The answer

Those days were difficult. A series of events seemed to conspire to pull me away from the consciential axis in which I wanted to align myself. When there is imbalance, we move away from the light. Soon after, everything seems to get worse. Irritation and impatience mixed in an explosive combination. Not long ago, I had returned from a short retreat in a Buddhist temple, which I liked very much. A few days of meditation, silence and tranquillity were very good to me. However, all the balance and serenity that I cherished and believed I had already achieved left me shortly afterwards. My father was not in good health; I tried to contact the doctor who had accompanied him for many years and knew all his medical history; he neither answered nor returned my call. I sent a message and still no answer. I wanted to avoid a hospital admission, as the last one had not been a good experience. But I would have to make a decision in the next few hours and the doctor’s opinion would be crucial. It wasn’t just that. The small publishing house I had set up after the advertising agency closed was facing financial difficulties and accumulating losses. To top it all, I had bet the last hope I had on publishing a new author of rare talent; I had negotiated a discount with the printer for early payment. I had prepared everything with great care. I had hired an excellent layout artist to take care of the finishing details of the work and the cover was assigned to a very creative plastic artist. They both performed their tasks with mastery. I had directly committed myself to this work and got a little more indebted, to publicising the launch of the work at a famous literary fair. Everything seemed perfect until the news arrived that the printer had filed for bankruptcy. The result of this was the deadline for delivering the copies was suspended and there was no possibility of recovering the money. To stir up my emotions, although I am not in the habit of doing so, that night I turned on the television. An economic commentator was talking about a survey that revealed the high rate of small businesses closing down in the country. Of every ten, eight closed before they had completed one year in business. Dark thoughts immediately started talking to me. As if that weren’t enough, the following story reported the serious health problems of a very popular singer. The doctors who attended him in hospital did not believe he would recover. He and my father had been friends since they were kids.

The initial impulse was to seek out the doctor and the manager, owner of the print shop, to tell them how cruel they were being and how they did not measure the consequences of their actions in the lives of other people, for whom, in some way, they assumed responsibility. Impulsive reactions are almost never good counsellors or lead us to the best choices. With difficulty, I managed to contain myself. I remembered a precious lesson: people only have as much power over you as you give them. I would not allow anyone, no matter what they did, to have the strength to put out my light.

However, I confess, it wasn’t easy. The shadows danced around me in a sinister song of fear. Discouragement and revolt also offered their services. As I already knew their mechanisms of action, I put up my defences so as not to allow them to dominate me. Yes, without my permission, the attack would be fruitless. That is what knowledge is for. If we do not use it as a tool in everyday life, it will be of no use. It is in these moments that choices become more important, because they define the roads that we will travel in the near future. Conscience is the one who determines the route. Your degree of maturity will be decisive to avoid the undue interference of emotions that try to justify, always through tortuous reasoning, revanchist and wild decisions, besides sadness and discouragement. These are difficult trials that demand great determination. Between “knowing” and “being” there is an enormous distance.

In theory it all seems simple. In fact, it is. But simplicity is not synonymous with ease. Reaching simplicity demands a lot of effort. It will be necessary to remove the mists of shadows and the emotional rubble that distances us from ourselves and from the purity of life. Nothing that is simple is simplistic. The simplistic look and relationships are banal, shallow and of an atrocious vulgarity. On the other hand, simplicity is profound because it leads us to the essence of being, where we will find the beauty of life, of others and, above all, of ourselves. Without this primordial movement, we will never be who we came to be. We will not be able to find any other answer.

How could I not feel frustration and anger at these events? They permeated my insides, leaving a bitter taste. However, it was necessary to interrupt this flow and then reverse it. Otherwise, I would enter a downward spiral of shadows and darkness that could grow until it reached very harmful consequences. The world is plagued by this epidemic, whose symptoms are well known: depression or aggressiveness. Nobody is immune. Humbleness, compassion, simplicity, willpower and firmness serve as antidote and answer.

It was necessary to surround those situations with these virtues. We cannot demand from others the perfection that we do not have; just like us, they also have their difficulties and sufferings. I could not allow my personal problems and painful memories to influence my perspective. Nor could I have any relationship of dependence with the doctor and the printer: “without so-and-so or this-and-that, without this situation, I will be lost and that will be the end of me”. No, definitely not. This thought is a consequence of an immature consciousness still based on fear. The greater the dependence, the greater the fear.

