Eleven Minutes, one of my favourite Paulo Coelho books, in fact one of my favourite books of all time, is a wonderful story that teaches about love and the freedom that love can bring (and a little about prostitution). The story follows a young, beautiful Brazilian girl who dreams of being rescued by her Prince Charming who will one day sweep her off her feet so they can conquer the world together. Inevitably, she falls in love a lot and is hurt a lot as she dreams of something bigger than living her life in her home town.
At age 19, her real life adventure begins with a trip to Rio di Janeiro and soon she finds herself in Switzerland dancing Samba in a nightclub in Geneva. One thing leads to another and with a hardened heart and a determination never to be caught out again by love, she finds herself doing a different kind of dance – prostitution.
Over the months she keeps a diary. She has time to read, to think and despite being alone her words on finding freedom from love are full of understanding:
‘If I were to tell someone about my life today, I would do it in a way that would make them think me a brave, happy, independent woman. Rubbish I am not even allowed to mention the only word that is more important than eleven minutes.’
(you will have to read the story to understand what 11 mins means).
‘All my life I have thought of love as some kind of voluntary enslavement. Well that’s a lie, freedom only exists when love is present. The person who gives him or herself wholly, the person who feels freest, is the person who loves most wholeheartedly…’
After about 9 months Maria decides to leave Switzerland with all the money she has made and buy a little farm back in Brazil. On my first read, I was worried at this point that the story may not go well. If Maria returned to Brazil and the farm did not go according to plan there was always the chance that she would return to what she knew and by now as I was in love with the character of Maria and wanted that cycle to be broken!
However, once she made that decision, she invariably meets a man, an artist called Ralf. Then comes the crazy, lovely, scary, transformational journey of getting to know him. On their first night in each other’s company Maria decides to exchange gifts as a symbol, a gesture of giving up a part of herself. She gives Ralph a pen:
“This is for you. I bought it so that I could note down some ideas about farm management. I used it for two days, I worked until I was too tired to work any more. It contains some of my sweat, some of my concentration and my willpower and I’m giving it to you now.”
It was a beautiful gesture, however it was Ralph’s gift that intrigued me:
“This is a carriage belonging to an electric train set I had when I was a child. I wasn’t allowed to play with it on my own, because my father said it had been imported from the United States and was very expensive. So I had to wait until he felt like setting up the train in the living room, but he spent most Sundays listening to opera. That’s why the train survived my childhood, but never gave me any happiness.”
In giving Maria his gift of the carriage, Ralf not only gives up part of himself but also part of his past. Until now Ralf has held on to this part of his childhood, a part that had defined love for him, even though it never gave him happiness. By giving it up as an expression of himself in a gift to Maria, Ralf had also freed himself of his bonds to the past. He found freedom in love.
This made me stop and think of my own love life. I wondered what gift I might give if a new, important man came into my life, a gift that may also free me from my past. I knew instantly what it would be. I would give him a tutu.
As a child I so desperately wanted to be accepted for who I was and what I could do, rather than what I couldn’t and who I wasn’t. The image I have of my inner child is a little girl wearing a pink tutu and trying so hard to do a cute song and dance for those who would not watch, those who would not listen.
I realised that like Ralf, my past had defined love for me and this need for acceptance meant that I would find and grab onto someone who was interested in me and I interested in him so that I could then be part of a broader picture. I was acceptable, I was part of a couple, there was nothing wrong with me, someone liked my dance and that fulfilled my need…
But was my unconscious need tended to properly? Was I really being accepted for who I was? My respectable relationships meant I was the norm in society, but did this part fulfilment cloud the fact that what I really needed was to be loved for just being me? My relationships inevitably turned into a combination of power plays, control struggles and jealousy and that says it all.
So when I decide to whom I will give my love gift, my tutu (hope he has a good imagination), I will do so with a full understanding of why I choose to give away this part of myself. I will no longer need to dance, my bonds to the past will be broken and I will be free to love wholeheartedly… just like Maria said: