The barista left a large cup of coffee on the table. Soft jazz was playing in the background and Rio de Janeiro’s always mild winter brought a pleasant afternoon that I had reserved for myself. I took a book out of my backpack that I had been putting off reading for some time. That afternoon had the caring touch of my ego stroking my soul. The armchair was comfortable, the atmosphere cosy and the coffee delicious. I have a habit of reading with a pencil in my hand. I underline the parts that catch my eye, jot down ideas in the corners of the pages and draw pictures to try to explain what I can’t yet put into words. This is something I usually do throughout the books. These are some of the reasons that make me reluctant to lend books to people I’m not very familiar with, because not often even I, after a while, can remember the reasons for the many scribbles I’ve made. The other reason is that I often consult these notes when I’m writing or even reading another book, realising the connection between ideas that integrate to form a different idea, with more breadth and depth. I had just started reading on that perfect afternoon when a violent argument broke out in the cafeteria. In an altered tone of voice and aggressive words, father and son were hurt. The boy, who was about twenty years old, left with his foot stomping; his father tried to get him to stay because he claimed he still had a lot to say. The people looked at each other in awe, were relieved that the argument was over and went back to their business. I did the same. We all have problems, I thought. I took a sip of coffee, let the jazz lull me and went back to reading. Before I could make another scribble in the book, an impulse made me look again at the man sitting at the counter. He couldn’t hold back his tears. Everyone has their own problems, I tried to convince myself and went back to reading. My eyes stubbornly refused to obey me. Something about the man had touched me. I had, and still have, my share of differences with my daughters; I know that they are important evolutionary levers for taking us beyond the places we have always been, as long as we are willing to move forward. Sometimes the suffering is so intense that we don’t notice our feet mired in so many sorrows, so we believe there is no different or better way to live, unless, of course, the other person understands our pain, changes their behaviour and apologises to us. No! This is like turning the wheel of life upside down. There is an enchanting life even if the ideal doesn’t happen. The perfect world is the possible world. When we turn the wheel the right way, life lights up. I had an impulse to say that to him, but I stopped myself.
I shouldn’t get involved in other people’s problems, I already have my own. What’s more, I would be under the risk of being mistreated or misunderstood by the man. I went back to the book, a marvellous universe was waiting for me. Not that afternoon. We are many in one, the village that inhabits in me went wild. Some of my people began to exchange ideas, argue and ponder. They reminded me of similar moments I’ve been through, of how miscommunication, the lenses and filters through which we analyse events and capture information, allow or prevent clearer and more appropriate understandings. By changing lenses, colours become clearer; by replacing polluted filters, we stop contaminating ourselves. Stop being nosy and get back to reading, that’s what you came to do, someone shouted at me. You have to offer your best to the world, another resident suggested. Learn to solve your own problems before solving other people’s, said another. I shook my head in an attempt to get them to shut up, emptied my coffee cup, ordered another to the barista and dived into the book. I’d be safe there. My mistake. In the first line of the next paragraph, it was written that fear is the greatest obstacle to love. Then a serene voice, unlike any other that had ever spoken, reminded me that love without involvement is a wasted poem. That voice was unmistakable: it came from the soul. Yes, as always, it was full of good reasons. Knowledge has no value if it doesn’t serve to make life work better.
I waited for his eyes to meet mine. They were distressed eyes looking for support and understanding. I signalled for him to sit at the table with me. He seemed relieved by the invitation and, without hesitation, sat down in the armchair next to me. When I brought my coffee, sensitised and attentive to the situation, the barista came over with a cup for the man too. I didn’t need to mention that I had witnessed his argument with his son, as everyone in the café saw it happening. I explained that we could talk about other matters, as a way for him to calm down, if he preferred. The man said no, because he needed to get things off his chest and, what’s more, understand why his son was behaving so intransigently. I asked him to tell his story, not just so that I could understand him a little, but mainly so that he could hear his own narrative. It’s often a valuable way to begin to understand yourself. The man talked a lot, he was in so much pain that he felt like he would explode if he didn’t get it out. In short, he said that he had divorced when his son was very young, his mother had been very hurt and, as a result, the boy had suffered parental alienation. According to him, his mother had distorted his image to the point of turning him into a monster. From an early age, the boy had learnt to hate him. The mother had transferred the hurt she felt onto her son. He argued that no matter what he did or said, nothing seemed to be strong enough for the boy to allow himself to look at things from a different perspective. The reason for the fight I had witnessed was because he had planned a trip with his son, bought the tickets, booked the hotels, detailed each day of the trip and, on the eve of departure, that afternoon in the cafeteria, the boy said he wasn’t going because he didn’t feel like it. Resigned, the man pondered that it was impossible to show his son the mistake that existed as long as the boy refused to live with him, since words had already proved insufficient. He asked himself if it was time to give up, because then he would suffer less.
