I have the habit of accepting, as far as possible, all the invitations that are made to me. I believe that sometimes they may be the doors I seek for the inevitable existential changes or precious lessons that add so much and prepare me for the transformations that are to come. I was invited to participate in the first edition of a literary fair that would take place in a small and pleasant town in the countryside. More out of enthusiasm than thoughtfulness, I confirmed my presence. Later, as I reasoned about the logistics of the displacement and the period of stay, I realised that I would lack time to fulfil other commitments, besides issues related to my work at the publishing house. I was sitting at my desk, with an open agenda on the table, and with my mobile phone I tried to reallocate the tasks to allow me to participate in the fair. The biggest obstacle was the launch of the debut book of a young writer, also a sociologist, on the influence of social media on parliament elections, a new and still not fully understood fact. He had researched on the subject and from this he got the resources to write the book. There was an expectation to know how the conclusions the author had reached would be received, either by the people who were directly involved in the electoral process, or those who were influenced by these practices. I have no interest in political parties, but I am interested in knowing how the internet and social media will continue to change relationships between people. I can’t even imagine all the possibilities of their reach and consequences. I believe that all things in the world are just neutral tools; the way each individual uses it determines the positive or negative polarity. From a simple knife to complex atomic power.
The literary fair, where I would give a lecture, besides presenting the publishing house´s books, was scheduled for the same day that we had scheduled the launching of Álvaro’s book, as the young sociologist was called. He was adamant about changing the dates for his event. Although there might have been a little resilience and good will on his part, the mistake was mine. It was up to me to solve the problem, as I had created it. Having to choose between the two was difficult for me because of the importance I attached to both. Maturity is consecrated in the serenity with which we deal with the facts arising from our decisions. Although we find it difficult to understand, everything in life is connected to the style of being that we choose to live. We will always be in the place where, at some point, we lead ourselves. However, we need to remember this every day.
On the one hand, the opportunity to personally take the publisher’s books to a town where there was no bookshop and most of its residents had never set foot in one. The only library in the town was in an old garage in the house of Francisco, a travelling salesman who, as a consummate reader, had collected hundreds of books over the course of his life. When he retired, he got rid of the car and set up the library, which was open to the town’s inhabitants. A childhood friend, a grammar teacher, offered writing and narrative courses to those who wanted to write better or even dreamed of becoming authors. They promoted poetry soirées, debates, literacy classes for adults, reading sessions for people who had difficulty reading and, during the fair, they would launch a collection of short stories written by the town’s inhabitants. The garage became a point of light because of the energy it began to anchor. Apart from the book, which was financed by the literary community formed around Francisco’s garage through raffles and a bazaar of used clothes, access to the books and classes was free. They did not receive a penny of government aid or sponsorship from any company. Each book was a journey, literal and metaphorical. This was enough. The fascination provided by the infinite universes contained in each story, as well as the love for what they did, nourished, united and moved all those people. How could one refuse the invitation to participate in such beauty? When I spoke to Francisco on the phone, at a certain moment he said: “Without knowledge there is no liberation”. The unlimited reach of this sentence revealed a hidden garden, with flowers that had even more vibrant colours behind the apparent perspective, already very beautiful in itself.
On the other hand, there was the launching of Álvaro’s book. Besides being the editor of the book, I had an aggravating factor that prevented me from being absent at the event. When I learned about the research he had done, I not only encouraged him to write a book with his observations and conclusions about the subject, but also invited him to become an author of the publishing house. Moreover, the date was already set when I received the invitation to attend the fair. At the very least, it would be inelegant of me. One must have the maturity to understand the commitment assumed. However, it was not only that. I had read the originals of the book and believed it contained valuable content for many reflections on how we should make good use of such powerful tools as the internet and social media. I myself considered my absence unacceptable. As Álvaro had commitments in the following weeks, I would not allow any postponement.
I made the choice of fulfilling the commitment I had previously made. I phoned Mr. Francisco and apologized for having accepted the invitation to take part in the fair before checking the agenda to see if there was any impediment. I explained the situation. I sincerely added that I would very much like to take part in the event. To mitigate the cancellation of my participation, I would send a consignment with several copies of all the titles in the publisher’s catalogue. The result of the sales would be donated to the maintenance of the Garage Library, as it was known in the city. Indirectly, it would be a way of participating in the fair and of collaborating in the beautiful work of socialising knowledge and expanding ideas carried out by Francisco. He was extremely polite when I explained it to him. He said he understood the impossibility, common to everyone. He added that it had already happened several times with him and surprised me: “Your will to participate adds a good energy to our event which, although simple if compared to the great literary fairs in the rest of the country, is of great importance to our region because it is a generating centre of infinities”.