The more fear, the more shadows, more darkness, more suffering and even more fear. This is the downward and catastrophic spiral. To make it worse, it is all too common. Although no one depends on anyone to be happy, free, worthy, loving and serene, we need everyone to our process of self-perfecting, to share what is in us and to receive whatever is offered to us. The Way is solitary and solidary at the same time. It is walked inside and outside us at the same time. But what can we do when our relationships are problematic and damaged? On the one hand, we cannot trivialise relationships and give them up in the face of any difficulty, for they will always be sources of learning. On the other hand, it is necessary to understand that relationships cannot become sources of ill-treatment, abuse and, above all, of any dependence. The same firmness and will that must exist to solve the delicate questions inherent to all relationships must also be present to establish limits and create new links and ramifications of life. Cycles end and begin throughout existence. No dramas. Life needs to renew itself to continue offering us answers.

 I sat down in the armchair in the living room, turned off the TV, lit some incense and, in silence, said a short and sincere prayer for light and protection. That my own light could keep me from the darkness ahead and that I could protect myself from the dark ideas that threatened to take over. This too is an exercise in faith.

The brevity of a prayer has nothing to do with its strength. It is not in the number of words, but in the intensity invested that its power resides. The few seconds of prayer resounded for a time that I cannot specify, both because of the flow of subtle vibrations and because of the ebb and flow of the dense emotions that enveloped me. Like waves, they came and went. Little by little I was led to a process of purification and equilibrium. Enveloped in an enormous sensation of well-being, my heart became serene and my mind could begin to think clearly in search of solutions. Hope and faith, fundamental virtues, became present in me. With them, joy and cheerfulness also returned.

That’s when the phone rang. My father had become much worse in a matter of hours. From the taxi, while I was on my way to his house, I asked for an ambulance. As I had not made any decision as I was still waiting to hear from the doctor, life had chosen for me. It will always be that way. The worse part is, when it happens, the consequences are usually severe, not for punishment, but as an educational method. There are no better teachers than choices. Enjoy them or you will learn nothing. Life exercises courage so that fear does not establish an empire. I spent all night and part of the next day involved with my father’s hospitalization. I left the hospital when I believed all care had been provided. I was in no condition to work. Tired, I went home to rest. I took a bath and tried to relax, but it was difficult. There were vital decisions that needed to be made at the publishing house. I couldn’t let life decide for me once again. However, tiredness did not allow me to think lightly. It was useless to go on. A good night’s sleep would put me in a position to better explore my potential the next day. That’s how we all are. As my mind was still agitated, wrapped in a thousand thoughts, I decided to read to relax. Tiredness made the letters dance before my eyes. I turned on the television to watch a movie. I opted for an old movie, a very good one, that I had already seen more than once. I believed that this would facilitate the “non-thinking” which, in turn, helps in the alteration of the state of consciousness that leads to deep sleep. However, the film had an excellent script, with interesting dialogues between protagonist and antagonist. This woke me up. It was delightful to see the character always have the perfect response in every scene. “Ah, when we have a good answer in moments of difficulty, in unusual encounters, the best word in the face of everyone’s perplexity, we have the feeling that we have solved life and closed a chapter of existence,” I muttered to myself. I had to learn to have the exact answers for every scene in my life, I thought.

I needed sleep to wake up in a good mood. I closed my eyes and said to myself, “You are the light of the world. No matter what happens, life will provide me with the perfect tools to overcome everything. It is enough that I offer my best. It is enough that I serene my heart and think clearly. It is enough that I embrace life with all the love that is in me. Without sorrows or regrets. All solutions come from me, for they dwell in me. I am the light of the world.” This too is faith and the best response we can give ourselves in the face of the inherent problems we face. This is true. With these thoughts in mind, tiredness was able to overcome the worries and I fell asleep.

The next day, I sat at the table with a fresh mug of coffee and began to deconstruct the problem. Yes, it is always possible. When it seems too big, I use a foolproof method: in parts and in stages. I checked if my father’s doctor had returned the call. No answer. My father was already hospitalised and with good assistance, there was no reason for me to alter myself and get off my axis. “I have only the mastery over myself and this is enough,” I muttered. However, from previous experiences, I knew that in hospital doctors take turns according to shifts. This created a ring of opinions and responsibilities which, although not necessarily bad, gave me the feeling that I could offer my father something better. I made some contacts and was referred to a doctor who would accept the role of mediating the hospital treatment. We arranged to meet and talk at lunchtime, in the room where my father was hospitalized. Next step, I called the print shop and asked to speak to the person in charge. I needed to at least explain my situation in an attempt to persuade him to print the books that had already been paid for. I called several times and the excuses changed as the caller answered the phone. I left a message asking for a return, but I had already understood the answer. At that stage of resolutions, I did my part. Exhausting the possibilities is important for the tranquillity needed to close a cycle.