I took a sip of coffee and asked the man: “What unbalances the scale?”. He said he didn’t understand the question. I tried to explain: “What makes us suffer is what causes the internal scale to become unbalanced. Sometimes we refuse to see, at other times we see what isn’t really there. Out of balance, we lose our bearings. All the facts begin to have adulterated weights. Reality becomes distorted, because the truth has been derailed.”
The man disagreed that this was happening. For him, the facts were very clear. His time with his son was wasted because he had an image of his father that didn’t correspond to the truth. I looked at him: “You can understand the enormous difficulty of living together, full of distorted aspects that generate harshness in personal dealings, and you feel wronged. This will lead to irritation at the malice practised against you and discouragement at the feeling of helplessness it caused on you. But there is also a different possibility, which would lead you to face the situation as a challenge for improvement.” The man said he didn’t understand. I explained in my own way: “Look at it as if you were facing an almost impregnable fortress. The defence systems are all activated. The walls of resentment are high; on the lookouts, archers of intolerance; heavy gates of victimhood are kept shut; in the rear, the spearmen of contempt to hold back any attack. However, in a locked room, there is a treasure of immeasurable value, the heart of your child.”
“It is a fortress that will withstand the attacks of truths shouted at it, of the best arguments fired with irritation, the gunpowder of haste from those who have not yet learnt to deal with the time of infinite hours. A fortress attacked with the bombs of impatience will cause the treasure to be thrown down the well and nothing of value will survive.”
“You can’t storm fortresses like that, they have to be dissolved. To do so, we have to show that their defences are unnecessary. In order to live in peace, there must be no war movements. I’m not just referring to the relationship between father and son, but above all to the intrapersonal relationship, that is. The relationship with ourselves”.
The man interrupted me to say that he had always offered the best he had to his son, yet the boy believed that he did it out of guilt. However, love was his only motivation, he said with obvious honesty. He confessed that he was tired. Every day, his unwillingness to continue seemed more intense. I argued from a perspective most people ignore: “To live love, you have to understand love. It’s not as easy as many people believe. Although, to a greater or lesser degree, it is a beautiful feeling common to all people, love also requires wisdom. Love becomes whole as our perception broadens and our sensitivity is sharpened. This is why it is said that to evolve is to love more and better. Love is a way of being and living that is achieved little by little.”
“Some of the many characteristics we forget about love are the patience and balance it provides when it has already blossomed in us. It is neither frightened by lies nor afraid of injustice; it is neither in a hurry nor discouraged. In its maturity, love knows faith, time and truth.”
The man asked me to explain a little more. I tried: “Faith carries within it the power of an inexorable cosmic force, the Law of Evolution, which establishes that the best will happen, not according to my desires, but according to my learning needs. At the height of its capacity, it allows me and the Universe to be finely tuned, in the same voice and movement. Faith breaks down fear and sustains courage; it offers the gentle breeze of hope on afternoons when the heat seems unbearable. Faith tells us to fear nothing and to be in no hurry.”
“This is how faith leads us into the mystery of time. It teaches us that love is docile, but not subservient; it has infinite reserves of patience and tolerance but acts with good judgement and firmness; it does not negotiate with shadows or evil. It is meek without ever ceasing to be courageous. Time shows that love only becomes perfect through its imperfections. In love, time is never measured by hours, but only by the good we share.”