Curious, I asked what it was all about. Mr Francisco explained: “During my life, as a travelling salesman, I have visited countless places. In all of them there was something in common: people are limited to the ideas they have about themselves and how they understand the world. Without realising it, they place themselves in boxes whose walls are the frontiers they cannot cross, because the limits are established within the reach of their own perspective. It is not that they do not want to go beyond, but because they do not believe that such a place exists. They become incapable without even realising that there is always a possibility.
He then added: “Each book hides a galaxy of ideas. Thus, with each reading session a different universe is added to those already existing in the reader, breaking down the walls of the box by the countless ways of being and living that present themselves. The choices are amplified and the destinations are multiplied. In each book a new tool for transformation. The walls disappear as our creativity shows us the infinite possibilities that did not exist before. That is why our garage has become a generating centre of infinitudes”. And he joked: “Not without reason, at many moments in history, good books have been thrown into the fire. They are dangerous instruments; they help to open many prisons”. Generous, he said he was waiting for me at any moment in the Garage Library. Enchanted by the greatness and lightness of that man, I promised that we would soon meet.
The launching of Álvaro’s book was to take place in the hall of the university where he taught some subjects. A strike by teachers, employees and students, with no date to end, which had started a few days before, made the whole program impossible. I suggested other places, but for the author it was very important that the event took place within the academic space. He asked us to postpone the launch until the situation was normalized. I accepted without any argument. On the same day, the printer called me to inform me that they would not deliver the books on the agreed date, because the paper mill had delayed in supplying them. I wasn’t sad. Chance does not exist.
With the weekend agenda now free, I called Mr. Francisco again and confirmed my presence in the book fair. I invited Álvaro to accompany me. He was sad about the postponement and accepted. A weekend out of the routine often helps to clear up ideas and calm emotions. The event was organized inside a municipal school lent by the city hall. The classrooms, emptied of desks, were used for small publishers to exhibit their books. No large publishers were interested in being present. An auditorium was set up in the multi-sports court where the lectures were happening, each one receiving a large dose of applause. There was also the launching of the collection of short stories written by local residents, who needed to have one thing in common to be in the book: the stories had to have a garage as a narrative element. Thus, the title of the book, The garage tales, was also a tribute to the place where the transformations happened in that city. Although simple and of small proportions, the fair was very well organised and attracted residents of the neighbouring municipalities because of the unusual proposal it presented. Without a doubt, it was a success, as it reached its objective.
While I was serving the public at my publisher’s stand – in fact, just a table where the books were displayed – Álvaro picked up a copy of the collection written by the people who frequented Francisco’s garage and, out of mere curiosity, he leafed through it. Something caught his attention, he sat down in a corner of the room and read it until the end of the evening, when the party was over. On our way back to the hotel, he confessed to be amazed at the quality of most of the stories: “Without the slightest doubt, renowned authors would sign some of those stories as if they were their own, because they would like to have written them.” As if something else had stirred him, he became entangled in his thoughts and remained silent.
The next day, mister Francisco picked us up at the hotel so that we could get to know his garage. When I enter certain temples, I have always had the pleasant and strange sensation of being transported to another dimension, such is the difference in energetic frequency that exists inside some of these places. They are places with the proper ethereal protections due to the light they keep inside. Francisco’s garage was no different. There was an enchanting force in that place, as if invisible masters had gathered there to intuit, facilitate the understanding and expression of those who frequented it. Carefully arranged on shelves, the books were displayed like the works of art they actually are. Unlike a museum, whose pieces are laid out only for display, the books were there to be handled and read; a different way of interaction. In the centre, a few tables with chairs for reading and studying. I looked at Álvaro, used to the environment of universities, cathedrals consecrated to knowledge, and I realized that his feeling was similar to mine: everything very simple, everything very powerful. It was small, but great. Knowledge as a tool to transform lives and move gifts and dreams. His garage had become a sacred temple. As sacred is everything that improves us and pushes us towards evolution.
Mister Francisco, a man of modest existence and humble ways, was the priest and guardian of that temple. Inside, several portals were available for those who were willing to prepare themselves to go through them. A passage from the Sermon on the Mount occurred to me: “Seek and ye shall find. Knock and it shall be opened to you.” The path will never be denied to the willing walker. However, the sacred dwells in the details of all the things of the world, in the unusualness of the days and the subtlety of each moment; it is in the dedication, in the joy of interior movement, in the love that involves the gesture. For this, all that is needed is understanding and will.