“The harder the battle is, the more light I will extract from it,” I thought as I made my way to the hospital. I arrived at the appointed time. To my surprise, not only was the doctor already in the room waiting for me, but she was very young, fresh out of college. She was about the same age as my daughters. The initial impact was not positive, because immediately, without saying anything, I questioned whether she would have the capacity to take care of a patient whose problem multiplied day by day. From diabetes to heart failure. However, something silenced my prejudice. She chatted happily with my father. They talked about various matters concerning his life, full of curious events, for he had been an adventurous and risk-taking man. This interest aroused in him a chilled cheer, as if the young doctor had increased the intensity of a dying flame. At that moment I understood that, regardless of the career chosen, whether a doctor or a baker, a lawyer or a bricklayer, no matter if recently graduated or experienced, it is indispensable to understand whether the individual exercises that activity as a profession or as a priesthood. Nothing makes such a difference. Nothing has as much power to transform as love. The young doctor gave extreme care to her patients because she loved healing. For her, medicine was not a means of living, but the guiding thread of her own life. At that moment I realized that no one, however experienced or renowned, could offer my father so much. Silently, I thanked life for its answer.

With renewed courage, I went to the bank. The remaining option for me to get a loan, not only to keep the publishing house running, but to be able to print the books in time to launch the work at the literary fair, where I had already reserved the space. The problem with loans is that the bank ends up becoming a sort of privileged partner of the company. I would start working for myself and for it. But sometimes it is the best alternative. When I entered the agency, I was reasoning about what interest rates would be acceptable. I was politely greeted by the manager, whom I had known for many years. A new surprise. We didn’t even get to discuss the terms of the loan; my credit was exhausted. Although for many years during the good times I had made investments from which the bank had profited, I had now become uninteresting as their business partner. With polite manners, the manager made my situation clear: “You are a risk the bank cannot afford.”

I understood that as a manager he was restricted to the bank’s guidelines, but I also knew that he could have been sensitive and at least tried to get the loan from the director’s board. There was a story that wasn’t even taken into account. Oh, how I wanted a Hollywood screenwriter to write the exact and deserved response to the manager, and consequently, to the bank, as happens in good movies. Since there wasn’t one, I offered silence as an answer. I did not let any kind of resentment dominate me. “I am master of myself and a walker of the light”, I advised myself in a lightning dialogue between the ego and the soul. I squeezed his hand firmly and locked my eyes on his. This was the final part of my answer. He could not sustain his gaze even for a second and lowered his gaze. In due course, his consciousness would allow him to find the unspoken words of that answer.

The idea of being considered a risk did not bring me any heartache. On the contrary, I enjoyed imagining myself this way. You can’t live a good story without risks. There will be no life and no evolution. For any risk, love is the perfect answer.

I returned home. It was almost time for the afternoon to turn to night. I sat down at the desk. With a mug of fresh coffee in front of me, I began to create solutions. In every labyrinth there is a way out. Always. The exit is never at the edges, but in the centre. In other words, don’t look to others, but to yourself. A thousand ideas came to me. The first ones were dark. Yes, they are always present, but I refuted them as they came. The subtle ones I examined with care. Now, how do I know if a thought is dense or subtle? It is simple. When it brings with it desires for revenge, retribution, hurt, resentment, frustration, victimization, anger, sadness and similar emotions, they have roots in the shadows. Do not let them in. If they are bearers of enthusiasm, hope in life, faith in oneself, humility and compassion to offer the other the face, the face of light, open the doors of the mind and heart. Such is the opening scene of a beautiful new film. I believed in this. I believe in this.

The hours passed by. The next thing I knew, the sky was filled with stars. The new moon had not yet met the sun, but was ready to renew its own cycle. The ideas kept coming and going, incessantly. Then, at a certain moment, looking at the bookcase above the desk, I saw a book of photos that the advertising agency had made many years ago for a car manufacturer. It was a collection of photos of an expedition that had left Patagonia and ended in Alaska. The Americas from South to North in a pick-up truck. At the time, the owner of a very small print shop had come to me asking for an opportunity. He knew he couldn’t compete in many respects with the big printers, but he said he offered a personal dedication that was impossible for others, as he was personally involved in every detail of production. “I love what I do,” he spoke. He promised that I would not regret it if I trusted him. He was a risk. Contrary to business logic, I bet on him. The result was wonderful.

