The Witch of Portobello (Paulo Coelho)

I’m scared of Paulo Coelho.  He discomforts me.  He forces me to remember what I’d rather forget, what I’d rather not feel.  But from the Devil and Miss Prym to Eleven Minutes to Manuscript Found in Accra to The Witch of Portobello, Paulo Coelho opens my Pandora’s box so slowly yet so surely with his sharp-edged fingers.

I haven’t felt more uncomfortable than with The Witch.  Unlike Chantal and Maria, Athena did not enchant me: she is too eccentric for my taste.  I would go as far as say I dislike her: she is too free.  Her search is scary.  Her irresponsible fearlessness is scary.  Furthermore, the accuracy of how she reminds me of me is scary.  That girl who loved without rules, who loved without limits.  That girl who saw the soul in the eyes of the non-humans.  That girl who prayed to the Mother and who felt Her heartbeat in response as she treaded Earth barefoot.  That girl who wanted to teach the world what she didn’t know and who bitterly paid the price.  That girl who did as her heart desired, knowing by doing so God was happy, knowing God was inside her.  Or rather, she was god.  Or do I dislike her because I envy her?  Because she was free?  Because she was fearless?  Because she was me at a time I was brave to take the risks?  I’m scared of Paulo Coelho for the same reason I tremble at Confession.  It’s not so much a fear of judgment or condemnation.  Reading him I feel bare.  It’s like revealing to the world the secret door behind which lay the skeletons.  Furthermore, it’s like letting go of what I do not wish to let go – for the doubt, the blasphemy, and the turmoil anchor me to my person, my spirit, and my humanity.

Yet reading him also humbles me, for I realize I do not have the monopoly to inner struggles, for if one was able to write me, then he and the millions who relate to him must be having the same struggles.  Remembering the similar feelings invoked by story after story, from Kahlil Gibran to Shel Silverstein to the epistles in the New Testament, I realize I am just a drop of water in this vast ocean, experiencing the same experiences, feeling the same feelings, as everyone else.  I realize my problems have been problems of people who came before me, and millions or billions of people in this generation.  Therefore, there is no reason to lose hope.  There is no reason to feel alone: I am with every soul.  I am part of a world.  I am a woman.  I am human.  Through the writer’s hand, I feel understood.  I feel a sense of belongingness.  And this, for me, is the meaning of writing.

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