Little by little the people who frequented the garage arrived. I noticed Álvaro’s interest in talking to each one of them. Excited, they told me how their lives had changed since they had started reading different books, talking about their discoveries, understanding that the borders of the world are established by the limits of our perspective. Álvaro’s interest became astonished when people told him that the change generated in the small group in the garage was beginning to be reflected in the behaviour of the whole city. Without inflammatory speeches, ultramodern technological mechanisms or large sums of money. The effects of the sincere and serene transformation inside each frequenter showed how small gestures have more transforming force than the power of a thousand armies, of enormous fortunes or the influence of any propaganda. When changes are made from the outside in, they become ephemeral due to the absence of consciential pillars to support any transformation. On the contrary, when the will to change arises in the core of the individual, founded by the conscience in honest progress and by the virtues present in small attitudes, the transformation is like an avalanche that is impossible to contain. When it happens inside a person, it will be given the primordial step to reach everyone around us.
This was Álvaro’s comment as a conclusion to the conversations he had had with the regulars, late in the afternoon, when the three of us were alone. The sociologist was deeply impressed with how mister Francisco had achieved so much with so little. The travelling salesman frowned and explained: “There is nothing original about what I have done. Centuries ago, the ancient Greeks and Chinese, whether through Stoicism or Taoism, taught that the only revolution that does not recede is that of consciousness. An infinite and immeasurable power. All others are vain and temporary”.
Francisco continued: “If we pay attention, we will see that the true and profound historical transformations were made by individuals who did not possess more than a few cents, without technological devices, weapons or hate speech. The most angular of them was a man who had only a tunic and a pair of sandals, who, alongside a dozen simple men, some even illiterate, travelled through a few towns and villages, in an almost forgotten corner of the world, far from the political and economic power of the time, with only love, virtues and an unshakable will as tools. In truth, these people had only themselves. They were persecuted, mistreated, renegades and almost all of them were murdered. Their gestures and words served as the lines of a book that this man never wrote, but which definitively changed the course of humanity in the following millennia. After him, countless generals and emperors continued to arise, with their machines of killing and destruction, with their financial mechanisms of denial, domination and persuasion. They erected monuments and statues in their own honour. All, without exception, became sad footnotes in the encyclopaedia of history. The greatest revolution of humanity was made without the need to use weapons or money. When the will comes from the heart, with little you can do a lot”.
It was time to return. We said goodbye to Francisco, with the sincere promise of returning at the next edition of the Garage Literary Fair. I learned that some of the regulars were already venturing into writing novels. I offered myself as editor to the authors born from that simple and brilliant idea.
In the car, Álvaro and I followed the curves of the road in silence. There were many ideas that needed better understanding to become good tools. At a certain point of the trip, the sociologist asked me if it was possible to add another chapter to the book he had written about the influence of the internet and social media on parliament elections. I told him that if the printer had not yet started printing, yes, any addition or change in the text would be allowed. I wanted to know what he was thinking of changing in the book. Álvaro explained: “The conclusion of my research made me believe in the enormous behavioral influence generated by social media; how segmented and obscure interests would pour oceans of money to use this instrument that we are still learning to use to their own benefit. Is this a lie? Of course not. However, when we use the tools of the world as a means of manipulation, no effective transformation occurs, they are temporal changes that last only until the next season. Despite the enormous influence they have, in truth nothing changes because they do not bring about any transformation in people’s inner selves. When speeches and beliefs change, but individual consciousness does not expand, nothing advances. There is a lot of talk about the financial power in elections, about the lies and deceptions they deliberately provoke; about the violence incited by the dispute of interests. Is this true? Yes, there is no denying it. However, it is all make-up and, as such, lasts only until dawn. Can the Internet provide good solutions? No doubt, many wonderful things have already been done through it. Every comfort is welcome, but we cannot continue thinking about large-scale social changes, such as ways of living well, impacted only by government policies, without consciential transformations. Individual evolution is a path that needs to be followed for there to be effective progress in the world. We need more garages like Francisco´s. I have to write a chapter about that. For true transformations we need very little. All that is needed is love and willpower”.
Then he said: “Although the journey is long, it is amazing how little we need to start significant changes in our lives. It doesn’t take much for what is essential to blossom and for a dream to begin to come true.”
We went on in silence until I left Álvaro at the door of his house. Before getting out of the car, he asked me to tell the designer who does the covers for the publishing house that he would change the title of his book. Surprised, I asked what it would be. Seriously, the sociologist replied: “a little is enough”.
Translated by: Cazmilian Zórdic.