It had been a while since I met Loureiro, the shoemaker who loved books and wines. Philosophy books and red wines were his favourites. The craftsman possessed an immeasurable skill in sewing together both the leather of shoes and the ideas that lead us in life and to life. His workshop was legendary in the quiet little town located at the foot of the mountain that houses the monastery for its uncertain and unusual opening hours. Whenever I completed the annual period of studies in the Order, I would stop by his workshop for a good chat. With wine or coffee, depending on the time. As I liked to take the train that dropped me off at the station in the early hours of the morning, I would wander through the narrow and winding streets with secular cobblestone paving, hoping to find the workshop open. When I turned the corner and saw his classic bicycle leaning against the lamppost in front of me, I knew it was a lucky day. So it was that day. As my ride to the monastery was for lunchtime, I had the whole morning free to chat with the cobbler. I was greeted by the elegant craftsman with a broad smile and a strong hug. Seating beside the antique wooden counter of the atelier, I waited for Loureiro to prepare a fresh pot of coffee to liven up the day and to help activating the mind, always lazy in the morning. With two steaming mugs in front of us, we began a lively update of the past few months. We were talking about work, children, travel, books, films, short and long term projects, all subjects mixed together, as happens in the joy of two friends who meet again after some time, when we were interrupted by Dayse. She was a very beautiful and cultured woman, a long time friend of Loureiro’s, owner of the charming bookshop in town, always full of good titles. As we often passed by the bookshop looking for novelties, we used to sit in a coffee shop that was in a pleasant flowery terrace at the back of the shop for a glass of wine or cup of coffee. Several times Dayse sat at the table with us to chat. So, although we were not close, I knew and admired her. Always polite, the bookseller asked permission to interrupt our conversation. She needed to get something off her chest and hear an opinion; her eyes were wet.
Without delay we settled her next to us and a third mug of coffee was placed on the counter. The bookseller took a sip of coffee and began her narrative. She said that her mother, a nice old lady who, although over eighty years old, had always been in good health, had taken a tumble and started to feel strong pain in one of her legs. The initial suspicion of a femur fracture was ruled out by the radiological examination. The doctor still could not diagnose the cause of the pain and the doses of painkillers were being intensified, which brought some collateral discomfort. A lumbar hernia was suspected, which depended on the medical report of a tomography scan to be carried out in a neighboring city. According to the result, some possibilities of treatment would be suggested. Days went by, the mother complained of growing pains and, as she had enormous difficulty in locomotion, Dayse had given up all her routine, both personal and professional, to devote herself to her mother, who had always lived alone and was now staying with her daughter. Everything was accumulating rapidly, like a bomb waiting to explode. The delay in getting an accurate diagnosis, the mother’s growing pains, the lack of patience caused by the pain, the loss of privacy, even if only temporarily, and the abandonment of her activities in the bookshop to care for her mother were the ingredients that were mixing dangerously. As she did not allow herself to explode, she felt she imploded a little every day.
Everything was made worse by the enormous number of different opinions she heard from her friends about the attitude she should take to better solve the problem. Change their doctor, although they were the professional who had accompanied her mother for years; take her to a big city, where the technological resources are greater; stay in a hospital until the problem got solved, despite the difficulties caused by the confinement and her mother’s resistance to doing so. Some said that an infiltration of cortisone would solve the problem; others guaranteed that only surgery would end the pain. There were those who assured the cure with absolute rest or, on the contrary, with intensive physiotherapy sessions. All pointed to a similar situation as an example for their arguments. Finally, despite the many opinions offered by people close to her and her friends, she wanted to listen to someone she admired for their wisdom. This person was Loureiro.
The shoemaker, always generous, started at the margins of the question. For better understanding, he used to conduct his reasoning from the periphery to the centre: “The first thing that strikes me is how important routines are in our lives. Not infrequently, we curse them. They take the blame for the dullness of our days. So, we travel to escape routine. The ancient Greeks, in their philosophical construction, taught that ‘there is no freedom in escape’. Escape is nothing but prison camouflaged as freedom. If it is form of escape, by definition, it is never the best choice because it is not a free choice.”
“Without noticing, after the initial days of the journey, that period where everything is new, but then nothing, in truth, is new, we begin to miss our home.” He paused purposefully to add, “We miss our routine. The reason is simple. We insert into our daily lives the activities are good to us brighten our lives.”
