When I walked into Loureiro’s shop, the elegant shoemaker decided to call it a day, even though we were still in the middle of the afternoon. A lover of red wines and philosophy books, he had the hammer and the plier as the tools of his trade; the ideas with which he colored the mosaic of his life were the instruments of his art. His shop did not have fixed hours for opening or closing. The hours of operation varied according to the will of the cobbler, and in the small village, the unlikely hours of operation had become legendary. We would go, both of us, to watch a soccer match on TV at a boisterous tavern. That was a much-expected play-off match. Loureiro thought we would have time for a chat before heading on, and went to make a fresh pot of coffee to loosen up his words. He had barely placed two steaming cups on the counter and we were taken by surprise by a tornado in human form. The shoemaker’s youngest sister busted into the shop with such energy that all around seemed to shake. Lucy was her name. She had long ceased to be a girl. Despite her half a century of existence, she still had the fire of youth. Her blue eyes contrasted with her dark skin and dark hair; she was very pretty. She was very pleasant to deal with, attentive and a good friend. She thoroughly enjoyed studying and had become a respectable judge of the local court, and that provided her with a comfortable financial life. Her features notwithstanding, she was not happy. One of her wishes was to have a stable marriage with someone she could share all moments of life. However, despite her personal qualities, her love relationships were ephemeral; for a reason she did not know, they just did not last. This was the reason of that sudden visit: her last boyfriend had just broken up with her.
She was in distress. She had come seeking an explanation. Loureiro asked her to sit and poured her a cup of coffee. She immediately started to voice a litany of complaints. She was being sincere when she said she did not know why all her boyfriends ended up breaking up with her. She was always willing to help her partner in his personal problems, she was friendly, loyal, caring and intense. She said that she spoke to her female friends, and they also did not understand the reason why her romances went sour. They all considered her the perfect girlfriend.
Casually, the craftsman asked: “Tell me a bit, not about you, whom I know well, but about your boyfriends.” In a rapid exchange of glances with Loureiro, old friends we were, I understood the strategy of the wise cobbler – the heart speaks more about itself when it reveals how it sees the other. Lucy started with the last one. She said he was an important businessman working with supermarkets; a happy, affectionate person, a rich and generous man who helped many charities. However, he was being sued by the government for tax evasion. She said that as a judge, she did not feel comfortable having a relationship with someone with such a problem, and strongly asked him to solve that problem as soon as possible. She even offered to get him a bank loan so that he could pay his debt, or, in the worst-case scenario, she contemplated retiring from her judgeship so she would feel more comfortable to marry him.
The boyfriend previous to that was a talented plastic artist, a sensitive and loving man with a unique gift. His paintings were beautiful, and moved her. She confessed she did not understand why his work had never attracted major international galleries. It was hard for him to make ends meet; his paintings did not sell much, and only at the public fair on the city square. His brother, whom he was friends with, helped him out to complement his income. The brother was better known for owning a famous and polemic cabaret, which, gossip has it, was a place of prostitution. Even though the boyfriend had nothing to do with the business, he took an allowance to help out with his personal expenses. Lucy had encouraged him to go back to university, to get a degree in architecture – he had dropped out of university to pursue painting. He could have moved in with her, which would have reduced his costs, and once he got his degree, he could take advantage of the good social relations she had to prospect clients and do projects and blueprints. She just wanted the boyfriend to be able to do without the money, of questionable origin, from his brother.
She also reported another relationship, in which the boyfriend was a devoted physician who worked in public hospitals. He loved medicine and provided care with passion. He was an extraordinary man, a good soul, and in the little time they had to spend time together, a good lover. Because he had decided to look after poor people, he worked a lot and earned little, at least if compared with the possibility of having a private practice that would allow him to improve the income/time ratio. She had no question he would do well, he had gained knowledge and experience by working hard and being detached from material possessions up to that point in life. His busy life made traveling, one of Lucy’s pleasures in life, something close to impossible, either due to lack of time or money, at least for the most expensive, trendy destinations she would like to go to. She offered to help him set up an office, or even pay for the trips she longed to take.
