Luck never abandons us

Loureiro’s workshop, the shoemaker who loved red wines and philosophy books, was closed. His opening hours were famously unusual. He usually started work in the early hours of the morning, when the stars were high, to finish at lunchtime. I had finished another period of study at the monastery and had hitched a ride down the mountain in the market lorry before dawn. As the train that would take me to the nearest town was still a long way off, I took the opportunity to chat to Loureiro and marvelled at his ability to sew ideas, in equal mastery as he did with leather.  That time, luck didn’t seem to be on my side. With nothing to do, I headed for the station, where a café was open all night long. I settled down at one of the many tables. I ordered a cup of coffee and toasted bread with butter accompanied by a slice of the region’s good cheese. In the background, jazz in the voice of Nat King Cole. From my backpack I took out a book, The Next Step, by Marcelo Cezar. I could stay there for days without any problems. As dawn broke, other passengers arrived to occupy the tables while they waited for the train. Through the glass window, I would sometimes stop to reflect on the content of the reading and distract myself by watching the people passing by on the platform. Near boarding time, I was surprised by the entrance of Loureiro, always elegant in dress and demeanour, pulling a small suitcase. We discovered that we were travelling in the same carriage. Luck had smiled to me again. We celebrated with two double cups of coffee.

In this metropolis, from where I would be travelling to Brazil, Loureiro would visit his brother, a very successful businessman, who was recovering from a delicate surgery. He would also take the opportunity to visit his sister, who lived in the same city. I hadn’t seen them for some time. It was a quick journey, less than two hours long. Whilst still on the train, I received a message that my flight was delayed and I wouldn’t be boarding until the evening. The shoemaker invited me to join him. I accepted immediately.

I was startled to arrive at his brother’s house. It was a small 19th century mansion, finely refurbished and decorated. There was refinement and good taste. We were greeted by an employee who directed us to the dining room. A huge table full of delicacies awaited us for breakfast. It took Jean, Loureiro’s brother, a few minutes to come down from his room. That’s when Jean’s son arrived, a young man in his thirties. Raul, that was his name, worked with his father. When he saw his uncle, he smiled and gave Loureiro a tight hug. We were introduced and the young man was kind and attentive. The conversation was lively and the young man recalled a holiday when he had gone camping with his uncle as a teenager. They laughed about the events as they recalled them. Like a scene change in a film, Raul’s demeanour suddenly changed as soon as his parents entered. The young man’s physiognomy went from easy laughter to circumspection. He greeted his parents politely, almost formally. Breakfast seemed uncomfortable to me, as if there was an implicit hurry to get it over with. His mother asked about her grandchildren, satisfied that they were fine. She wasn’t interested in any more details. The conversation with the father was limited to the business of the company, which the son had temporarily taken over while Jean was recovering. When an opportunity arose, Loureiro began a series of questions about his nephew’s wife and children. The young man smiled broadly and animatedly told them about the boys’ school, their antics and the trip they were going on holiday to the beach. He said that his wife had finished university and was looking for a job. The mother, politely, as if making a casual comment, pointed out that the girl’s university was far from being as prestigious as the one her son had attended, which was probably the reason for her difficulty in finding work. The boy’s smile disappeared. As in a scene repeated many times, Jean interrupted the conversation in a serious manner, asking Raul other questions about the events at the company, showing that there was something more important to deal with. For me, there was another feeling: by abruptly diverting the conversation, perhaps the intention was to show that his daughter-in-law’s difficulties were not part of his list of interests. I realised that the daughter-in-law would never have a place in the family business, at least not while the in-laws were in control. Without delay, the nephew said goodbye, as he was going to work. The young man left. The shoemaker then tried to strike up a conversation about personal matters, things that create bonds and intimacy. A family needs this closeness and even complicity. However, Jean answered those questions superficially and then diverted the conversation to mundane matters such as politics and sport. Another well-rehearsed scene. In that house, there was a wall between souls that was very difficult to cross. Before long, we were saying goodbye with the same formality that closes a business meeting.

