On borders and accountability

Yuri was one of those controversial friends, as free spirits usually are. No, this does not mean that he was perfect. On the contrary, he was light years away from finishing the Wheel of Samsara, a symbolism used by some oriental philosophies to explain the end of reincarnation cycles. When a spirit reaches a certain evolutionary stage, mainly in relation to the enlightenment of its shadows and consequent pacification of deranged emotions, it will continue its journey in spheres of existence more advanced and subtle than those on Earth. Yuri was a man of passionate opinions and strong personality. He quarrelled, argued and aroused antipathy with extreme ease. Still, he was charming. He kept up the constant effort to think beyond the stagnant limits of cultural conditioning and preconceptions, which, because they are dominant, usually bring the comfort of leaving us unnoticed in the crowd, without the common and severe criticism made to those who dare, not only to think differently, but to express their ideas without fear of the inevitable counter-reactions. In general, the world still has difficulty understanding that differences do not cancel each other out, but are explained by the complementation they offer.

As if each one kept a part of the truth. Only when they are together will we have it completely.

When the boldness of thinking harmonises with the serenity of feeling, an important step is taken.

I have admired him since adolescence, when I first met him. Even when I didn’t agree with some of his ideas, and this happened most of the time, it was undeniable to recognise the originality and independence he possessed. We were neighbours in Estácio, a neighbourhood in Rio that, in the past, aggregated workers and bohemians in its streets. He was about three years older than me. He had a robust physical complexion and a fearless temperament. We became friends from the day we met. He saved me from the cowardice of being beaten by a much bigger boy. In gratitude, I shared with him a chocolate bar that I had in the pocket of my shorts. Yuri adopted me as his younger brother and from that day on we were inseparable for years. He would save me from any trouble I got into, while I helped him with his schoolwork. Yuri did not like going to school. “Apart from reading, writing and doing basic maths, they don’t teach anything useful,” he would repeat to anyone who would listen. Including to the teachers. The antipathy my friend garnered was notorious.

From an early age Yuri tried to quit school, but he was persuaded to continue his studies by his mother, Dona Jandira, a seamstress famous in the neighborhood both for the fine clothes she made and for the firm hand that she raised her son with. When I started college, my parents separated and I had to move away from Estácio. At first, we still saw each other from time to time. Little by little the encounters were rare until we lost contact completely. Some years later, I returned to the neighbourhood to see again the people who were part of that important phase of my life. I found few people from that time. Some had passed away; others had moved away. Nobody knew about Yuri. It was life taking its course.

A long time later, I read in the newspaper that some protesters had been arrested for setting fire to an empty bus in a political protest. As I am averse to any form of violence to achieve or consolidate objectives, whether individual or collective, I felt uncomfortable with the news. To my amazement, I recognized Yuri in the photo of the detained people. The discomfort increased as I found myself facing a dilemma. On one side, a claims method that I abhorred. On the other, an old and good friend.

I had to make a choice. After some consideration, I called a lawyer and the next day the judge set bail for Yuri to answer the charge at liberty. I paid the bail and went to wait for him at the police station door. His smile, as soon as he saw me, was unforgettable. He gave me a tight hug and soon we were talking as if none of these so many years had passed. We went to have lunch in a delicious restaurant, very simple and no-frills, which is located in an alley next to Sala Cecília Meireles, in Lapa. 

While we were having lunch, he told me what had happened, as well as the reasons that had led him to that act. I disagreed with him and presented the contrary reasons for a gesture that I classified as savage. After looking at each other seriously for a few moments, we laughed. We had changed, but we were still the same boys from Estácio. He was more and more him; I became more myself every day. Everything that is essential remains; we drop everything else along the way. We were very different, but something brought us together.

Then, in his own style, without any beating around the bush, Yuri asked me: “Did you run to get me out of jail for love or because you believe you owe me something?”