“A trip is always welcome for the renewal of airs and perspectives it brings, for the possibility of knowledge it adds regarding different cultures. Different ways of being and living from other people broadens our understanding of life. However, a trip is also a good test. If we don’t feel homesick after a few days, there is a strong sign that the trip may be an escape from the prison that our home has become. A home has to be a sacred place of peace and well-being, never a place of oppression and distress.”
I interrupted to remind that a house is usually a faithful portrait of its residents: “If we feel sad or bored indoors something angular needs to be changed in our lives,” I pondered. Loureiro agreed and concluded the preamble by saying to Dayse: “In your case, since you love the life you have created for yourself, compulsorily moving away from it is making you miss it and making your days even harder. Even if out of love for your mother, who at this moment needs your care, the fact that you cannot see an exact date for the end of your suffering aggravates your anguish and creates imbalance.
He took a sip of coffee and slowly moved on to the heart of the problem: “However, this is just one more condiment to spice up the soup. The central issue is about choices, this immeasurable life-transforming power we have but rarely use wisely.”
The bookseller interrupted to say, with polite manners, that she knew the theory about the power of choices. The artisan remarked, “Yes, many know it; few practice it properly. Precisely because it is a power of such great strength, which defines so many fundamental aspects of a person’s life, with the pains and delights of its consequences, most people feel more comfortable and convinced in giving opinions on the lives of others than in deciding their own matters. The reason for this is the various direct effects that the decisions that affect us invariably cause. For this reason, we are usually so sure about decisions about the lives of others; on the other hand, we have many doubts and difficulties when it comes to the choices that concern our own lives.
“Choosing for the other will always look easier because the eventual burden of a wrong decision will not fall on our backs.” He shrugged and said, “Roughly speaking, the bill will be paid by the other. Ironically, the people who most like to give their opinion on other people’s choices are the most insecure when it comes to making decisions concerning their own lives. When they express this behaviour, they reveal their fear of responsibility for their own lives.
“However, there are those who need someone to decide for them. The reason is another, although a close shadow: the transfer of responsibility. They believe they will have someone to blame if the choice does not turn out to be the most appropriate one. This is a mistake. Failure to choose will always be a bad choice.”
“Both are illusions that keep us away from the evolutionary process. The responsibility for each choice has enormous value in understanding who we are and how much we still have to be. It allows us to understand who we are not yet. On this journey there is no better master than the choices. Choices, in short, are the applicability of theory in practice. An exercise in what we know or do not yet know. It is the ruler of an individual’s spiritual intelligence. It is important to point out that we will choose either right or wrong, invariably. If it did not work, we have the opportunity to try to do it differently and better the next time. Never curse a mistake. The mistake, when well used, will be the guide that will lead us to the right choice. This is the way we add wisdom to our being, always in the form of virtues. This changes our whole way of living”.
The bookseller said that she still did not know which decision to take. They all involved a margin of risk between right and wrong. Each person she listened to was supplied with facts and situations that changed her opinion. She stressed that she did not want to make a mistake. The wrong decision would worsen her mother’s situation. She confessed that the wrong decision would make both her return to the bookshop and the routine she loved so much more distant. She admitted that this feeling made her feel selfish.
The cobbler frowned, a characteristic gesture when he saw the seriousness of the situation deepening, and explained: “We have two important shadows that need to be clarified. Selfishness and fear.”
“When someone reaches a certain level of evolution, he or she is fully aware as to the importance of empathy, of the value of the other in his or her life, of compassion. This makes them transmute selfishness into mercy and love. In the eternal and indispensable vigilance over ourselves, we often lose the measure of the generosity dispensed to the world. How far should I give myself to others? I do not want to feel selfish, but what is the limit that determines the point at which I will be giving up my life for the sake of another person? After all, if I annul myself individually, if I abandon my dreams or completely abdicate my life in deference to someone else, I will hardly be able to feel well enough to carry on.”
“To love another as oneself is the summary of all spiritual law. But how can I do good if I do not feel good? What is the value when an attitude is performed out of obligation rather than out of love? How can I love someone if I don’t feel love for myself?”
The bookseller interrupted to say that that speech was a mistake, for she loved her mother very much and was willing to do everything to make her well. Loureiro was not shaken ny what she said: “I have no doubt about the love you have for your mother and the good you wish for her. However, at this moment you also have to be aware of the love you need to feel for yourself. Give her all your love without giving up loving yourself.”
