“The magic of life takes place while we experience the ordinary day-to-day things”, the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk at the monastery, would say. That comes to mind when I realize how much time and energy we waste with situations that have no importance whatsoever for our lives, and in the end we delay the fantastic journey by allowing ourselves to travel in circles. “It doesn’t matter” is a single-sentence mantra he would repeat and teach all the time. In every day there is at least one magical moment that may transform your life. The secret to see and cross this portal lies in your choices, and to freely make them you cannot be distracted or weakened by what does not matter. The urgent trivia are traps on the Path.
Once we were arriving from a long trip, and there was a huge line to clear customs at the airport. While I was following, annoyed, the slow progression of the line, the Old Man was serene, and seemed to be dazzled by everything around him. When our turn came, a couple, hugging and kissing, went ahead before we did, and we had to wait a little longer. I looked angry at the Old Man and before I started my line about their lack of manners, he spoke softly, almost in a whisper, “it doesn’t matter”. Before I could rebuke his mantra, the customs officer called us. He looked at me with a roguish smile, as if saying “see?”. “I like to watch loving couples”, he explained, which made me even more impatient. I realized that I, even though being much younger, had to push myself to carry the rocks of annoyance; the Old Man, despite the relentless passing of the time, moved around the lobby bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Just like he did in life. I understood that wisdom and love gives you wings.
At another time, we were stuck in a traffic jam in a big city. I was at the wheel. Not only had a car cut us off, the driver cursed at me. Upset, I looked at the Old Man seated on the passenger seat, trying to get his sympathy for me against that lack of civility. He just looked at me, said his “it doesn’t matter” mantra, and continued to entertain himself with the hubbub of those who move hurriedly in life. I tried to disagree, but he interrupted me with a light touch in my arm and a soft voice. “One way or another, we go on with our journey”. But I was annoyed, and rebuked that the haste of that driver had almost caused an accident. The Old Man looked at me. “Why bother and waste time with something that did not happen?” I kept quiet. I understood that lack of tolerance only hampers the journey.
A while later we stopped at a red light. A young man came to the window, asking for money. He said he was hungry. Knowing how dangerous big cities can be, I kept the window closed and a hard expression on my face, as a defense mechanism. The Old Man made a sign for the young man to go to his window, gave him a bill and his best smile. He received another nice smile in return. Immediately I started to rant the old justification that perhaps that boy would use the money to buy drugs, not food. The Old Man looked at me undisturbed, and recited his mantra, “it doesn’t matter”. I said that perhaps his attitude would drive he boy away from the healthy habit of working. “It doesn’t matter”, he said the mantra again. This time, however, he expanded. “Hunger can’t wait. I did my part the best way I could. Everyone should do their part and understand the responsibility of their choices. I will never know if that young man used the money to buy drugs or food. That is his choice; I only offered him what I could and what life has presented me and him at this time”. I shut up and understood that without compassion the journey is impossible.
At another occasion, we were on our way to a family ceremony. I was eager to see relatives I had not seen in years, and to feel their reaction to the passing of my grandmother to the other sphere. She was a typical matriarch, loving and participatory at the same time, almost an intruder in the individual projects of each one of her offspring and grandchildren. The weather was bad, and the fear of being late little by little changed my mood. “The way the storm is, it won’t take long for a tree to fall and block the road”, I said, revealing my fear. “It doesn’t matter”, he said with his usual softness. “What do you mean?”, I replied. “We came a long way and when we are almost arriving this storm catches us by surprise”, I retorted, showing how nervous I was. “Why should you be concerned with what you cannot interfere? Some things are meant to happen, others are not. Let’s do our part and hope for the best”, he paused briefly to conclude, “even if we, at the time, do not understand the extension of the cosmic intelligence. The fingers of the masters are long, and they touch what we are still unable to see. You can believe that all that happens in our life is for the best, even catastrophes. You know that”.
I knew he was right, and that I only had to practice the teachings that I had learned. Why do we always know more than what we experience? Knowledge without practice does not turn into wisdom; it is like stale bread on the window that does not satiate hunger. I did not say another word.
I slowed down because of the weather. We arrived late, but the ceremony was delayed because many other people had also to face the storm. We greeted everyone and then, discreetly, we went to where the body of my grandmother was laid, so that we could, silently, direct our thoughts for her peaceful soul to go to the other station of life. At the end of the ceremony, we said our farewells to everyone; some were very moved, others were there for social or family obligation. We drove back to the airport, to catch our flight, scheduled to depart close to midnight. On the road, I lamented to the Old Man how sad I had been with some relatives who treated me coldly. “It doesn’t matter”, he repeated his mantra once again. “One cannot give what one does not have. These are hearts still deserted of love”. Once again, the Old Man showed that at the forks of the Path, compassion was the sign that showed to route for the sun.
I told him I felt like giving a big hug in a cousin I was raised with, but with whom I had a quarrel long ago, before I joined the Order, that was never settled. Perhaps it was about time to forgive ourselves. At the time we were, both, so immature, that looking back it seems we were other people. Only forgiveness would have the power to free me from the bitterness I still felt. I found the eyes of the Old Man in the rearview mirror, gravely looking at me. I smiled and said I knew exactly what he was going to say, that that didn’t matter. The Old Man touched my arm and admonished me. “No, Yoskhaz, it matters. Let’s go back now”. In face of my astonishment, he insisted for us to return immediately. “To make bonds between hearts is the meaning of life”, he explained. I reminded him that if we did that, we would lose the flight back, we would have other unforeseen expenses and other engagements would be missed. It would be quite troublesome.
“It doesn’t matter”, the Old Man stated his mantra with a roguish smile.
And we went back.