One of the tasks I enjoyed most was to help the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, in taking care of the inner garden at the monastery. I have learned that all in the world reacts according to the real measure of our feelings, in unceasing exchange. The same goes for plants. In addition, I still had the chance to talk to the monk, and to listen to his conversations with other people. All of that was a learning experience. On that day, I remember well, it was cold, but not too intense, the sky was blue and the warmth of the sun cozily caressed the body, the monk was surprised by the visit of a niece. The young lady, in her 20s, had her soul all messed up. She was unable to her keep ideas and feelings aligned.
The reason was her relationship with her father. Since she was a baby she had lived with her mother. It didn’t take long for the mother to remarry and have another child. She had always got along well with her brother and her mother’s husband. The father, despite the hardships in the relationship with the mother, kept visiting the daughter, but perhaps not in the way the daughter would have liked or thought fit, or was told how he should have done. Lately, the father’s attempts to be more present bothered her in a way she could not explain. Even though she did not admit it, that showed a dark emotional gap that needed to be filled with colors. Oftentimes she would react poorly to her father’s attempts to be closer.
Seated on a stone bench, the young lady laid out a rosary of past occasions that showed the father’s absence when she believed he should have been present. His presence, now more frequent, somehow made her uncomfortable. The Old Man listened to her patiently, until she exhausted all her criticisms. Then, he said, tenderly: “There is a sea of resentment, and you seem to be drowning in it. Surviving in the waters of bitterness is only possible with the buoy of forgiveness; to forgive is to respect the right of the other to the same infinite opportunities that you had and you have.” He looked his niece right in her eyes and asked: “What would you have done if, at any mistake you made you could not have a second chance”? Without waiting for her to answer, he went on: “Only by knowing yourself can you grant the blessings of tolerance for everyone, and that is an essential step towards peace.”
The young lady said her weak affection for the father was connected to the memory of many disappointments. Those included the weekends he did not show up, or school events he missed. The monk looked at her with sweet compassion and said: “It is very convenient to pick someone to blame for all our miseries and frustrations. This provides us with the excuse of refraining from the liberating effort of always providing the best. It saves us the trouble of understanding the other, learning about ourselves, and seeking different solutions that bring harmony and balance to the relationship. Thus, the alleged victim always asks for the other to change, forgetting that life does not condone stagnation or lament. He or she refuses to understand the part they play. Suffering is the outcome of the wrong appreciation of everything.”
The niece got angry with the Old Man, tapped her chest and asked him if he did not believe in her memories, in the situations she said she had experienced, in everything she had suffered. He held her hands tenderly and said: “I am fully convinced that all you say is true. I realize you are in pain, but I know how memory is tainted by the environment we live in, altered by the level of conscience we achieve and, particularly, how it is mixed with the emotional load we carry. This set is capable of blurring the honest truth.”
“As long as you feel each time your father was absent turned into an emotional debt that is beyond the possibility of payment, because of your need to have him eternally indebted to you, you will not know the liberating power of forgiveness, you will not experience all the good things that are harbored in both of you, you will not allow yourself to savor the honey of life.”
Annoyed, the young lady once again started to report her father’s faults, the many times she had waited for him in vain, the outings that did not occur, the hugs she longed for but did not come, the kisses that vanished in the air. She asked her uncle if he despised her feelings and all she had experienced. The monk replied in a calm tone of voice: “Of course not, my dear. I only realize how you insist on keeping a useless ledger in which you do the accounting of your sorrows, or the alleged mistakes your father made. For as long as you keep this behavior you will not move forward. You must take off the heavy and dark clothes of memory and wear others, lighter and more colorful, so that it will be easier for you to take further steps. You must look at things differently. Remember the school events he attended and remained seated in a corner, like an extra in a movie; the weekends you were to be with him but called them off because you had more interesting activities with your friends or claimed you had the flu; and when you actually did meet, it was boring; you were so reactive there was no affection.”
“I remember an occasion I met him soon after a birthday party, and I asked him why he didn’t go. He told me, with moist eyes, he had not been invited”. He paused briefly and concluded: “He may not have been the best father he could have been, he was, in fact, the best father he was allowed to be.”
The niece lowered her eyes; the Old Man caressed her face and went on, sweetly: “Neither of you are perfect. Your mother is my sister, I know how sweet she is and how much love she had raising you. But I also know of her sorrows towards your father, and the silent jealousy of the husband. You see how unfavorable that environment was for a child to have a good image of her father, even with no open accusation. The emotional memory of your relationship with your father was tainted. Did your father make mistakes? Many, but he was not the only one. You all did. You all will have reasons and justifications. If you realize that you will understand the broad meaning of the precious lesson of turning-the-other-cheek, as you will see things with the eyes of the other. That does not mean you must think the other is right, but you must respect their reasons.”
They remained quiet for some time, until the niece said she was willing to give her father a second chance. “By talking about a second chance you already place yourself on a step higher than his, and keep the gap that has always set you apart. Furthermore, why do you talk about giving him a second chance? Did he have a first? You were too young when your parents separated, and there was much undue interference in the relationship between you and your father. Your relationship was never peaceful enough to thrive. Try to make the voice of the world, the one that always points out flaws in everyone, silent; listen to the silence your heart murmurs, indicating the beauty within each one of us. It is necessary to consolidate the emotional fractures, to decontaminate the past. Only then will you be light enough to follow the Path.” He paused briefly and went on: “Often we believe our discourse defines who we are; that’s nonsense. Many believe our actions speak for ourselves; that is true. However, nothing reflects better the essence of our soul than the way we react to each movement the other makes; this is the best mirror. All relationships have, in themselves, hidden masters. You must thank them all.”
The monk hugged the niece and concluded: “Despite all the conflicts and harsh words, never forget the most important thing: your father never gave up on you. Over the years he worked hard, within the limits of his ability, to be by your side. If you take a good look, you will see, beyond the sorrows and disappointments, all the love your father has always had for you, but was never able to deliver”.
“Your difficulty in accepting your father’s love may be because of your fear to deconstruct the image you had of him and of yourself; of the odd feeling that everything you have experienced in your relationship so far was dubious or absurd. Renouncing the comfortable, but stagnating role of victim is not always easy. Embrace the chance of writing a new story in which there is room for happiness. Denying love a chance is the biggest mistake of all”.
The young lady, with a lonely tear forming on the side of her eye, said that a good feeling was filling her body, and she would look for her father on that very day, seeking the lost hugs. She smacked a kiss on the uncle’s cheek and left, jumping for joy as if the world could be a good place.
Alone with the Old Man, I asked him who he thought was right in that conundrum. He looked at me with the mercy of someone who must explain the obvious and said: “This is not important. There are at least two versions of the same fact, in addition to the truth”. He paused briefly and completed: “The magic of life is in the encounters. In them you reveal yourself, you go further and deliver the best there is in you. Only then, lighter for having taken the burden off your back, will you be able to move forward.”
Kindly translated by Carlos André Oinghenstein.