Postponement and regret

I love bookshops. They’re like sanctuaries dedicated to knowledge. Even more so when at the back of the shop there’s a coffee shop full of peace and cosy armchairs. Coffee and books complement each other. Although I don’t deny the practicality and versatility of digital books, which are valuable attributes for spreading knowledge, I have a different and affectionate relationship with printed books. As in a sacred ceremony, there is a liturgy. When I enter the bookshop, I let myself be enveloped by the countless titles available. I look at the copies on display in the gondolas, rummage through the shelves in search of some hidden gem, examine the details of the edition. From the quality of the paper used to the neatness of the layout. I’m in love with the covers, as the separate arts that they are. I need to get lost in that fantastic universe, as if each book were a star in an infinite sky, in order to be found by the next book. Yes, I’ve given up the illusion that I’m the one who chooses the books; they choose me, as if they knew what I needed to read at the right moment. Some books I’d never heard of came into my hands in this way, and today they occupy a place destined for the texts that were angular for me. That day, everything seemed perfectly normal: I had just been rescued by a book and was about to set off on a journey to a parallel universe to show me something unknown within myself. Yes, books have that power. As I settled into an armchair after placing my order to the barista, I noticed Bruno sitting a few tables away, a dear friend I hadn’t met for years. If the eyes really are the windows to the soul, he was very sad and downcast. To use the precise word, he seemed disorientated.

I went to meet him. After furtive drops of joy at meeting me again, we exchanged a tight hug and he invited me to sit at his table. Without me having to ask, Bruno got straight to the point: “My marriage to Regina is over”. I asked when the separation had taken place. He surprised me: “We haven’t split up. At least not yet. In fact, I don’t even know when or if it will happen one day. We have children and a grandchild is about to arrive. Apart from that, there’s a heritage that we’ve built up over two decades of marriage. The flat in Ipanema and the house in Nogueira are places I love to be, where I’ve watched my children grow up and where I hope to see my grandchild grow up. These are not mere properties, but places that have emotional value for me. I don’t want to lose any of it. This reality will disappear like magic the moment I get divorced from Regina”. I confessed that, hearing him talk like that, I had the feeling that the marriage was not only important to him, but it was also holding together despite any disagreements. “All relationships have their rough edges,” I said. I then explained reality as I saw it: “Smoothing out encounters, especially the differences that arise over time, is part of the art of life. The best encounters never last a day, but last a lifetime.” I paused and concluded: “This is because everyone changes all the time. This renews one encounter into many. Sometimes, affinities become misaligned, never to return. At other times, they adjust and improve, taking relationships to unimaginable heights.”

I went on to say that his marriage to Regina had always seemed to me to be a beautiful encounter, due to the visible affinity that united them. Bruno argued: “Everything has changed. Apart from the property, the family and the grandson who will be arriving soon, there’s nothing left of my marriage”. I said that having a family would never be a small thing. Bruno agreed. Then I reminded him: “There are many family formats, from the traditional to the eclectic. One is not better than the other. There is no one model that serves as an ideal. The rich diversity of intrinsic universes creates an infinity of possibilities. Each person has to understand how to invent their own style of living according to their way of being. This designs the architecture of the family you want or the one that is possible for you, because everything happens to us according to our evolutionary needs. Relationships change because we change. Adaptability is a valuable virtue. Sometimes people from the same family move at very different speeds, requiring even more effort and resilience to adjust. When this happens, everyone grows”. I paused and added: “It’s not easy, but it’s enriching. Differences are powerful springs that provide momentum to the necessary transformations.”

Bruno admitted that it was all true, but there was one detail that I didn’t know: “Regina has an extramarital relationship”. I kept quiet. It was delicate ground and very favourable for stone-throwers. I realised a long time ago that I have neither the right nor the competence to judge other people’s choices. One of the many reasons for this is the fact that most of a person’s life is submerged, without ever being exposed. Therefore, a judgement made by analysing a small part of an endless whole will always be unfair. Another reason is the simple fact that I still know very little about myself, which makes me incompetent to condemn anyone. The landscape I see from the window at home doesn’t allow me to say that I know the world.

It’s up to me to observe and learn. To each person the bitterness and the delights of being the way they are. The respect I have for myself will only survive if I maintain it in my dealings with everyone. As I didn’t say a word, Bruno continued: “As you said, everyone changes. In Regina’s case, of course she’s also changed over the years. But these changes even made the marriage more enjoyable. The thing is, there was a hidden face in her life, something that didn’t change at all over time. This very thing, which has always existed, is the reason for our divorce. Recently, I discovered something I’d always been unaware of.” He paused and said: “She’s been having an affair with the same person since before we got married. She had it even before we started dating.”

