The past is a poison

Loureiro, the elegant shoemaker who loved wines and books, closed his shop at twelve noon and off we went, strolling on the narrow and winding streets of the ancient village located at the foot of the mountain that is home to the monastery. It was a typical Fall Saturday; the sky was clear, cloudless, and the sun over the light coat warmed the skin underneath. We were in good spirits, going to our favorite restaurant for lunch and, needless to say, to have a few glasses of red wine. Pleasantries were on the agenda when, right by the entrance, we bumped into Helen, a common friend. She was very shaken, and the dark circles around her eyes were a record of bad nights’ sleep. She promptly accepted the invitation to join us, and without being asked, immediately started to talk about the causes of the emotional disruption that assailed her. She could not contain her pain within and needed to vent. She had just finished her marriage, the fifth or sixth, she was not sure, for it had lasted too little. She said she was disappointed with people in general. She confided that intimacy revealed unpleasant features that made long-term relationships impossible. Helen spoke for quite some time, unraveling her sorrows. We listened patiently; at some point, the cobbler asked if she had ever been happily in love. At this point, her eyes shone and a smile, which seemed impossible, cracked in her pretty face.

Excitedly, she told us about what she considered the best period of her life, next to her first husband, when she wasn’t even twenty. This had been a long time ago. Her words told a story of an almost perfect love, in which any error was minor, and could easily be amended. Comparison with subsequent marriages was unavoidable. At the table, we all knew that the first marriage reached an end when Jacques, the husband she was referring to, committed suicide when still young. When she made a pause for a sip of wine, Loureiro took the chance to make a terse remark: “The past is a poison.” In face of her astonished look, he continued with his reasoning: “The past can be a dangerous trap if we are not careful enough.”

“The present always presents hardships, which are important exercises for honing, particularly in regard to relationships. No one needs anyone to be whole and happy, but we do need the other to make us better. Relationships with others will always be the cause of disputes that emerge from imperfections of both sides. When we take on the challenge of overcoming them, quitting the bad habit of giving up, is that we crack the shell that hides the light dwelling within ourselves but that we not yet know.”

“It is not always easy to face the typical problems of a couple’s relationship. Often, we believe that some hurdles are unsurpassable, and are beyond our ability to transform. This does not exist when we are dealing with changing oneself, when one seeks their own evolution. Oftentimes we do not believe in the power that moves us, or we have not decoded the challenge. Only the storms can shape a seasoned seadog.”

“However, we tend to allow that our own shadows, believing they will protect us, set up a mean game as an escape route. As if they were stickers, we crop the best moments of the past to stick in an album that never existed. We color the images with vibrant hues, enhance their shine and intensity. These are the shadows making us believe in a model of happiness that does not exist. At least, not in those details and formats. The imbalance between past and present is unavoidable. And cruel, because we now have, as reference, fiction, not reality. When we play this game, we activate a terrible mechanism of comparison between a past written with perfect letter types as opposed to a present that brings all imperfections innate to life, making bigger the battles we are not always willing to fight. The past ends up poisoning the present, making it gloomy and despondent.”

Upset, Helen said that the shoemaker was mistaken. Just like herself, many people had been happy in previous relationships that, for one reason or another, ended. Loureiro kept his smooth tone of voice: “There is no question. I am not talking about separations due to the passing of one of the spouses to other spheres of existence. I am talking about relationships that reached an end due to lack of compatibility between the parties, out of the will of one or both parties. Who is happy with their partner does not end a marriage.” He looked seriously at his friend and shot the silver bullet: “Happy people do not commit suicide.”

Things got nasty. Helen accused the cobbler of being insensitive in his assessment and rude in his words. She added that Jacques committed suicide for reasons other than the marriage. She explained that he was undergoing a professional crisis. Loureiro listened to her outburst and criticism without becoming disturbed; at the end, he said with his typical composure: “When we are sad or happy, we take this feeling from home to work, and vice-versa. You cannot disconnect emotions as an electrical appliance you unplug to stop it from operating, depending on where you are. I understand you do not want to recall the harder moments and prefer to highlight those moments you were happy. Or recreate them in your imagination. This is the instinct of survival offering you the motivation to keep going. Instinct is one of many tools of the shadow’s trick kit. When we are delusional about the past, we end up confronting it through unfair comparisons with the present, thus postponing the necessary changes required to achieve inner peace.”

