I have marvellous friends. Different personalities, different tastes, and contrasting views of reality. So much diversity enriches me because the possibilities are multiplied in our coexistence. It’s not always easy, but it’s lovely. It so happened that one of them, Eduardo, really messed up with another, Paulo, to the point where he felt betrayed in the relationship of trust that is essential to any friendship. He spent some time feeling resentful and, knowing that hurt is a prison and a poison, he tried to forgive. When he couldn’t, he came to talk to me. I pointed out that they had known each other for many years and had experienced many nice things together. I tried to make him see that, between the pros and cons, the balance was positive. We talked about how important it was for him to pacify the issue within himself, not only because it was a liberating gesture, but also so that coexistence with his other friends wouldn’t be jeopardised, in which case everyone would lose out. I suggested that they talk it over so that all the rough edges could be ironed out. Paulo could explain the reasons for his resentment, giving Eduardo the opportunity to explain his motivations. I think one of the biggest reasons for conflicts is a lack of communication. As long as we stubbornly try to guess the intrinsic universe of other people, we will continue to sow problems. You have to make an effort to understand and, if possible, be patient with the mess in each person’s internal drawers. We all have our own stories and difficulties and are therefore deserving of compassion. And so it was. Paulo approached Eduardo for a honest and calming conversation. When he explained the reasons for his hurt, he was taken aback by Eduardo’s reaction, who swore he hadn’t even noticed the upset he had caused his friend; he apologised, promised to be more careful, they hugged and everything ended well.
That was a lie. Nothing had been solved.
They were both lying, each to himself. Nothing was right. Every time we met, the most attentive of us could notice an uncomfortable atmosphere. There was no aggression, not even through hateful sarcasm or violent contempt. To the absent-minded, the conversations seemed to go smoothly. Although Eduardo had apologised, something in Paulo prevented him from forgiving him. He couldn’t convince himself that Eduardo, at the time, lacked the sensitivity to realise the mistakes he had made. He considered the possibility of moving away from him, but this would distance him from his other friends, as they all got together frequently.
Paulo told himself that he was a good man, a good person, and people like that don’t carry grudges because they know the importance of forgiveness as an instrument of freedom and evolution. He knew that resentment was a cruel prison with no bars. No, he wouldn’t allow himself to have his own shadows as jailers and foremen. He had already forgiven Eduardo, he repeated silently every time he met him. However, he felt uncomfortable not only with his presence, but more seriously, the mere memory of his friend was enough to bring bitterness to his soul. “I am a warrior of the Light,” he proclaimed silently in moments of acute suffering. In order not to admit that he was incapable of forgiving, he would smother the memory when it came to mind. Although he had already forgiven several people and had been forgiven by several others because of his own mistakes, Paulo couldn’t do it, but neither could he admit his inability to forgive Eduardo.
In April, that same year, the conjunction of the Easter, Tiradentes and São Jorge holidays, the latter typical of Rio de Janeiro, were interspersed in a short space of time, which allowed us almost ten days off. One of our friends, the owner of a centuries-old coffee plantation on the border with São Paulo, where there was a huge colonial mansion with many rooms, invited everyone for a period of rest and socialising.
On the morning of the second day, we went to play football. Paulo and Eduardo were on opposite teams and, at the first opportunity, Paulo gave Eduardo a violent and, of course, unnecessary foul when he tried to dribble past him. There was a brief silence caused by the unease. Nobody understood why. Paulo mumbled that he hadn’t meant to and apologised. The game continued. I suspected I had noticed a quick morbid pleasure on Paulo’s features, typical of when we release a little of the hatred that suffocates us. Like a drug that we become addicted to without realising it, it seemed clear to me that he was waiting for another opportunity for another violent act disguised as a sport that requires physical contact. It didn’t happen, the match ended before he could repeat the gesture. But he was left with a taste for more. Hatred has that nefarious power.
