I woke up on the morning of the third day of the crossing with my body still sore from the events of the previous day. The sky was already clear, even though the sun was yet to reach the line of the horizon at the end of the apparently endless sea of sand. The movement to break camp was intense. Everybody was packing their things to move on, towards the Sahara’s largest oasis. The purpose of my journey was to meet a wise dervish, who possessed a tremendous body of knowledge of many secrets “of heaven and earth”, who lived there. Members of the caravan included traders, pilgrims and tourists, all riding camels. The security crew rode horses, strong Arabian thoroughbreds, which were more agile, as did the caravanner and the enigmatic lapis-lazuli woman, whom I had not seen that morning. I also noticed that few other people also rode horses. Because I had not gotten used to the swaying of the camel on the desert sand, which made me queasy, as soon as the caravanner got close, I asked him about the privilege granted to these people who traveled “first class”. I argued that everyone should be treated the same, in face of the inhospitable conditions of the crossing. I said that since that was not the case, I also would like a horse to ride. The caravanner fixed his gaze on me and said: “Everyone is treated fairly and receives a camel for the crossing. However, some brought or bought their own horses. There is nothing wrong with that.” Next, he warned me: “Each one should watch their own selves.” He paused and added: “Everyone is free to act as they wish, as long as they do not disrupt the harmony of the caravan.”
I explained that riding the camel made me queasy and that I wanted to buy a horse. The caravanner explained: “There is no horse for sale.” He looked at me for a moment, and added: “However, one of the crew, a brave man, is running a high fever. He was given the option to return, but for the time being he has decided to continue. In the event he is unable to go on, you can have his horse.” Pleased with that response, I gave him my right hand to seal the commitment. The caravanner shook it.
With the caravan moving on, I could not help trying to find who was the sick man. It wasn’t hard to identify him, a man bent over himself, on the horse, at a slow stride, being aided by two other men on camels. We continued for about two hours when an order was given for the caravan to halt, and news broke that that man had passed away. We were asked to form a large circle. In the center, a swift, and yet respectful burial was made. Some prayers for the rest of that soul were recited.
In no time came the order for everyone to resume their places. The caravan would move on. Just as life. Boldly, with no dramas. I was waiting for my horse. I set aside the money to pay for it, but nothing was asked or delivered. We continued for hours. Almost at sunset, I noticed another pilgrim riding the horse that was supposed to be given to me. Upset with that absurd situation, as soon as the caravan halted, this time to set camp for the night, I decided to look for the caravanner, to ask him about the commitment he had given me. After all, he had given his word when he shook my hand.
However, that was not necessary. I was helping myself to a flavorful lamb-and-vegetable stew when he came, filled up his bowl and invited me to sit next to him. Once we were seated a bit distant from the group, he said: “I could not give you the horse. I was forced to change my decision due to new events.” I immediately voiced my protest. I reminded him we had a commitment. More than that, we had shaken hands. I said that a man is worth as much as his word. I had reason to be angry and felt entitled to provoke the caravanner. He seemed to take no offense. On the contrary, quite composedly, he explained the reasons why he changed his mind: “I received word that a dangerous nomad tribe has been following us from afar. They are known for how fiercely they do their raids. He took food to his mouth, chewed it in silence, swallowed and continued: “I lost one of the bravest man from the crew. Soon after, I was told that one of the travelers is a shrewd officer of the Moroccan Army special forces, who is traveling to visit some relatives who live in the oasis. He offered to reinforce security, without receiving any payment. I thought it appropriate to give him the horse, at no charge, and include him in the caravan’s security crew. I ask you to please understand.” Overexcited, I rebutted that despite the reason, that conversation was but the communication of a business agreement that was not kept. I said it was unacceptable to unilaterally break a commitment, without my agreement or even consulting me. Once again, I reminded him he had given his word. Keeping his cool, the caravanner replied: “My word is quite worthy, but it is always connected to the truth.” He motioned good-bye with his head, stood up and disappeared in the middle of the caravan. Later on, when the noise had abated and people were getting ready to sleep, I was still rolling in my sleeping bag, entangled in a mix of insomnia and irritation. I got up and went to the top of a dune, to meditate close to the stars. At some point, I realized that, from afar, two lapis lazuli colored stars were observing me. The gorgeous woman, whom I had not seen for the entire day, was seated at a distance, on the other side of that dune.