It took us almost half an hour to reach the outskirts of the city. It didn’t feel like the same city; in fact, maybe it wasn’t. The taxi dropped us off in a street that used to be an old workers’ village, with all the houses exactly the same, built at the beginning of the last century, during the industrialisation phase of the region, so that employees wouldn’t take long to get to the textile factory, which had succumbed to the business processes of modernisation and inheritance litigation. What remained were the houses that were sold to the former employees with government funding. It was a very simple neighbourhood which, despite the obvious difficulties, seemed well organised to me. There were still small markets and service shops to cater for the residents, something that was no longer found in the sophisticated sectors of the city. I immediately sympathised with the place, as it reminded me, in a much improved version, of Estácio, the neighbourhood where I grew up in Rio de Janeiro.

We were greeted by Loureiro’s sister Maria. When she saw the taxi pull up, she stepped out onto the pavement with open arms and a broad smile. She welcomed me as if we were childhood friends. Before I knew it, I was home. A shabby sofa with frayed fabric and crooked feet happily accommodated us. Without delay, Maria and Loureiro fell into a lively conversation about their children, the delights and setbacks that come from relationships. From the living room, very close to the kitchen, we could see the pots on the stove; the delicious aroma made me long for that lunch. Maria had prepared the food and summoned the four children to have lunch with their uncle. It was going to be a happy day for the nephews, who loved Loureiro.

As well as Maria’s children, I was surprised by the arrival of Anne, who had also been invited to lunch. Anne was the young woman married to Raul. Her parents also lived in the workers’ village and were immigrants. Most immigrants have a beautiful story of overcoming that is almost never written down. I’ve always admired and respected their courage and determination. It was at Maria’s house that Anne and Raul met and started dating. I talked to her a lot. She told me that her parents had come from Africa; they had faced many setbacks, but despite the difficulties, or perhaps because of them, they had stuck together. They took care to ensure that the strength of one person was passed on to the others; everyone was strengthened to face the difficulties and move on. If the inner source of balance and strength lies at the centre of our being, the family represents a powerful external source of these same attributes.

This idea became clearer to me during lunch. As there wasn’t room for everyone at the table, I had lunch sitting on the sofa. As a privileged observer, I was able to watch the scene in which the young men and women spoke openly about their current problems. Some made suggestions, others offered sincere words of enthusiasm, hope and encouragement; in some way, everyone was interested and took part in everyone else’s life. There were no walls inside that house.

It was a marvellous afternoon. The boys and girls left after lunch, because they had their chores and jobs. I stayed with Maria and Loureiro until it was time to leave for the airport. I said goodbye to her with the desire to stay and the promise that I would return soon. That house was enchanting. Inside that house, there was an awakened home; a home is a house with a soul. Not every house can be a home. A house is a place that shelters people; a home shelters a family. What differentiates one from the other are the interpersonal walls.

On the way to the airport, Loureiro asked me the reason for my sad eyes. I confessed that after that day, from everything I had seen at both Jean and Maria’s house, I realised that I had never lived in a home, nor had I ever had a family.

I remembered that my parents divorced when my siblings and I were teenagers, still quite immature. The immature never perceive themselves as such, since they would show a good deal of maturity if they did. It was a complicated and nebulous period. My parents were more interested in living their new love experiences; their children were free to get to know the world without any pre-established rules, the reason for many misunderstandings and sufferings. We never lacked anything essential, at least in material terms. Although we lived in a working-class neighbourhood, we had food on the table, clean clothes to wear and good schools to attend. There was a house with a certain address; since the separation, we’ve never had a home. Nor a family.

A sharp pain made me let out a stray tear. Loureiro warned me that the past is a source of knowledge, never of suffering. It’s up to each of us to take the right direction so that our experiences are useful and valuable: “Let your mind pacify your emotions. Never let them travel in the opposite direction, in other words, letting your passions get in the way of your thoughts. All suffering is a mistake since it can be undone by the right idea. Find the hidden master behind every experience; this balances and strengthens us.”

I admitted that I wasn’t crying for the past, but for the present. I had been through a few marriages and, as he knew, I had two daughters. I loved them too much. However, as a repetition of an old pattern, they decided at an early age to study in distant places, each on a different continent. A long distance separated us. I hadn’t given them a home. Nor a family.

I had failed. That day had allowed me to realise exactly that.

