Be grateful for all life’s second chances.
The Sibyllines, witches capable of foretelling the future, lived in ancient Rome. One fine day, one of them appeared at Emperor Tiberius’ palace with nine books. She said that therein lay the future of the Empire and asked for 10 talents of gold for the texts. Tiberius found the price too high and refused to buy them.
The Sibylline left, burned three of the books and returned with the remaining six. “These cost 10 talents of gold,” she said. Tiberius laughed and told her to leave. How could she have the nerve to sell six books for the same price as nine?
The Sibylline burned another three books and went back to Tiberius with the only three remaining books. “They cost the same 10 talents of gold.” Intrigued, Tiberius ended up buying the three volumes and could only read a small part of the future.
I was telling this story to Monica, my agent and friend, while we drove to Portugal. When I finished, I realized we were passing through Ciudad Rodrigo, on the Spanish border. There, four years before, I was offered a book, which I didn’t buy.
During my first author tour in Europe, I had decided to have lunch in that town. Afterward, I went to visit the cathedral, where I met a priest. “See how the afternoon sun makes everything more beautiful in here,” he said. I liked this comment. We talked a little, and he showed me around the altars, cloisters and courtyards of the temple. In the end, he offered me a book he had written about the church, but I didn’t wish to buy it.
After I left, I felt guilty. I am a writer and was in Europe trying to sell my work. Why not buy the priest’s book, out of solidarity? But then I completely forgot the episode—until now.
I stopped the car. It was not by chance that I had remembered the story of the Sibylline books. We walked to the square in front of the church, where a woman was looking up at the sky.
“Good afternoon. I’ve come to see a priest who wrote a book about this church.”
The woman shook her head. “The priest, whose name was Stanislau, died a year ago,” she answered.
I felt deeply saddened. Why had I not given Father Stanislau the same joy I felt whenever I saw someone with one of my books?
“He was one of the kindest men I have ever met,” continued the woman. “He came from a humble family, but became a specialist in archaeology. He helped my son obtain a college grant.”
I told her what I was doing there.
“There’s no need to feel guilty, my son,” she said. “Just go and visit the cathedral again.” I thought this must be a sign and did as she said.
There was just one priest in the confession booth, awaiting the faithful, although there were none just then. I went over to him. The priest gestured for me to kneel, but I interrupted him. “I don’t want to make a confession. I just came to buy a book about this church, written by a man named Stanislau.”
The priest’s eyes glinted. He came out of the confession booth and returned a few minutes later with a copy of the book.
“How marvelous of you to have come especially for that,” he said. “I am Father Stanislau’s brother, and this fills me with pride. He must be in heaven, content at seeing his work considered so important!”
Of all the priests there, Stanislau’s brother was the one I happened to have encountered. I paid for the book and thanked him. He embraced me. Just as I was leaving, I heard his voice. “See how the afternoon sun makes everything more beautiful in here.”
They were the same words Father Stanislau had spoken to me four years earlier. In life, there is always a second chance.