In the afternoon, we organised a Buraco championship. When we drew lots for the pairs, Paulo found a way to team up with Eduardo, who loved the card game. As I was already aware of the dispute, it seemed clear to me that Paulo intended for them to lose every round. He took great pleasure in seeing Eduardo’s irritation with every deliberately stupid move he made, just to annoy his colleague, who complained a lot about Paulo’s inattention when they were eliminated. I thought I saw a hidden smile of satisfaction in Paulo’s eyes.
That’s when one of the children bumped into Paulo’s arm, where there was a bandage covering a wound. It was bleeding. I immediately offered to help him tend to the wound. We walked away. Alone, while we sorted out the necessary medicines, I got straight to the point: “Before you lose control of yourself completely, and grief often provokes this kind of reaction, I think you should solve your problem with Eduardo.”
Paulo denied that there was any resentment left. He claimed that he had already forgiven him. He gave a perfect speech on the wonders of forgiveness, as well as explaining with certainty the reasons for respecting each person’s consciential limits. He confessed that the conversation he had with Eduardo had proved fruitless. Although his friend had apologised for his mistake, he realised that he had no sincere idea of the harm he had caused and the reasons why he, Paulo, had been so hurt. He maintained that there was nothing more he could do, because now it was a question of Eduardo’s own understanding. While I was removing the bandage, I said: “You have forgiven him in your mind. Understanding is an important first step. However, it’s not enough. Your heart needs to accept Eduardo. Now you need to feel the forgiveness. Or forgiveness will never happen.”
Before he could insist that he had already forgiven, I continued: “You are an educated man and you know the exact theory about the importance of forgiveness for freedom. After all, hatred will always be a prison, making you your own jailer. Days become bitter and life becomes narrow. Many know all about forgiveness, very few can forgive.”
Paulo’s eyes fled from mine, and, for a brief moment, they told me the truth that he knew but denied to himself. At that moment, when I examined the wound, I realised that it was a furuncle, a type of infection that accumulates a bacterial mass made up of pus and necrotic tissue in the subcutaneous region which, as well as spreading harmful agents into the bloodstream, prevents healing until it is removed. “We have to extract it, otherwise the wound will get worse,” I explained. He agreed.
After properly cleaning the area, and with very few memories of medical school, I squeezed hard between my fingers until the purulent core of the wound popped out of Paulo’s arm. It bled a lot. He cried out in pain and made a disgusted face at the sight of the fetid, noxious mass. Then he closed his eyes and breathed a sigh of relief, certain that he had freed himself from something that was poisoning him. Before throwing the remnants in the bin, I showed it to him and asked: “Do you know what this is called?”. Without waiting for an answer, I said: “Hatred, also known as sorrow or resentment”.
Paul asked if the furuncle was the somatisation of his degraded emotions. I was honest: “Not necessarily. Although suffering and dense emotions generate harmful reflexes in the physical body and even very serious illnesses, on the other hand, subtle feelings provide healing and well-being. It is necessary to understand the specific healing therapy of forgiveness. Without the purging of hatred, there will be no end to suffering. The healing will only be superficial, and, at any moment, the wound will bother you again. Don’t be afraid to make it bleed until the necessary purification has taken place.”
“To purge means to cleanse thoroughly, without leaving any traces of impurity. It’s no use having perfect reasoning that is out of sync with the lack of space in your heart. The soul resents and shrinks. As long as there is hatred, there will be no healing.”
“Forgiveness is a virtue and, as such, an indispensable evolutionary tool. Wisdom shows us its importance. However, you can’t purge hatred without the fingers of love.”
While Paulo was thinking about that idea and I was finishing the bandage, we were surprised by Eduardo’s entrance. He came on the pretext of finding out if everything was all right; however, there was a subliminal intention to complain about the way his friend had behaved in the card game.
It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Paulo looked at the rubbish bin where we had disposed of the furuncle, looked at his colleague again and started the purge: “I’m amazed at how you feel so upset about losing a mere game of cards, while you’ve never shown any annoyance or regret at the serious mistakes you’ve made against me”. Eduardo claimed that he recognised his mistake and had already apologised. “Isn’t that enough?” he asked.
