Two stories about what worthy opponents can teach us.
Paulo Coelho| October 2010 issue
The enemy without
My reader Murali, from India, tells the story of a girl who decided to climb a mountain to visit her grandmother. It was pouring rain and a cold wind was blowing. Thunder rolled at each second. When she had almost reached her destination, she felt something brush against her feet. Looking down, she saw it was a snake.
“I’m almost dying,” said the snake. “It’s very cold and there’s no food up here on this mountain. Please protect me. Put me under your coat, save my life and I will be your best friend.”
Despite the storm, the girl stopped and began to reflect. She saw the snake’s green and gold skin and she told herself that she had never seen anything so beautiful. She thought about how her classmates would envy her if she showed up with a snake to defend her from everything.
Finally she said, “All right. I am going to save you because all living beings deserve care and affection.”
The snake became the girl’s friend, served to scare aggressive people at school and kept her company on lonely days—until one night when she was doing her homework and felt a sharp pain in her right foot. On looking down, she saw the snake had bitten her.
“You’re poisonous!” she cried. “I’m going to die!”
The snake said nothing.
“How could you do this to me? I saved your life!”
“On that day, when you bent down to save me, you knew I was a snake, didn’t you?”
And it slithered slowly away.
The enemy within
Nasrudin saw a man sitting by the side of a road looking utterly desolate. “What’s bothering you?” Nasrudin asked.
“My brother, there is nothing interesting in my life. I have enough money not to need to work, and I was traveling to see if there was anything curious in the world. But everyone I have met has nothing new to say to me. All they do is make me more bored. In a word, I can tell you without any fear of doubt that despite all that I have done, I haven’t managed to find the peace I sought. I have turned into my own worst enemy.”
At that very moment, Nasrudin grabbed the man’s bag and ran off down the road. Since he knew the region well, he quickly managed to set a considerable distance between himself and the man by taking shortcuts through the fields and over the hills.
When he was far enough away, he put the bag down in the middle of the road where the traveler was bound to pass, and hid behind a rock. The man appeared half an hour later, feeling more miserable than ever because of the thief.
As soon as he caught sight of the bag, he ran to open it, breathless. Upon seeing that everything was intact, he looked up to the sky, full of joy, and thanked the Lord for life.
“Certain people only realize the taste of happiness when they manage to lose it,” thought Nasrudin, looking at the scene before his eyes.
Paulo Coelho is the Brazilian author of international bestsellers, including The Alchemist.