I walked towards her; as she made no objection, I got close. With her face illuminated by the stars, she pointed to a place where I should sit. Not too close, not too far, but at a distance we could speak with a soft tone of voice, with no major interaction. Without her uttering a word, I voiced all my dissatisfaction with the behavior of the caravanner in that situation. I made a point of highlighting that he had stained his honor by not sticking to his word. The woman heard me impassively, letting me vent out all the resentment that assailed me. At the end, she remarked: “The word of a person must be aligned to the truth they carry in their hearts. Simple, clear, calm, and pure. Honor is related to the virtues of frankness and honesty, which translate into the exercise of truth before others and before oneself. Therefore, these virtues are necessary for dignity.”
I insisted that where I had come from, the word had an absolute value, and was connected to one’s honor. She rebutted: “This is not a cultural matter but allowing yourself a new way of being and living. Without the weight of guilt but with the commitment to truth, which, because it is alive and in a learning process, changes with the expansion of awareness and the capacity to love. This makes freedom possible.”
I said I had not understood and asked her to further explain the idea. She obliged, patiently: “When we give our word, we act in bad faith if we do not comply with our commitment. A commitment cannot be undone out of vanity or mood swings. This reveals weakness in character. However, there may be a good, well-grounded reason for that. You must bear in mind that the word that was given must be associated with the truth. Truth is always connected to what is good, it is the conscious manifestation of the light. How should one behave when there is a fact or an appreciation that changes the understanding of that reality? Should we stick to the word, even if goes astray from truth and light? This would be like consciously allowing evil to occur.”
That perspective disconcerted me, and probably my face displayed the surprise I felt with the explanation, as she made a point of giving an example: “Imagine a king that sentences a criminal to be hanged. Bear in mind that the word of he who speaks it is similar to the passing of a sentence by someone with authority to do so. Close to the time that poor soul has to go to the scaffold, to end his days in this existence, a new, indisputable fact is disclosed that proves the innocence of the convicted man. Should the king keep his word or recant it? Is retracting in the face of a new truth a mistake? Is there dignity in keeping one’s word, even when one realizes the error? See that when the sentence was passed, there was dignity in it, as one thought it was a rightful one. However, truth changed in light of a new reality. Is there dignity in keeping the word in face of an error one knows of?”
“When I was a child, I often listened to the saying ‘a king’s word cannot be recanted’. Well, if a king does not have the necessary virtues to review a stand he has taken, whatever it is, he does not deserve to be a master of himself.”
“To keep one’s word, even in face of new, life-changing events, reflects the stubbornness of atavistic, gloom conditionings of pride and vanity. It shows fear in face of the opinion of others to admit they have erred, in dealing with the new or in regard to the freedom one has to think or to be different. For centuries, primitive and ill-intentioned minds have disrupted the sense of the word as an instrument for doing good, imposing a false concept of honor with the purpose of manipulating the choice of others in favor of their selfish, often shady, interests. Subconsciously we assimilate these manners. On the other hand, one must have humility and simplicity to go to the other person and admit that their gaze has changed, that they were wrong, apologize for the trouble, make amends to compensate any damage caused, and move on in peace, because regardless of what others may say, one must be compassionate with those who remained unreconciled. Peace stems from the perception of walking on the sunny side of the Path. Then, peace will no longer be a transient concession, but a final achievement.”
She paused briefly to look at the stars as someone looking for inspiration and added: “To recant the word given as long as this is made to stick to the truth is not dishonorable, it is actually something dignified. It is an attitude of respect with the commitment one has to oneself and the light. Prior to the word given to someone, one’s primary commitment is with the light. If something changes between the time an agreement was made and the time of its execution, one should stick to the truth, even if that forces the recanting of the word given.” She looked me in the eyes and completed the message: “Even if I have to face rebellion, cursing, misunderstanding, provocation or backstabbing. Hence, courage, patience, tolerance, in addition to love, of course, are necessary. To be dignified is to live according to the truth. To experience the truth is to move towards light. When we look at the map of life can see different courses for the desired destination. Sometimes, a course must be changed for the destination to remain unaltered. To that end, we must perfect our choices every day, always guided by the virtues and in tandem with their unavoidable transformations.”
I asked her if she thought the caravanner had stained his honor. She shrugged her shoulder and said: “I believe he changed the commitment he had with you for a greater good. It seems fair to me. He is responsible for giving his best efforts for the caravan to reach its destination.” She looked at me with her lapis-lazuli eyes and advised: “Close your eyes and think for yourself. Understanding is your fortune and heritage.”
When I opened my eyes again, it was dawn already. And the woman was gone.
Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.