As Lucy continued to talk, it became clear that the relationships ended after she insisted on changing the way her boyfriends lived. For different reasons, their way of living bothered her.
Lucy was about to tell of yet another boyfriend when her brother made a smooth gesture with his hands, as if saying that was enough. Seeking approval, she asked the shoemaker if he thought she was wrong. “Yes and no,” he answered. Loureiro sipped a little coffee and said: “Everyone is entitled to look for the person of their dreams, the one who will match their ideal of happiness. However, they cannot demand that others adapt to their ideas of an ideal world.”
The sister voiced her protest, and said that she only “gave her best, and demanded the best of the other in return.” The cobbler immediately replied: “This is exactly where the problem lies. If both of you have this type of reasoning, things may drift into a heinous competition, driven by pride, on who has more to offer and, in return, can demand compensations more and more unacceptable.” He shook his head as if saying that was all wrong, and tried to explain: “I think that love, if it is actually love, makes us give our best without demanding any retribution. Or else it is not love. When we are not capable of feeling joy just for helping the others to be happy, and we add levies to our offer, love melts in the air.” He shrugged his shoulders as a sign of sorrow and said: “In order to experience love one must understand love.”
Ignoring his remark, she claimed her stand was fair or, at least, within reason. Loureiro furrowed his brow, indicating that that conversation would not run smoothly, and composedly disagreed: “It is not fair or reasonable.” Seeing how bewildered Lucy looked, the cobbler explained: “To share your best is to multiply the power of light that exists in you. By sharing your baggage, you illuminate the steps of those who are lost, and make possible for those who are seated at the side of the road to resume walking. To that end, you must relinquish control over the other, and not expect any kind of reciprocity, or even a simple ‘thank you’”. He made a brief pause and asked a rhetorical question: “Do you realize it is not fair or reasonable to ask anything in return? Life gives back much more when we lovingly offer our best. For that to happen, any help should not be connected to a feeling of superiority, reverence, dependency or demand of the other. Or else it would be a sad exercise of vanity and domination. When you demand from the other person a given attitude in reciprocity, you end up reducing love to a mere business, and lose the necessary lightness to float on air. Happiness does not lie in building high walls in order to control the other, but in sharing with everyone the joy of developing one’s own wings to cross the abysses of existence. The flight is solo, but it is beautiful when there is someone to fly together”.
His sister’s eyes became moist, and a tear rolled down her pretty face. Sobbing, she said she had always tried hard to be the best friend of her boyfriends. To what Loureiro added: “And ended up being the worst girlfriend.” He paused briefly and continued: “You were great when you gave your best, and what you understood was the best for them. At this point, Heaven rejoiced. It was all lost when you demanded from them unconditional acceptance of your offer and a change in behavior so that they would be, according to your belief, on par with you. Can you realize that, deep down, you did not act out of love, but out of fear that their lives would affect the life you chose for yourself? Hence you decided to interfere in their choices. You wanted them, but you wanted them differently from what they really were. You only wanted the good part or rather, what your level of awareness understood as the good part. Can you understand that, if they accepted that, they would lose their wholeness or authenticity that makes us different and charming? In a way, subconsciously or not, you see yourself as perfect, you think you are better than your boyfriends; and the worst is that you get stuck with the expectations and opinions of everyone about your choices and truths. With this attitude, you lose the honey of life, with all the good things each person can give. The demand for perfection prevents you from enjoying the possible. Then, the angels finish the party because the steps of the dance are mismatched.”
Lucy cried a lot, and said no word. Loureiro hugged her lovingly for a long time. Then he wiped the tears of his sister, kissed her on the forehead and spoke with sweet eyes and a composed voice: “There is nothing sillier than wanting to change other people. To transform ourselves is a task for each one of us. To learn, transmute, share and move on are the guidelines; to illuminate our shadows is the battle we must fight. Now, you have to wipe your tears, heal the wounds and start again. Life will not give up on you nor will prevent you from being happy. There will always be a new opportunity.”
Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.