Today’s Solutions: December 08, 2023

The art of finding your friends, and letting your friends find you.

Paulo Coelho | June/July 2009 issue

In a recent interview, I said that turning 60 is the same as turning 35 or 47: a birthday cake, blowing out the candles and so on. But it’s not quite the same, and I’d like to share how I decided to commemorate the date.
My birthday is on August 24th, but I normally celebrate it on the 19th of March, the feast day of my patron saint, Joseph. One day in February, I was reading my blog, looking at my readers’ souls, and was seized by an impulse. Why not invite 10 people to my birthday party? I wrote a message and said the first 10 people to write back would be welcome. It so happens that the next day, the first 10 answers came from the most varied places on the planet: Brazil, Japan, England, Venezuela, Qatar and so on. The party would be at Puente La Reina, on the Way to Santiago de Compostela—in other words, far from airports or other normal means of transportation. I wasn’t certain the readers had understood the message. I was inviting them to my party, but I wasn’t paying their travel expenses. I sent an email and all 10 said they’d understood perfectly. I felt an immense responsibility, but kept my word, and I think they all had a good time and enjoyed a special evening—at least I know I did. They still communicate with one another.
Soon it was the eve of my birthday. My plan was to do what I always do, and that’s what happened. At 11:15 p.m. on the 23rd of August, I went to Lourdes so that at exactly 12:05 a.m. on the 24th, the moment I was born, I could be at the grotto of Our Lady to thank her for my life up until then and ask her to protect me from that moment on.
It was a powerful experience, but while I was driving back to St. Martin (I have a small mill there where I spend the summer), I felt extremely lonely. I said so to my wife. “But you’re the one who chose it to be so,” she replied. Yes, I’d indeed made that choice, but now I began to feel bothered. We were both alone on this immense planet. I turned on my mobile phone. It rang immediately. It was Monica, my agent and friend. When I arrived home, there were other messages waiting for me.
I went to bed happy, and the next day I saw there was no reason to feel the oppression of the night before. Flowers and presents began to arrive at the house. Communities of people over the Internet had done some extraordinary things using images and texts of mine. In most cases, this had all been arranged by people I’d never seen in my life.
At that moment, I understood two important things. The first is that no matter how famous you may be, you’ll always have the feeling you’re alone. The other is that no matter how unknown you may be, you’ll always be surrounded by friends, even if you’ve never seen their faces. Even when I was unknown, there was always a hand held out to me when I needed it.
So I let Kahlil Gibran—with his unique mastery—describe this sentiment: “Your friend is the field where you sow with love and harvest with gratitude. He is your home, he is your table. Even when he is silent, two hearts continue to talk. When you have to leave him, don’t suffer, for you will see the importance of the friendship all the better because of this absence, just as a mountain climber sees the landscape around him better when he is far from the plains. May you be able to share with your friend all that is good. Let him know and share not only your moments of joy but also your moments of sorrow. And know that a friend is not by your side to help you kill the time, but rather to help you enjoy life in all its fullness.”
Paulo Coelho is the Brazilian author of international bestsellers, including The Alchemist.

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