I first met Loureiro, the wise shoemaker, many years ago, in a cemetery.
I had just joined the Order and was assigned to accompany the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the order to the wake of a good friend of his, who had departed. We managed to get a ride, and, on the winding road down the mountain towards the small and charming village located at the base, the monk kept whistling a happy tune. He seemed happy. I thought it odd, but I did not say anything. At the wake, the chapel was small for so many people who showed up; the widow was leaning on the coffin, crying disconsolately. Hers was a strong grief. To whoever came to offer condolences she asked how she could go home knowing the deceased would not be there. She said she lacked energy to empty the drawers, or to sleep in the couple’s bedroom. Some told her to be brave, others advised her to have faith. I thought the environment was appropriately dramatic for a burial and I relaxed. The Old Man, in turn, had a constant smile on his face; he spoke to everyone in a discreet, yet easy way. He was the only one who seemed to be comfortable there. I sat on a corner observing the room, when the brother of the deceased arrived. It was Loureiro, the elegant shoemaker, who loved books and wines. He looked like an Italian actor, and his poise was one of a Spanish dancer. At that time his hair was still salt-and-pepper, he was wearing elegantly tailored khakis and a smart, immaculately white shirt that strongly contrasted with the dark colors of the environment. Just like the Old Man, he was smiling, and I even suspected he was happy. He greeted everyone with discretion, but did not change the nice smile that adorned his face, which rendered some reproachful glances. When he went to greet the widow, he had his hug rejected. Without feeling offended, the shoemaker took out a small harmonica from the pants pocket and politely asked permission to play a tune. In a self-effacing tribute, he would play the music his brother liked the most. It was an old Irish song with a happy tune, whose lyrics were about the beauty of living. In rage, the widow accused him of gloating about the death of her husband, behaving disrespectfully both by the light colors of the clothes he was wearing and by his blithe manners. I overheard some comments of support for the wife.
Loureiro listened without uttering a word. When she finished, he said: “I love my brother. We have always been best friends. What you see as the end of a story I see as the beginning of a long journey to faraway lands, where he can live even better days, picking scented flowers because in this existence he sowed love wherever he went. This chapel is but the platform of the station. I am respectful, but I see no reason for sadness. I want to celebrate the fine man my brother was, the great soul he possessed, celebrate my longing with joy and tell him ‘I will see you soon.’” Loureiro was interrupted by the cries of suppression of the widow, and a small commotion arose. The Old Man rapidly placed his arm around the cobbler’s shoulders, made a sign with his head to me and we left.
We went to a tavern not far away. Loureiro ordered his brother’s favorite wine and we made a toast. I mean, they did, I refused. I was scared, and upset, and condemned the attitude of the monk and the cobbler. I said they were inconsiderate and had no respect for the widow or the deceased. The Old Man arched his lips in a mild smile, looked at me as if I was a child, and asked the craftsman: “Can you explain it to him?” The cobbler nodded with his head, pointed a finger at me and said: “You are going to die.”
That statement made me feel bad, but in such an awkward situation, I said nothing. Loureiro did not mind, and went on: “You look like you are being cursed right now.” My silence was a strong statement that that was exactly how I was feeling at that moment, even though I knew he was speaking the obvious. Yes, I was going to die, I just did not know when or how. However, thinking about that was bothersome. He continued: “Why do you deal so badly with the only sure thing in life? If death is a certainty in the life of everybody, why do we fear it rather than making it a powerful ally? The way we illuminate our fears define the sufferings and joys of the Path.”
I argued that death was the end of the existence. The shoemaker nodded with his head, and said: “Yes, but it does not mean the end of life, which continues its fantastic and endless journey towards Light. Death marks the end of a cycle and, unfailingly, the beginning of another. Death is just the end of the physical body, a temporary outfit to harbor the spirit, which is eternal and who you really are. We are born and die many times in repeated cycles of lessons and evolution until this learning process is no longer necessary, and we can finally move to other lands, where we are capable of dwelling in expanded levels of wisdom and love. Be sure that we have already journeyed on more dense trails, and have changed to other more subtle ones. The end of a story will always be the beginning of another.”
I told him that, regardless of that, we should respect the suffering of those who have lost a beloved one. Loureiro opened his arms as if indicating he did not understand what I meant, and said: “Loss? What do you mean? Until when we will insist in having this tragic perspective when, in fact, there is no drama? The body, like everything in this planet, has an expiration date, a finite time within which we complete part of the journey, assess the moral accomplishments achieved, the expansion of consciousness, the enhancement of our ability to love, and the battles won over the shadows that dwell within ourselves. From these points we can move on to new flights or redo the ones we have failed. We will return as many times as necessary, in a demonstration of infinite patience and love from those who have taught us, and the tremendous wisdom of the Unwritten Laws. Until we are ready. That is how we move on.” He paused briefly and added: “There will never be loss, only transformation.”
I made a speech about missing the presence of someone who has died, like a dagger that makes a deep, painful wound. The shoemaker shook his head, laughed and said: “How such longing is mistaken.” He remained silent for a few moments, as if evoking a recollection, and continued: “Feeling longing for the departed is a privilege of those who love. Only they feel such yearning; only what was good is missed. This is why we should celebrate the departed.” He observed my reaction for a few moments and continued: “It makes no sense to have a sad recollection of someone who only brought you happiness and love. To understand the trip is to gladly accept the many departures and the new arrivals. To refuse the lesson is to call upon you pain and suffering, and not realizing the blessings of longing.”
Blessings of longing? Is yearning something good? I told him I did not understand. He was clear: “Feeling a longing for the past is wonderful, as it is the memory of the best moments in the life of each one of us. Longing will write the finest pages of the book of your life. Only those who loved and were happy feel longing. The alternative for longing is the darkness of the void of those who did not know love, hid from life or were not able to illuminate their hearts.” He raised his glass and toasted with the Old Man: “Longing is a gift for those who loved too much. I salute the yearning I feel!” The monk reciprocated: “Blessed are those who feel longing, as they know love and happiness!”
I argued that I fully understood the suffering of the widow for not having by her side, any longer, her companion of so many years. The eyes of the good shoemaker became watery, and he asked with emotion: “Do you know the origin of the word companion?” I answered no. He explained: “It means ‘with whom one shares the bread’.” He paused for a few seconds and then continued: “I love my brother deeply. We were and will keep on being great companions, as moving to other spheres do not sever the imperishable ties of love. We must learn to be patient until we meet again. The Law of Affinity is unrelenting and will unite us infinite times.”
“My brother fought for years a cancer and its aggressive metastases. The physical pain and discomfort caused by chemotherapy were tremendous. He faced it all with dignity and courage, and no sorrows. A while prior to his departure, he told me the disease had given him important lessons, making him understand some values whose importance he had not known. He told me with a sincere smile that the disease had refined his perception on all things. He had always been a happy man, but I do not recall seeing him as happy as he was on that day. He really came to understand the Laws, and that changed each and every suffering into stardust. Death was generous to him, for in an act of love freed him from body pains and let his spirit loose to fly much beyond the dense matter and experience other stories.”
I asked how it would have been, had death been sudden, from an accident or a massive heart attack, for instance, without the chance of saying good-bye. The craftsman immediately replied: “Aside from the surprise of the sudden visit of death, nothing would be different. To have death as an ally is to understand that each and every day is a good day for dying. To accept that death is a Cosmic Intelligence tool for our process of evolution is to feel all the love that comes from the Universe. Death means either the time for new lessons or for urgent adjustments in the course of the journey. To realize that ‘all that happens in our lives is for own good’, puts away the drama and expands the consciousness so that we can apprehend the lesson being taught at that time. He looked deep inside me and said: “Strange as it may seem, suffering for someone’s death does not show love. On the contrary, it is a strong demonstration of selfishness. After all, love is a generous, appreciative feeling that makes you able to understand that the timing and the needs of the other are different than yours. Sheer love is an act of deep wisdom. Only petty feelings wish to hold someone captive on our side at any cost or under any pain. Life requires lightness, happiness cries for detachment, and love needs freedom.”
I said that all that speech was well and good, but cultural conditionings tied me to old ideas of thinking and acting. This time, it was the Old Man who spoke: “Yes, Yoskhaz, to free oneself from the old forms is to transmute shadows into light, to abandon the jail without bars of the imprisoned consciousness. One must go beyond the static reality, because wisdom is dynamic. If the caterpillar denies the cocoon because it is mistaken about metamorphosis, it will not know the power of its wings.” He looked at me with kindness, arched his lips in a mild smile, and added, sweetly: “Death is an important ally in our process of spiritual healing, as embedded in it are two of the powerful Unwritten Laws, the Law of Renovation and the Law of Infinite Opportunities. Death is thus an instrument of pure love in the Great Symphony of the Universe, and longing is one of its finest tunes. Enjoy and dance with it!”
Loureiro used that as a cue, took the harmonica out of his pocket and played the happy Celtic tune his brother liked so much. Little by little, the other clients of the tavern started to clap their hands in synch with the tune. “I am sure that right now my brother is singing with us. He loved me and, therefore, is happy to see me happy,” Loureiro said. The Old Man nodded in agreement.
I ordered a glass of wine and toasted longing, love and the endless life.
Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.