“Debt?”, I wondered. He sneered, “If many of your bones are still in one piece, thank me. I made your parents save a fortune on orthopaedic surgeons.” We laughed a lot, it was true. I returned the kindness: “I gave you an improbable diploma as a gift, besides saving you from Mrs. Jandira’s fury”. Another truth. We laughed again. As happens when two old friends meet, we recall countless situations which, looking through the elongated lens of time, were amusing to us. Then he returned to the initial question, “Did you do it for love or not to feel guilty about turning your back on a friend in a moment of need?”

“I did it because we are friends. This is enough as it is,” I replied with conviction. I then concluded, “Friendship is a beautiful form of love.” Yuri shook his head in agreement, took a sip of wine and said, “However, love has many nuances.”

He expanded his reasoning: “We love people, the city we live in, the planet we live on; the knowledge books bring, the magic provided by nature and the comfort offered by science. We love ourselves. But how much we are willing to involve ourselves determines the degree of love we have.” I asked him to explain further. Yuri was not shy: “We love the love, but we are not always committed to it.”

I pondered with him: “We have to understand the limits of each individual. We will break our backs if we try to carry a weight that we cannot bear. This is as true for the body as it is for the soul. As the poet taught, I have the feeling of the world and two hands. Each one must do what they can, within their capacity or they will exhaust themselves without being able to move forward.” Yuri again agreed, however, kept up his habit of thinking differently: “No doubt. Love is a commitment you make to yourself. Then you carry it out. Understanding one’s own frontiers is extremely wise. To widen them is a gesture of love”.

“However, as the wise men say, it is knowledge about your village that will give you the power of the world. Start by loving yourself. Learn about yourself to understand others. We are different from each other and at the same time, very similar to each other. Unique and the same. We have desires, longings, needs, pains and joys near and far.  Live well with yourself, but have a commitment to someone. And then someone else, and someone else.”

“Love without commitment is surface love.”

As the waiter served the fish, I pondered with myself. Yes, all the love we feel is real and true. However, most of it is restricted in feeling and speech. I loved the world, but I had commitment to very few people. I said there was a general lack of love, but I practised it very little. Love is an exercise. You can limit yourself to walking short distances or you can run marathons. I determine the size of the love that I know and live. I mentioned this to Yuri when we were alone again. He agreed and then argued, “However, there are many mistakes. The most common one is to see people who, in their eagerness to save the world, do not realize that their house is on fire. They have not yet understood who really needs help. It takes love within oneself to love someone. When this happens, love is in flower, it gives colours and beautifies life, but it does not yet nourish it. From flower to fruit, only the commitment to share its best part. This is life and art”.

I teased Yuri: “To love those who love us is for the weak. The strong love difficulties. Is there an advantage to this?”. He cracked a beautiful smile as he realized the trap I had set. Yuri escaped easily: “Respect is nothing more than coherence with your principles and values. It is necessary to have a link between your choices and your personal code of ethics; harmony between your life and the truth that you can already perceive.” He frowned and, after these considerations, answered the question: “Yes, there is an advantage when we follow the axis of our own consciousness. This is the direction. Love is not only feeling, it is also action. And always, reaction. Love cannot be only the landscape of the window, but a transport that leads me beyond what I am. Love does not wash its hands, far from it, it immerses itself in the suffering of the world. Then it perfumes the soul”.

“I can be saddened by someone’s despair, turn aside and then have my attention turned to another fact. Each with their own problems, I can sleep the sleep of the just with this truth. I magnify reality when I deepen the truth. For, I can stop, give a hug and offer a helping hand. I choose every aspect of it. Love gives me the compass and the exact measure of my step. Love is action.”

There was no denying it, he was right. While we were thinking, we tried the food; it was great. In homage to old times, I provoked him again: “From your words, may I conclude that love is not peace, but war?” Being an atheist, Yuri once again surprised me by mentioning a famous biblical passage contained in the Book of Matthew: “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” He looked into my eyes and reversed the provocation for knowing my appreciation: “It was Jesus who said it. Wasn’t he the master of love?”.