“Time, not the time of days, but the time of love blossoming in the soul, leads us to the truth. It frees us from suffering. No pain is caused by love. All suffering has its roots in selfishness, in the conditioning linked to fear and domination, in the unjustified attachment of losing what we can’t possess, in the jealousy that imprisons, in the pride that we mistake for respect and in the vanity that deceives us. We become fragile and dependent. Pain is born as we fail to see love. Suffering shows how mistaken we are in our dealings with love and how far we are from understanding the meaning of all things. This is the code of life: the love hidden in every situation. Otherwise, we won’t get to the truth. I will find the truth the same day I come face to face with my essence. To do this, I need each of the virtues that make up love, without which it is not complete. We all love since the day we are born, but when I manage to love with simplicity, humbleness, compassion, purity, sincerity, mercy, delicacy and courage, it’s no longer a love that has legs. It has discovered its wings.”
“So it doesn’t matter if your son believes that your actions are motivated by guilt, just as perhaps the feeling of victimisation that he has become accustomed to is comfortable for him. You know the love that moves you to go after the boy; that’s enough for now. For him, the illusion that life is bad because there is a villain preventing him from happiness may bring some comfort, but it causes harmful stagnation. We will rot until we understand that the bad guy in our lives is not in the world, but is present through the paralysing beliefs and abusive influences that our own shadows exert on the way we deal with reality”. I fixed my eyes on the man’s and reminded him: “You need to be aware of the love that guides your own choices.”
“Even if, in the necessary incursions we need to make into our past in order to heal each of the wounds that heal, you come across old faults, don’t be frightened or run away. The absence of mistakes is a privilege that has been granted to no one. Apologise and forgive yourself too, we all have our difficulties. Take it upon yourself to do things differently and better from now on. Commitment to the present must be enough, so that the past doesn’t weigh you down. This tends to cause constant suffering. Have with you the security and serenity provided by faith, time and truth. Then you will have the lightness typical of sunny mornings, even during the most severe storms.”
The man insisted that reconciliation with his son would be impossible as long as the boy’s mother continued to distort his image as a father. I pondered: “Those who carry faith, time and truth know that improper use blinds the edge of the sword. Just live without haste, without fear and never give up using love as a map, compass and road. In this way, you too will find your destiny.
He insisted that the mother’s hatred that contaminated her son seemed endless. I reminded the man: “There’s no doubt that hatred causes a lot of damage, but at some point its power will run out. Realise the opportunity and prepare yourself. On this day, have your arms and heart open to welcome your son, without allowing the hurt to reinvigorate itself in the opposite direction and turn against the mother. Put an end to everyone’s suffering. Believe me, she’s one of the people who suffers the most. Otherwise, she wouldn’t do what she does. Compassion is not being permissive of evil, but being understanding of other people’s difficulties, because we realise that we can’t demand perfection that we don’t have to offer. You must have perception and sensitivity. After humbleness, compassion is the next fundamental step to the indispensable forgiveness, a beautiful way of loving.”
We didn’t say a word for a long time. He needed to absorb those ideas and put them in the drawers of his existence. He needed to elaborate on each one of them so that his experiences would reveal the secrets he still needed to decode if he wanted to make progress towards understanding himself. There is no one better than the people we live with to make it difficult for us to find the codes of life. Only in this way will we have access to the portals of faith, time and truth. This will make us love more and better.
The man emptied his coffee cup, looked at me again and asked how long he would have to wait before the situation changed and he could have a healthy relationship with his son. I was honest: “I have no idea, if you want me to measure it using the ruler of days. That time will also be bitter if it’s the hours of revenge and it will bring anxiety when it’s just a wish. If you want to use a better measure, I would venture to say that it would be the seasons that the gardener waits for as he marvels at the seed turning into a flower and then into fruit. The time of creation is the time that reveals itself and manifests itself in love. Then there will have been no time at all.”
He shook his head and said that I was being too poetic and not pragmatic enough. I disagreed: “We need art to help us awaken the hidden meaning of life, the bed where truth slumbers. We need art to go where objectivity cannot reach, explain or satisfy. Art is not an escape from reality, but part of the alchemy necessary for lead to be transmuted into gold.”
Resigned, he said that it was necessary to understand the futile search and know when to give up. The man thanked me for the coffee and the conversation, but he had to go. Before he left, I argued: “What is left for the rose if it gives up blooming?”.
He gave me a sad look, perhaps the only one he had at that moment, said nothing and left. I watched him through the café window until he disappeared into the crowd. With the pencil, I scribbled a question in the book: what is the truth of the rose? I would need this answer later and forever.
Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.