The small village at the base of the mountain that houses the monastery was coming alive. Its ancient streets, narrow and crooked, were still moist from the night’s dew. I had arrived early to run some errands, and went to the small shop of Loureiro, to invite him to have a cup of coffee with me. From afar, I could see his old bicycle, leaning against the post in front of the door, already open. I was received with the usual joy by my friend, always very elegant in his attires and attitudes. Tall and lean, his thick white hair did not disguise the advanced age. His black pants tight around the waist contrasted well with an immaculate white shirt, both exquisitely tailored. The shoemaker laid his tools over the bench and the two of us left, as good boys, laughing on the streets towards the bakery. Seated with steaming hot cups before us, waiting for fresh rolls, I couldn’t help noticing, once again, what has always drawn my attention: the sense of perpetual peace that radiated from the looks and words of that shoemaker. I have always asked myself about that feature of his. As usual, our conversation was about philosophy, a subject Loureiro was passionate about, readily reading all the books he could get a hold of. “Despite all advances, which are undeniable, I still favor the Greeks. All we had to learn we did three thousand years ago”, he said. I asked if that was the source he drank from, to exude the serenity I so admired. “All the peace you need comes from the understanding that no event in the world, as tragic as it may seem, can shake the pillars of your soul without your permission”.
I wanted to know if there was any philosopher or historic character that inspired him. Without a second thought, he said: “Each one had an importance of their own, and many made from their lives the perfect work of art to lighten the world. They were living lighthouses to lighten the stormy nights of mankind, showing that our choices, when encased in wisdom, courage, humility and, above all, love, carve in the soul the undefeatable peace, which is the fruit of the fullness achieved by the being. The most amazing is that it is available to each and every one”. He kept silent for a few moments, and then surprised me: “I have deep admiration for all, but my favorite is Socrates, of course”, he concluded with a roguish smile.
Loureiro told me a not so well-known, but very enriching anecdote about the trial of the Greek philosopher: “Everybody knows Socrates was condemned to death by the officials of that time for corrupting the youth, when, in fact, those who had the power were afraid of his liberating thoughts, that would infect everyone, even though his ideas were absolutely pacific”. He paused briefly and went on: “When he was still in prison, before his trial, some friends, who knew the trial was a farce and the sentence was already decided even before he defended himself, managed to arrange an escape for him. Socrates, however, refused to escape. His friends were surprised, and he explained that escaping is incompatible with true freedom”.
Fascinated, I listened to the story without saying a word. “As expected, Socrates was sentenced to capital punishment, by drinking a poisonous beverage. On the eve of the execution of the sentence, his wife was allowed to visit him, and to her surprise, she found him quite serene in the cell. Nervous and distressed, she asked him why he was so composed in face of such an unjust conviction. The Greek philosopher looked at her with compassionate eyes, arched his lips mildly, as if beginning to smile, and said: ‘I know the conviction is unfair, and that is why I am in peace with myself’”.
I was so overwhelmed with what I had just heard, I remained in silence for quite some time. This story had elements one could take a lifetime thinking about. I noticed the elegant shoemaker looking at me, trying to guess the reactions of my mind. Then, he made his point: “Do you realize that all the peace we need does not depend on external events?”
Despite the nice story, I disagree with him by recalling unpleasant and sad events that occur to us, making it very difficult to keep our peace. Loureiro rebuked: “Yes, life is filled with undesirable situations that reflect the imperfections of each one of us, like the disarray caused by our shadows, that manifest themselves as jealousy, envy and fear; or the ordinary course of the transient life on the planet, with deaths and ailments. Nevertheless, do not doubt that each one of them exists for a reason. If, on one hand, the physical finitude is just a passage to the immortality of the spirit that will follow relentlessly its learning journey towards Light, on the other the conflicts result from hardships that must be overcome and transformed, bearing in mind that all the problems are masters in disguise, to hone us and make us do our best. It is at this time that you develop a new way to look at things, you transform yourself and let a new person come out of the shell”.
I told him that being close to some people or places made me feel unpleasant, either due to overwhelming aggressiveness, addiction or pain. I wanted to know if he also felt that way. “No question I do. However, if peace is inside you, there is no better chance to exert it. The flame of a candle is able to lighten the depths of a dark dungeon. Many people do not have the idea of how powerful a kind word or a sincere hug may be in moments of absolute darkness. To be good where everybody else is good requires no effort. Virtue lies in the ability to flourish in the desert”.
We had emptied our cups, and it was about time to resume our chores. When I thought we were about to leave the table, he surprised me by starting to talk. His eyes seemed to be travelling to the infinite: “Four pillars support peace”. He paused briefly and continued: “The first is loyalty to one’s own code of dignity. Dignity is the fine balance of operating in the sphere of what is good and just, without forgetting compassion for those who are still imprisoned by their own shadows, so that they don’t slide down the narrow alley of morality, where intolerance and fear dwell”.
“The second pillar is the immortality of the spirit: understanding that you are more than your body, and that the soul dwells in it temporarily. Not only because of the truth it elicits, but because it makes life richer from a philosophical point of view. The way you look is modified when the end of the existence, that brings pain and leads to the big void changes to the infinite evolution of the being in an ongoing process of learning and light. Death is no longer an abyss; rather, it is a bridge”.
I was still trying to sort out all the thoughts in my mind, almost at the point of boiling by then, but he made no pause: “The third pillar that supports peace is learning and accepting that not always are you going to win or convince others of your reasons. Understanding that each one reacts according to their level of consciousness is to act with mercy with the different grades of evolution which exist on the planet. We tell our truths clearly and quietly, and we listen to the truth of others with composure and respect. Each one has their own truth, and time will make the one with the best fruit germinate. And you can rest assured, not always will it be yours. But, sometimes, losing may be better than winning”.
“Be quite attentive to the fourth pillar of peace. True peace is never granted, because what is given may be taken back. The infinite peace that lightens our soul – the one that makes the sea quiet despite intense storms – is built with the tools made available by wisdom and love. The immaterial achievements are eternal and unfaltering. Peace is an achievement you will find nowhere but within yourself”.
“Therefore, be always in peace, as everything, absolutely everything, that happens in our life is for our own good, even though, at first, we may fail to understand the mastery of the Path with its magic, subliminal trails. Only afterwards, after many steps, we are able to grasp the beauty of situations that, way back, we thought unfair, unnecessary or incoherent. If we are yet to understand them, it is because we have not travelled enough. Therefore, be patient, be willing to accept the lessons with humbleness, and always do your best with joy”.
He paused, stood up, got his coat, and added: “If you have the four pillars well supported, no one or nothing will be able to shake your precious peace, just because it has become innate to your being”.
Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.