A Great Writer

He’s not a woman, but he has been an amazing inspiration to me.

His mythical fable, The Alchemist, which has been translated into more than 60 languages and sold tens of millions of copies worldwide, is one of my favourite books.

In fact, since I first read it five years ago, it’s been a spiritaul guide of sorts to me. I treasure my personally autographed, dog-eared copy, which never fails me in times of need.

I have savoured every other novel he’s written, and I look forward to his regular ‘column’ in Ode magazine, which I read religiously.

Last week, I found out, much to my delight, that he also has a blog. So now I can enjoy his thoughts and his prose online as well – wonderful!

‘He’ is, of course, the prolific and philosophical Paulo Coelho, Brazilian writer and thinker, known and loved worldwide for his storytelling abilities, and his personal insights on destiny, love and the emotional soup that makes humans be.

Today I discovered a tribute he wrote (originally written in November 2007, republished in the September 2008 issue of ode – as I said before, I’m perennially late these days), to a young woman he met four years ago.

The tribute moved me (as most tributes do), and, as I have the capacity to share parts of it with you, I thought I would.

To see the original text click here.

For a slightly edited version, read below.

…we were sitting on the banks of this…river when we spotted a beautiful woman wearing waterproof boots up to the knees, walking on the river-bed with a sack on her shoulders. When she saw us… (she came over and introduced herself as Isabelle Labaune, a friend of a mutual friend).

…she explained that she was there cleaning the river of odd bits of rubbish, but that her true passion (was) horses. That afternoon we went to visit her stables.

Isabelle had a dozen or so animals, and did everything absolutely alone – she fed them, kept the place in order, cleaned the stables and fixed the tiles – indeed, all the work that would drive anyone crazy.

“I set up an association for people born with mental problems. I am absolutely certain that horse-riding makes them feel loved and integrated with society.”

Whenever I spent holidays in the region, I met Isabelle. Minibuses arrived bringing young people suffering from the Down Syndrome to ride the beautiful horses and stroll by the rivers and through the forests and parks. There was never an accident. The parents looked on with tears in their eyes, and Isabelle wore a smile on her lips. She was deeply proud of what she did: she woke at five in the morning, worked the whole day long, and went to bed early, exhausted.

She was a very attractive young woman. But she did not have a boyfriend:

“All the men who appear in my life want me to be a housewife. But I have a dream. I suffer when I am alone, but I would suffer a lot more if I abandoned the purpose of my life.”

The situation changed right at the beginning of 2006. One afternoon when I went to visit her, she told me she was in love. And that her boyfriend accepted her rhythm of life and was willing to help her in whatever way he could.

Some days later on I traveled to Brazil… When I returned to the Pyrenees in December, I went to have lunch with (our mutual friend). That is when I found out that Isabelle had died of a fulminating cancer.

That night I lit a fire in my garden. I remained all alone looking at the flames and thinking about a woman who had done nothing but good in her life and whom God had taken away so early. I did not weep, but I felt a deep love in the air, as if she were present all around me. The next day I received a call from her boyfriend, who asked me to write something on her: she was gone, and nobody had ever known her work.

I promised to do so. But only today, when we were passing by the river and sat down in the same place, did I remember that I had made that promise, and now I am fulfilling it.

Of the many people I have known in my life, one of the closest to saintliness was Isabelle Labaune.

 This world needs more people such as you, Isabelle Labaune.