I closed my eyes and smiled with joy at the wonderful opportunity of that moment. I remembered the teachings of the Elder, the oldest monk in the monastery, and tried to reproduce them: “Jesus referred to the sword of light, to the steel of virtues, to the liberating blows of love in the inevitable combat against the shadows that dominate us. Peace is not to be confused with idleness or comfort. Peace is a fight fought without blood, but with the softness typical of the transformations that only light provides. From the inside out, from the outside in, in incessant movements of lightness and purity. The master spoke of using the heart as a sword in the war against darkness. Facing ourselves, the internal battle, the good fight; at the same time, expanding the frontiers of life. The world expands or contracts in the measure of the love we have. We have only what we are capable of offering. We can’t give what we do not possess; if we have it, only by using it does the meaning become complete. Nothing that is yours is a concession; the being is a conquest. Love kept is like a lost sword; love awaited is the battle of fools. Love exists to blossom in the heart and fructify in the world, without any separation. If we want to live it only one way, it will only be agony and landscape. When it is both ways, love becomes serenity and a path.”

Yuri nodded his head and said nothing. We finished lunch in silence. We ordered milk pudding for dessert. While we were waiting for the sweet, he wanted to know if I reproached him for having set fire to a bus during the protest he was attending. “Not at all,” I replied. He asked if I agreed. “Not at all,” I replied. He urged me: “Can you please stop sitting on the fence and choose a side to stand on?” I explained that it was not a question of indecision or refusal of opinion, on the contrary: “I cannot impose my view, my ideas or my wills on anyone. I do what I think is right, I make mistakes and get things right, but along the lines of my conscience. The fact that I think your way of protesting is wrong does not give me the right to recriminate you. They are different things. By recriminating, I deny you the right to your own choices. If I think it’s wrong, I just do it differently. No one needs to follow my way of being. Nor yours. We just need to understand that the frontiers of the world are at the limits of being and living. The limits liberate the ampleness. It seems paradoxical, but it is not. When I understand the limits, I broaden the possibilities of acting. When I get away from domination, I get closer to freedom. However, let there be maturity. Every effect was generated by the action that caused it. This is the secret of evolution.” I blinked as if revealing a mystery and said: “That is the wisdom of love.”

Yuri scratched his head. A tic he had since he was a boy, he did it when he became agitated. Then he asked me: “How can we conquer without a fight?” I agreed with him: “Impossible.” Then I pondered: “However, whatever the fights, it will always be possible to choose the swords we will use. Light or shadows, this defines the outcome of the war and the next chapter of your personal story. It helps tell the story of the world. Every true revolution is rooted in the understanding of oneself. Without conscience transformation all change is mere make-up and will not withstand the next rain.”

“Patience in maintaining a peaceful habit has more force than any violent blow to dismantle obsolete ways of being and living.” We ordered coffee to end our lunch. I continued: “Nothing changes without personal transformation. Without love there will be no change. There will be no evolution.” Yuri objected: “We need laws that guarantee us changes”. I looked at him: “Laws are like the bars of a large human zoo. They exist to contain the savagery of people. Yes, we need laws, but only as long as we are primitive and stupid.” I waited for the waiter to serve the coffee before continuing: “One of the first articles of the Federal Constitution states that everyone is equal before the law. A sentence of undeniable value. However, it needs to be written in books because it is not yet in the hearts and minds of people. It needs to be remembered because it is not assimilated”.

We drank the coffee while allocating the ideas. I smiled at the joy of seeing how everything fit together in the same design and I said: “We know surface love well. It is time to understand the love of depth. We need to talk and write about it so that one day it will become sedimented. Or there will be no love left.”

Yuri instigated: “The lords of the world believe that love is something for the naive, dreamers and poets, something distant from what they call reality.” I shrugged and said: “No problem, even if it’s for a laugh, for fun, rebellion or to maintain the incredible power of an old habit: we keep on loving just like that. I don’t want to be master of anybody, but I won’t give up being master of myself. In the end, when it comes to accountability, life will not be summed up in the love we feel, but in the love that we make bear fruit.”

We ordered more coffee. We had the same addiction and an enormous desire to continue that conversation.

Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.

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