It was a complicated situation. I asked him if he had already spoken to Regina about it. Bruno nodded. With his eyes watering, he said: “I proposed that she end this old affair once and for all. I would forgive her. We would start a new phase in our marriage, changing what had always been missing or bothered us. Instead of getting better, things got worse. She said she didn’t think she could do it. She was very honest, as she admitted that she wasn’t even willing to do it. As it was an affair before we were married, she considered it an inseparable part of the marriage. She argued that we had been happy this way, we had built a beautiful family that never stopped growing and giving us joy, as we looked forward to the arrival of our first grandchild. She argued that there was no reason to change a model that had worked for decades. Regina asked me not to remain tied to obsolete ways of thinking. The world had changed and I had to keep up. She told me to think about the marvellous life we’d always had. She argued that having an affair had never hindered us; on the contrary, it had relieved many of the tensions that are typical in all marriages. Regina maintains that after all this time, she has the right to keep things as they are. She claims it’s unfair to her to break up something so long-lasting. She also said that if I wanted to have a mistress, she would understand and think it was fair”. Bruno was silent for a few moments and admitted: “I can’t”.

I wanted to know what he meant by “I can’t”. Bruno explained: “I can’t do anything. I can’t separate or accept the situation; I can’t keep up with the changes in the world, as Regina claims and asks me to. I can’t even stop wasting away a little more every day.” We waited for the barista to serve us our coffee. When she left, Bruno confessed: “Every day feels like a starless night.” A rebellious tear exposed the moment in his heart.

I began by showing my view of some issues, from the outside in, to understand how far Bruno was willing to dive into himself: “The world changes as a reflection of people’s changing behaviour. However, as there are huge differences in principles and values, different experiences and biases, the world is moving in different directions at the same time. Which one should we follow? All of them? None? Is it modern to do what’s fashionable? Is it copying the behaviour of idols? To be carried away by the herd effect to show how in tune we are?” I took a sip of coffee before asking the ultimate question: “Or would it be to take a road like no other, even if nobody wants to follow it?”.

Bruno said that the latter option seemed right to him. I reminded him: “It’s the hardest. It’s a choice only allowed to those who have the courage to follow the voice of their heart. They don’t live to please people, but dedicate themselves to living their own truth. Contrary to what many people believe, they don’t live this way out of pride and vanity, but with humbleness and simplicity so that they can become different and better people, a little more every day. I believe there will never be anything more modern or transformative. However, believe me, not everyone is ready to walk this very difficult but beautiful path.”

Bruno said he wanted to walk the path of the heart. His heart. I asked him if he thought he was ready. Bruno nodded. I said: “What does your heart tell you?”. He shrugged and mumbled: “I don’t know”. I had to tease him: “Don’t be afraid of what it says. Don’t pretend you don’t hear it just because it doesn’t say what you’d like to hear. The greatest mistake is when we turn a deaf ear to the guidance of the soul. As such, the consequences will also be the most painful.”

My friend fell silent. I had the feeling that he was drinking his coffee very slowly, not because of the taste, but because he was trying to give himself time to listen to his heart. It’s not always easy or simple, sometimes there are many voices drowning out the one we should be listening to. We are many in one. There are many voices talking to us. Choosing which one will guide our steps will define the route and destination for each of us.

I respected Bruno’s silence. He needed this stillness to accept what was going on inside him, and only then could he decide about the outside of his life. We spent a long time without saying a word, until he said: “That’s not the life I want for myself”. It was a beginning. Where there is certainty there is a path.

Before I could say anything, he added: “However, I don’t think this is the best time to separate. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to wait until my grandson is born. This is no time for conflict,” he said. I continued to tease, no accommodation is healthy: “Absolutely. Then wait for the summer holidays in Ipanema, the winter season in Nogueira, the annual medical check-up, the youngest son’s graduation, the eldest son’s birthday party, then the grandson’s birthday party. Then comes the Silver Jubilee celebration. After all, everyone has it on the programme and is looking forward to it. Then there will be other new and incessant reasons”. I paused for a moment and asked: “Are they reasons or excuses?”.

I expanded: “When we don’t have the courage to listen to the voice of our heart, we lie to ourselves. Excuses are like a rainbow after the rain. An optical illusion caused by the dispersion of light. Excuses generate postponements, often without end.” Bruno claimed to have doubts: “They are eating me alive”. I disagreed: “There’s nothing more human than doubt. There’s nothing bad about it. It’s questioning that generates transformations. Doubts never eat us away; they drive you forward. Once they have been resolved, they become the foundations for the next transition. We move forward. However, when doubts last longer than they should, the situation becomes corrupted. It’s no longer a question of doubts, but of a lack of firmness to move forward in line with the truth. Thus, excuses are born. In turn, excuses generate procrastination. These then eat the soul away until  the soul is wasted.”

“Every postponement is a flight from the truth.”