“No!” said Paulo. “Words are not enough when they are not accompanied by true feeling. It’s not enough to realise that you’ve made a mistake, you need a gesture beyond words, however small, to show the other person that you understand and, even more importantly, that you feel the pain you caused.”
Eduardo asked: “What do you want? For me to wallow in guilt, is that it? Know that it won’t happen.” and Paul explained: “I don’t want you to feel guilt, there’s no need for such a burden. I’m talking about responsibility and love; perception and sensitivity. By showing that your words were unaccompanied by the true feeling that gives them meaning and greatness, you took the real content out of them. It was empty, as if it hadn’t been spoken. Worse, you showed insensitivity, not only to the pain you caused, but you made it worse by not caring about the value of forgiveness and friendship.”
The trivialisation of the apology had been the cause of a subsequent evil, even more acute than the one committed initially. So the facts added up to cause even greater suffering. I hadn’t thought of this. It was true.
The word should never be used without being accompanied by the perfect feeling that animates it. When you trivialise forgiveness, you belittle love and show contempt for the other person. Although in appearance it may seem perfect, in essence it increases the degree of evil practised by deepening the pain.
“When I apologised, I thought the matter had been solved,” Eduardo said. Paulo clarified: “It was at this point that the problem got worse. The empty word made me realise how little or no importance you gave to my suffering or the seriousness of the facts. I know that doesn’t say much about me, but it does say how much you can understand and feel about yourself and the world around you. It hurt a lot, but now, by expressing my feelings, I have expelled what prevented me from forgiving,” and he looked at the bandage over the wound on his arm, which was in the process of healing definitively. An image that helped him construct a gesture.
Eduardo claimed that it was all too exaggerated and dramatic. Paulo turned to his friend and, for a few moments, I could see the clear glow that was already beginning to emanate from his face. A valuable transformation was taking place within him at that moment. He then explained with clarity and sincerity: “When we truly feel the evil we have done, we will never do it again. Otherwise, mistakes and repeated apologies will remain in the shallows of existence and become a commonplace habit, devoid of any value.”
Then, with an impressive, serene tone in his voice, he concluded: “It doesn’t matter that you don’t understand what you’ve done. I managed to remove from myself what was making me suffer. The purge allowed me to forgive, and forgiveness brought me back to the light. It’s all sorted out for me. From now on, it will be you with yourself; go in peace.”
Eduardo left shaking his head as if to say that the conversation made no sense. We sat in silence for a long time. Then Paulo broke the silence: “Thank you for helping me get out of where I was. I let myself be dragged into the darkness. I’ll pay more attention, so it doesn’t happen again.” I waved my hand to signal that he was wrong and confessed: “I learnt more than I taught. I had never realised how words, no matter how beautiful and noble they are, when unaccompanied by true feeling, become the source of even greater evil, and not the good that should translate their original meaning.”
“What’s more, I’ve learnt how fundamental it is not only to realise the mistake we’ve made, but also to feel the pain we’ve caused others. Not out of guilt, but as a lesson. Only then will we be free from repeating obsolete and unnecessary ways of being and living.”
“Sincerity is intrinsically dealing with the truth. Only then do our apologies become honest.”
We returned to the room. People were chatting and enjoying themselves. Eduardo was sitting at the card table replacing a friend who had gone to the kitchen to prepare dinner. Nobody had realised what had just happened in the other room of the house. Everything was as before. However, a lot had changed. I had been given a marvellous lesson and a fantastic transformation had taken place with Paulo; he was free of the hatred that had been plaguing him for months. As for Eduardo, even without realising it, he had taken a bright idea with him. Perhaps it would take a long time for it to blossom, but one day it would happen. Inexorably. Good seeds never fail to germinate. Life doesn’t give up on anyone and, in its own way – not always gentle, but undeniably fair – it would plough that soil.
Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.