor arrives, you will hear it say:

  “It is fair to ask: ‘Father, Father, why hast thou forsaken me?’ But now, in this final second of your life on Earth, I am going to tell you what I saw: I found the house clean, the table laid, the fields plowed, the flowers smiling. I found each thing in its proper place, precisely as it should be. You understood that small things are responsible for great changes.

  “And for that reason, I will carry you up to Paradise.”

  And a woman called Almira, a seamstress, said:

  “I could have left before the crusaders arrived, and, if I had, I would now be working in Egypt. But I was always too afraid to change.”

  And he answered:

  We are afraid to change because we think that, after so much effort and sacrifice, we know our present world.

  And even though that world might not be the best of all worlds, and even though we may not be entirely satisfied with it, at least it won’t give us any nasty surprises. We won’t go wrong.

  When necessary, we will make a few minor adjustments so that everything continues in the same way.

  We see that the mountains always stay in the same place. We see that fully grown trees, when transplanted, usually die.

  And we say: “We want to be like the mountains and the trees. Solid and respectable.” Even though, during the night, we wake up thinking: “I wish I was like the birds, who can visit Damascus and Baghdad and come back whenever they want to.”

  Or: “I wish I was like the wind, for no one knows where it comes from nor where it goes, and it can change direction without ever having to explain why.”

  The next day, however, we remember that the birds are always fleeing from hunters and larger birds, and that the wind sometimes gets caught up in a whirlwind and destroys everything around it.

  It’s nice to dream that we will have plenty of time in the future to do our traveling, and that, one day, we will travel. It cheers us up because we know that we are capable of doing more than we do. Dreaming carries no risks. The dangerous thing is trying to transform your dreams into reality.

  But the day will come when Fate knocks on our door. It might be the gentle tapping of the Angel of Good Fortune or the unmistakable rat-a-tat-tat of the Unwanted Visitor. They both say: “Change now!” Not next week, not next month, not next year. The angels say: “Now!”

  We always listen to the Unwanted Visitor. And we change everything because he scares us; we change village, habits, shoes, food, behavior. We can’t convince the Unwanted Visitor to allow us to stay as we are. There is no discussion.

  We also listen to the Angel of Good Fortune, but we ask him: “Where will this lead?”

  “To a new life,” comes the answer.

  And we think: “We have a few problems in our life, but nothing that can’t be solved in time. We must serve as an example to our parents, our teachers, our children, and keep to the correct path. Our neighbors expect us to teach everyone the virtue of perseverance, to struggle against adversity and overcome obstacles.”

  And we feel proud of ourselves. And we are praised because we refuse to change, continuing instead in the direction Fate has chosen for us.


  Because the correct path is the path of nature, which is constantly changing, like the dunes in the desert.

  Those who think that the mountains don’t change are wrong; they are born out of earthquakes, are eroded by wind and rain, and each day are slightly different even though we do not notice.

  The mountains change an
d are pleased: “It’s good not to be the same all the time,” they say to one another.

  Those who think the trees don’t change are wrong. They have to accept that they will be bare in winter and clothed in summer. And they reach beyond the place where they were planted because the birds and the wind scatter their seeds.

  The trees are glad. “I thought I was just one tree and now I see that I am many,” they say to their children springing up around them.

  Nature is telling us: “Change!”

  And those who do not fear the Angel of Good Fortune understand that they must go forward despite their fear. Despite their doubts. Despite recriminations. Despite threats.

  They confront their values and prejudices. They hear the advice of their loved ones, who say: “Why do that? You have everything you need: the love of your parents, wife, and children; the job it took you so long to get. Don’t run the risk of becoming a stranger in a strange land.”

  Nevertheless, they risk taking a first step—sometimes out of curiosity, sometimes out of ambition, but generally because they feel an uncontrollable longing for adventure.

  At each bend in the road, they feel more and more afraid, and yet, at the same time, they surprise themselves; they are stronger and happier.

  Joy. That is one of the main blessings of the All Powerful. If we are happy, we are on the right road.

  Fear gradually ebbs away, because it wasn’t given what it felt was its due importance.

  One question persists as we take our first steps along the path: “Will my decision to change make other people suffer?”

  But if you love someone, then you want your beloved to be happy. You might feel frightened for him initially, but that feeling soon gives way to pride at seeing him doing what he wants to do, and going where he always dreamed of going.