“Otherwise, existence will become an unpleasant and heavy burden. On the other hand, if you achieve the balance of caring for your mother without neglecting yourself, your days will be light and prosperous. There will be worry about your mother’s care, but it will be more easily borne by the strength of your own life in circulation feeding you with love and the other virtues.”
“No one can love the love he does not possess. It will be a cruel and painful attempt on oneself. Love the love possible for today.” He winked at the bookseller and added, “Tomorrow try a little bit harder. Be loving to the world without ceasing to be loving to yourself.”
“Selfishness and suicide are the two ends of the same shadow. Both exhaust with the life of the being.”
Suicide? Dayse said she did not understand that speech. Loureiro was didactic: “When we talk about suicide, we immediately think of more perceptible situations such as jumping off a bridge, throwing yourself onto a train track or taking poison. These are the obvious suicides. We also know that addictions and drugs are forms of suicide; only slower and not always conscious. They are the disguised suicides. However, all forms of abandoning life are also suicidal practices. When we give up doing the things we love, when we leave aside the routines that feed our soul, the attitudes that gladden our heart, we are on a suicide path. These are the suicides driven by fear.”
“We have to have time and love for family, for friends and for the planet without leaving out time and love for ourselves. To live in this balance it’s not always easy, but necessary. It’s the exercise of the virtue of harmony, indispensable like the other virtues.”
“Take care of the world without forgetting to take care of yourself. Take good care of yourself without neglecting to take care of everyone else.”
“Despite the responsibility we should have to the world, no one should feel guilty for taking care of themselves.”
The bookseller emptied her mug and asked the artisan to refill it with coffee. She then admitted that perhaps that was the reason she felt weaker and more dejected every day. She had stopped feeding her soul. She was beginning to understand what needed to be changed so that life, despite the difficulties, would not stop illuminating her days. In fact, she needed that light to make the right decision regarding the various possibilities of hospitals, doctors and treatments that were available as options. Loureiro pondered: “Have you ever thought that, through excessive zeal, you might be subtracting from your mother the right to decide about her own life?”
“Helping is an art. We must be careful not to impose our choices on the care offered. Remember, each person has the inalienable right to choose what they understand best for themselves.”
Dayse looked startled at the cobbler; she hadn’t thought of that hypothesis. Loureiro expanded his reasoning: “Your mother is perfectly sane. She’s listened to the doctors and understands what’s going on with her body. Talk to her, ponder, argue, but above all, listen to her wishes. After all, she will bear the brunt of the decision. It will be fair to her and to you.”
The bookseller raised the hypothesis, quite likely, that her mother would declare herself unable to make that decision. The cobbler considered, “Should you agree with that argument and, more importantly, want to bring that responsibility upon yourself, accept it. But do it without fear. Mistakes and successes are inherent to life and when well used they become excellent masters. The important thing is not to choose guided by anyone’s opinion, but by your own convictions. Only then does suffering become a lesson; otherwise, it will be mere annoyance. There is no evolution without responsibility.”
“Listen to the voice of your soul. It will tell you what the right choice is, even if further ahead it does not prove to be the most suitable. It does not matter. We learn on the journey at the pace of our choices. If we refuse to understand each of our choices in all its intimacy, in its details, there will be no evolution.”
“Choice is the magician of transmutation, the guide on the Path and the lord of every destiny. Choices are the roads to wholeness.”
Dayse commented that the wrong choice was like a spectre haunting existence. Loureiro summarized the reasoning: “There is no wrong choice when made in accordance with one’s own conscience. Wrong is not choosing; it is to give up defining one’s own destiny according to the world’s opinion. Then one loses the taste for life”.
We remained a long time without saying a word. Tears streamed down the bookseller’s face. They were tears of enchantment. She broke the silence to say that she had gone to the workshop in search of an opinion. But instead, she found the way to rescue the life and joy that were flowing down the drains of her existence.
The sun was rising. She said that before going home she would stop by the bookshop to check on the business. She missed it. She loved that universe of books and coffee that she had built. No, she was not being selfish. Just thinking about it made her feel that she would return home in a better mood to continue caring for her mother. She confessed that a pleasant sensation of courage replaced her fear and filled her with confidence. She took a notebook that Loureiro had left on the counter and wrote: “When we change our perspective, we alter our consciousness. In this way we transform life and colour the world. From the bottom of my heart, thank you!” He kissed his friend on the cheek, said goodbye to me and left. The woman who left the workshop was very different from the one who had entered.
Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.