I found the telephone number of the printer. It was late, but I called anyway. The owner himself answered. All the employees had already left, but he was still there checking some details. There is light in the details of all things. I identified myself. He remembered me with joy. He told me that that order had been angular for his company, as it had allowed him to acquire a modern printing press that had led him to new contracts. The printing company had grown and he was very grateful for the opportunity I had given him. I told him that the agency had closed and that now, as an editor, I was facing serious difficulties. I explained to him the difficulties I was facing at that moment. I then asked him to print the books that would be used at the literary fair. I stressed that I could only honour the payment after I sold a certain number of copies. I added that I could not set a date. I was honest with him: I was a risk and I would understand if he could not or did not want to help me. The degree of difficulty fixes the value of virtues. Therein lies the narrow door. There were a few seconds of suspense, which seemed to last an eternity. He answered me: “You can’t imagine the joy I am feeling. Of course I shall print the books. You will pay me when you can.” With watery eyes, alone at home, I thanked life for that answer.

A few days later, between caring for my father, who was improving rapidly with the attention given by the young doctor, and the work involved in launching the book, which would determine the future of the publishing house, I received a message from the doctor who had accompanied my father for many years and who had not replied to me until then. In a few words and in a formal way, he said he was at a congress abroad and asked how my father was doing. Without going into details about the hospitalization and the young doctor, I thanked him for his contact, said that the scary part had passed and that my father was fine. That was my answer.

Dad was discharged the day before the book launch, half way through the planned schedule. He returned to his home with a face that showed his well-being and a joy such as I had not seen him in a long time. Dedication and affection have this power, impossible to any bottle of medicine you can find on the shelves of a pharmacy.

The dissemination of the book reached its recipients. A great public was present at the launch and the lecture given by the author was crowded. Sales remained high for the duration of the fair. On one of the days, my father’s old doctor passed by the publisher’s stand. On seeing me, he came over to say hello. With a trace of resentment in the tone of his words, he commented that he had learned, through diffuse channels, that my father had been hospitalized and was now under the care of a young doctor. I could say many things to him, but I understood that I did not need to. He knew that I had sought him out and he had taken time to return. The time of assistance my father needed was not necessarily what he could offer at that moment. If he had his needs and motives, my father and I had ours. There was no remnant of hurt on our part, but neither was there guilt or dependence. His conscience, when all shadows were removed, would make him understand the answer. A firm look in his eyes, was my answer. I did not need to add what, in his core, he already knew but did not yet accept. After a few seconds of silence that carried in itself the content of a good film, in view of the countless ideas that occurred to me, and probably also to the doctor, he said: “I hope you don’t regret the choice you made.” He was referring to the distance in terms of experience, and perhaps even professional prestige, that existed between him and the young doctor. I pondered as if the words escaped my lips, “There is no regret when choices are driven by love.” It was my soul’s answer, or rather, how much of it was already aggregated in my consciousness. The doctor spun on his heels and left. I had the feeling that I had borrowed that answer from the dialogue in some film.

On the last day, almost in the closing time of the fair, I was surprised by the printer owner, the one who had accepted to take my risk as his own, leafing through one of the books on the stand. When I saw him, I went towards him. I offered him a sincere smile and thanked him deeply for accepting my bet. He corrected me: “Life is not a game. When there is light, there will always be victory. No need for fights or laments. In the absence of light, the greatest of gains will bring no victory, even if one insists on the contrary”. He paused briefly before concluding, “Of all the questions I have ever asked myself, that was the best answer.”

I said that sales had exceeded expectations. Later that week I would make a bank transfer clearing the debt with the printer. He smiled and clarified: “That’s not why I came to the fair. Another reason brought me here. At a very difficult moment of my life, even without knowing me, you believed in me. That was transforming. At that time I came to look for you at the agency. I wanted to thank you personally. I was informed that you had left on holiday. You were going to spend some time studying in a monastery”. He looked at me curiously and asked: “Is that so?” I just nodded my head in confirmation. Then he said: “So, I am here, a few years late, to thank you.”

I had no words. They could not fill the feeling. With watery eyes, in silence, we exchanged a tight and long hug. It was the perfect answer.

Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.

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