Loureiro frowned and said sternly: “Cut the drama. Otherwise you’ll be sitting by the side of the road, wailing uselessly.” He paused for a moment before beginning to reason: “In fact, today we’ve had real demonstrations of the difference between a house and a home. “need to develop in this existence in order to better understand some of life’s fundamental concepts. Even when they arise from unhappiness. Nothing is for nothing. Understand the reason for each person in your life, their beauties and difficulties, as well as the learning that comes from these differences. Accept what distance has taught you. Understand that all the people on your path are important to your destiny. Even those who have moved away. You only understood the importance of a home because you lived in a house without a soul; you only realised the value of a family as an extrinsic source of strength and balance because you only had yourself as an intrinsic source of these essential attributes for moving forward. Believe me, you needed to go through this. An experience that has given you new meanings. Rejoice in it.”

Loureiro was right. It wasn’t hard to look back and remember, as a young man, how I had disdained the importance of family, a concept of coexistence that I considered outdated and an impediment to a free life. I admitted that I knew nothing about freedom. The shoemaker reminded me: “Nothing is lost, everything is transformed. It’s up to you now to make good use of what you’ve learnt and apply it to your everyday life.” I said it was too late, my daughters were grown up and distant. It was no longer possible for me to have a family. Loureiro spoke firmly again: “How long are you going to insist on drama and imprison yourself in limiting ideas? Change the dark lenses through which you insist on looking at this issue. Nothing is lost if you take it to your own laboratory. There, every experience will be developed into new labour, a different way of being and living. That’s how we innovate.”

He showed a different and unusual angle: “Anyone who believes that traditional family patterns are necessarily better or the only possible models is mistaken. People are different, so there can be no single model that works for everyone. Although the importance of family and home remains true, behaviour patterns have changed. After all, everything changes all the time, impermanence is the eternal constant of life. Yes, it is possible to make the concepts of family and home more flexible in contemporary times. A home doesn’t have to exist in a single house; a family doesn’t have to be formed according to pre-established moulds, nor does it need to be linked only by blood ties. The right address for a house is the name of a street; for a home, the address is the heart. True friends make up a real cosmic family; so do adopted children, just to give a few examples, but there are many others. A home can be made up of houses with different addresses, but united under the soul of the same home”.

I said that I hadn’t understood how that concept applied to me. I said that I had got used to living alone and I liked it. I’d learnt that living alone isn’t a problem; living empty is. I didn’t think that was the case for me, because there was sincere joy in the routine of my days. I felt good about the lifestyle I had chosen for myself. However, I confessed that I missed having a family. The shoemaker sewed the idea together with his usual mastery: “To have a home and a family, you don’t need the same address or surname. Wisdom and love are enough. The fact that you’re able to live well with yourself is the first step so that there are no emotional relationships that get in the way of maintaining a home and a family. Then, as far as I know, you have half a dozen true friends; if they are cultivated, the family ties between you will intensify. You also have a marvellous girlfriend who, if you nurture the love that unites you, will form a real family, even though you live in different streets. Love brings the complicity that is essential to a family and a home”.

I confessed that I feared I had lost my daughters. Perhaps they would form their own families and homes without me being included in them. Loureiro shook his head, as if I was refusing to see the infinite possibilities that life always offers: “In other words, family and home are safe harbours for all those who understand their importance and are willing to either be a boat or a pier. In fact, the pier for his daughters’ safe navigation was always his father’s heart. Despite the countless difficulties and unusual routines, they could always count on you. You never let them sail adrift. Even if they don’t say it, they know and feel it. In stormy times, they know where they can take cover. This gives them the real feeling of having a home and belonging to a family. Their unusual family.”

He arched his lips in a gentle smile and remarked: “You have a very unusual family, in accordance to the rhythm of your soul, but it’s certainly a beautiful family.” He paused and finished: “I’m not different from most people. It’s up to us to look after them, home and family, regardless of the moulds we choose. The fundamental thing is to never stop sheltering all those who need shelter during the hardships of life. This is the soul of a home; this is how we break down the walls so that a family can settle in our hearts.”

He winked and told me a secret: “Contrary to what many people believe, luck never abandons us. We’re the ones who don’t pay attention.”

Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.

Leave a Comment