“Yearning for the past is a gift love gave us; for the future we are blessed with hope and dreams. Only the present gives us the true joy of being and living. To that end, we must look at the mirror of sincerity, be compassionate with hardships of others and humble with our own. We must be willing to renew and transform ourselves always, every single day until the endless day.”

Helen refuted, by saying that the history of any person has value and beauty. Loureiro agreed: “Of course! This is not what I am talking about. I am drawing attention to the risk of not living the present in its fullest for having in the past an unattainable standard. When that happens, we end up by contaminating the value and beauty of what we are yet to live and feel. It is important to take this cup away from you”.

“By tying your life to the past, you refuse to learn new lessons without which you will not be able to operate the due transformations in your being. Soon, there will be no new seeds to share in the gardens of humankind. Hence, you will be prevented from following on the journey and will be trapped in the cell of time.” He made a brief pause before adding: “All that stagnates ends up rotting.”

We became silent. The waiter brought our dishes, we made brief comments about how tasty they were. Then our friend went back to the subject by commenting how difficult it was to have a relationship, as, in intimacy, people are different than how they initially presented themselves to be. Loureiro sipped the wine and remarked: “This goes for everyone, including me and you.” Helen interrupted him to say that as soon as she was introduced to someone, she listed all her flaws so that the other would know whom he or she was dealing with. The cobbler smiled and said: “Yes, this is a good approach, however not always effective. Disclosing a hardship is not an excuse not to face it. On the other hand, you only disclose the hardships you recognize you have. How about the others?”

In face of the woman’s astonishment, the shoemaker continued: “I am talking about the hardships we refuse to see or admit we have; problems that are only revealed in the intense relationships of daily life. Hence the importance of relationships, they serve as mirrors that show improvements we must undertake. Out of complacency, fear or ignorance we insist in blaming others for mismatches originated in the fragmentation of the self, in the misfit between ego and soul. The causes of strangeness and harshness in relationships are an excellent opportunity for learning and evolution. At first, we always offer our best and, have no doubt, it is almost always true. It is what we are or project ourselves to be, which is quite honest of us. Only in intimacy, in the fraying of daily living, we open the cage and let loose the worst within ourselves. This is not necessarily bad, as it can serve as an opportunity to transmute shadows into light. And it is nice when there is the love of someone to help out at this difficult, and yet pretty moment in life. Only stories about overcoming the odds can be called ‘love stories’”.

“All relationships have their beauty, enchantment and lessons. No question many of them are cases of total incompatibility, souls whose tunes are so distant one form the other affinity between them is impossible to maintain. Then, it is time to leave. However, the way we face the other, if a terrible villain or a valuable ally in the battle we fight within ourselves will depend on the gaze, and the cheek we are able to give. The respect you have for the other shows the respect you have for yourself and life itself.”

Silence reigned once again. The words had to find their places. Helen joked by saying that, perhaps due to the wine, she was starting to think the cobbler could be right. Or she was so high with the past she stumbled in the present. We laughed. She admitted that comparisons are indeed baleful because they are unfair, as they compare different moments, situations and people. A clearer lens would make possible finding virtues and flaws in every person she had had a relationship with. Suffice a bit of goodwill towards the other and some amounts or courage and honesty to admit one’s own mistakes. A tear rolled down her cheek. She smiled and said she understood what Loureiro meant when he referred to the past as poison.

“Or a master,” rebuked the cobbler. “The past is filled with precious teachings that should not be wasted, or the same stones can hamper the journey once again. Situations that have been experienced, when contemplated with wisdom and love, become a powerful beacon shedding light over the next steps.” He winked an eye as if telling a secret and completed: “The path can always be smoother. It all depends on the way you walk.”

Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.



1 comment

m har March 1, 2018 at 6:52 pm



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