Bruno gave me a startled look. I was being harsh. I asked him if he wanted to stop there. We could talk about other subjects or even say goodbye. My friend said he wanted to continue: “It will bleed, but it will be necessary to expel what can no longer remain in me. Everything that harms me is poison. My own poison”. I smiled, we were going well. I reminded him: “The antidote is also in you. Understanding poison promotes healing”. He smiled with satisfaction. I added: “Therein lies your strength. Whatever you fear most is what will make you stronger. As long as you don’t run away from fear. The truth is sometimes frightening because it seems unattainable to our strength. So we run away from the truth through the door of procrastination. Postponements are lies disguised by our disbelief in our ability to face certain situations. We’ll get the result wrong every time we try to invert the equation. Far from the truth, far from its strength. Imbalances arise as I stop believing in my power to overcome problems, difficulties and fears. Postponements weaken us by the imbalance they cause.

I remembered a specific moment from my past: “When we indefinitely postpone our encounter with the truth, life begins to slip out of our hands a little more every day,” without going into detail, I summarised what I had learned: “Postponements are tricks used by fear so that little by little we get used to the darkness, until we become convinced that we have no other choice, that life really is sad and the world is bad. Procrastination is one of the most common tricks used by our shadows. It’s also one of the most effective”.

He nodded, saying that he understood. He drained his cup and offered me another round. I accepted immediately. This conversation would still last for a long time.

“What if I regret it?” Bruno asked me just after the barista had poured another round of coffee. I shrugged and made a point: “Don’t be scared of mistakes, they’re the necessary stepping stones to success. The fear of making mistakes is limiting. Doing the right thing is liberating”. He interrupted to ask what doing the right thing meant. I clarified: “It’s living in line with your own truth, it’s deciding by the light of your heart. Believe me, it’s no small feat; few people manage it.” I continued: “It can happen that, at some point, we have the clear realisation that we could have chosen differently. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, depending on our reaction. Getting caught up in guilt would be terrible. The sensitivity to retrace our steps and make amends is a humble gesture of extreme luminosity. It means learning, transformation and progress. Know that all masters evolve by forging their own mistakes.”

Bruno insisted: “What if Regina is right?”. I shrugged and said: “It doesn’t matter. She’s being honest, because she’s agreeing with how she idealises your marriage. She’s proposing a relationship that she thinks would be best. It’s her truth. That’s why she deserves respect. The question you should ask yourself is: What do I want for myself? This is a powerful question because it opens a channel of intense dialogue with your heart. There lies the truth that will serve as your guiding star. Your truth. Accept that it will often not be the same as anyone else’s. But it is your truth that will give you the strength and balance to move forward. Only in this way can we be free, dignified and happy, and thus live in peace and love more and better.”

Bruno stopped at that point. He asked again: “What if I regret it?”. I asked him another question: “Why do we have regrets?”. Bruno admitted that he had never thought about it. I ventured my opinion: “Regrets arise every time that, after making a decision, we insist on looking back. Regrets about losses suffocate the joys in the face of the imponderable possibilities of unimaginable conquests. In this way, nothing will be lost, only transformed.”

I added: “There will be regrets when we move for petty interests and superficial passions instead of moving in line with our conscience and the love we have for life.”

He argued again about all the losses he would incur with the separation. I reminded him that there was another point of view that he couldn’t forget to put on the scales of choice: “Consider what you will lose if you maintain a situation that is contrary to your truth. Have you thought about this?”. Bruno shook his head. I explained: “To solve the equation, put moments and assets on one side and principles and values on the other. Listen to your heart, ponder calmly and decide. Only you can do that”.

Bruno muttered in an almost inaudible tone: “I can’t”. At that moment, I realised that he wanted to keep life as it had always been, the way he liked it so much and had got used to. My friend didn’t want any change. Everything should remain unchanged. However, the reality around him had already changed. By resisting acceptance, he was suffering from holding back the wheel of life in an absurd attempt to push it backwards. He was wasting away as he tried to prevent the inevitable forward flow of change.

I looked him in the eye and was honest: “Whatever you decide, it won’t be easy. There will be a transition phase, from a place where you were used to and felt safe to another place where the unknown reigns. If you decide to keep the marriage, accept that it is no longer the same and you will have to find another way of living together. If you choose to get the divorce, you’ll have to design another lifestyle. There will be losses, depending on the lens used; there will be achievements if the lenses used are different. In short, it will be the scope of your perspective that will define tears or smiles. You’ll have to summon all your strength to replace old habits with a new reality, more in tune with your current conscience and your heart’s guidance. When regrets creep up on you in the dark nights, illuminate them and dismantle them with the power of your truth, the reason for your light”. I paused and concluded: “The only thing you shouldn’t do is put off making a choice for too long, because it’s the same as giving up the power you have over yourself”.

Nothing more could be said. That was the last frontier I could go. No-one should invade someone else’s sacred space. From then on it was restricted to Bruno and his voices, conscience and heart. His shadows, virtues, volitions and truths. Meeting yourself brings the magic of the best choice. It will always be a great encounter, full of revelations and discoveries, the source of strength, power and balance.

I said goodbye. Bruno asked me to stay so we could talk some more. I explained that it was time for him to withdraw into silence and stillness so that he could hear his purest voice.

I met my friend again about a year later. But that’s another story.

Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.

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