“What makes us good or bad is not what happens to us, but how we react to that”, said the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the monastery, triggering a big discussion at a university of a major city, where he was invited to take part in a panel with philosophers, professors, scientists and artists. A professor, an educated, kind man, totally disagreed with him, arguing that people are shaped by the environment they live in. Articulate and with fine rhetoric, he advocated that social relations impose and limit our choices, depending on how successful or traumatic these relations are. The Old Man held his ground: “To ascribe to the world responsibility for our mistakes is to wear the mask of a helpless victim. This does not help anyone with anything. It is essential to take off the costume and realize you can act differently. You must move on without guilt, which constrains, but with the responsibility of doing better from then on, as you have engaged in a commitment with the Light”.
The discussion became heated, and everybody spoke their mind. Most thought like the professor, a few others like the monk, who remained composed even when his opinion was harshly attacked by a historian. She asked him to define what he meant by “commitment with the Light”. The gaze of the Old Man found me seated in the audience, and I could feel how amused he was with all that. He sipped some water and replied: “Commitment with the Light is a code of dignity each one of us must write in our own soul to guide our actions based on the best there is within ourselves. Principles of the purest love and keenest wisdom should guide the way and our actions. However, as we go through infinite transformations, this code of conduct is not definitive. It will change according to the evolvement of the soul. Little by little, older ideas will be replaced by other, more enlightened ones. The instrument that will allow such evolution to occur are the choices one has to make in face of life’s intrinsic hardships, teaching valuable lessons that lead to evolvement. Therefore, one must be constantly moving, in search of Light. This is the commitment, this is the Path”. He paused briefly and added: “Each one is the hero of their own film, and, as a principle, all heroes, sooner or later, seek the Sunny Side of the Road”.
People got even more excited, and consensus was far from being reached. Later on that day, I told the Old Man I was surprised to see how composed he had remained in face of such dissent and attacks: “It is useless to try to convince others, and while having an argument it is foolish. We should listen to others with respect, and speak what we believe is true with serenity and clarity. In the silence of the soul the good seed will eventually germinate, here or elsewhere. Ideas need quietness as a fertilizer in order to flourish”.
I also said I agreed with most panelists. I believed the social environment is decisive in shaping people, mitigating and accounting for their weaknesses. The Old Man scratched his beard and said: “Of course all that happens to us influences us, as it is a source of learning; however, often it takes us time to understand. This does not mean that if something bad happens to you, it justifies a poor attitude. These are the choices that define us”. I once again disagreed with him once again, and told him he was being too naïve regarding life. He looked at me without saying a word.
The following day, before returning to the monastery, the Old Man gave me a package and asked me the favor of taking it to a friend who lived in the outskirts of that city. He had some errands to run and we would meet later, to travel. With the package and address in hands, I took the subway all the way to the final station. Then I went down a labyrinth of alleys and backstreets, asking information here and there. As I moved on, the homes become more and more humble, and I feared I would never be able to get out of that maze. I started to be afraid. At a certain point, not knowing where to turn, I heard a beautiful voice from afar, singing a song that seemed enchanted, so beautiful it was, and that appeased the feeling that was grasping my heart. I immediately recalled the Odyssey and the danger the protagonist faced with the haunting song of the Sirens. At first, I interpreted that as a bad omen. However, I recalled the Old Man teaching me to always respect and interpret the signs. I filled my heart with hope, as I was already lost, and let the song guide me to a simple, very old and yet well-cared house. In the yard, some children were joyfully playing. I came close to the window and saw a woman, whose age I could not tell, singing while sewing. When she saw me, she smiled and said: “I was waiting for you”. She dropped the needle, stood up and came to open the door. I was received with joy, and a sense of well-being overtook me. She was wearing a simple dress, but with beautiful, bright-colored prints. A red rose held her dark hair up. She bowed and, without my asking, said: “My name is Mercedes and, yes, I am a gypsy”. She led me to the kitchen, and took a delicious-smelling cake from the oven. She called the children, there were six, who ate in cheerful hubbub and rapidly went back to playing in the yard. I asked if they were her kids, as I thought they were very different one from the other. “Yes, they are all my children. Every kid that enters through the door of this house and wishes to stay becomes my child”, she explained. “The first came I don’t know from where, he just showed up. He wasn’t older than 4 years. He said he had always been homeless, had no family and was hungry. I invited him to stay, enrolled him in school, took care of him. No one came to claim him. Then he brought another kid, he found abandoned on the streets, living in similar conditions to his. He, too, stayed here. The same happened with the others. They are all my children, they are all siblings. The heart has the power to enlarge its limits to infinity, in the precise measure of the love we feel”, her eyes had a shine I had never seen before.
I could not resist asking if she was married or had a family. “I lost my parents when I still young, was raised here and there. I was victim of prejudice for being poor and for being a gypsy, but I soon decided to make that my strength. I became an attractive woman, not so much in terms of physical beauty, but because of a joyful nature I have always had. I think this is the reason I shone and attracted people’s attention. I was young when I married, but soon my husband divorced me to marry a woman who could give him a more comfortable life. The house we lived in was his. I collected all I had, which barely filled a tote bag, wished him well and moved on”, she spoke with the softness of those who have life well sorted out within themselves. I wanted to know how angry she had been. “There is no room for sorrow, we must understand people act according to the width of their soul. To feel victimized is to play the part of the weak person. Regrets make us boring, and are good for nothing. I realized the clashes made me stronger, like the hand of a longshoreman that becomes calloused and used to such hard work after carrying so much weight”.
I asked her how she could feed, dress and educate those children, who seemed well cared for and happy. “I make my living as a seamstress. Sometimes, going back to my origins, I read cards and talk about fate and destiny apart from decisions made of free will; of permissions and commitments from previous existences. Even though I don’t charge a fee, if people are happy they make me a donation, which I am happy to accept, and that helps out in the expenses. We have never wanted for anything”. She poured me some tea with a generous slice of cake, and said: “I have learned that it is important we do our best always; to put as much love as we can in all we do. Then, we let the magic of life take care of what is necessary”. The gypsy looked me in the eyes and said in a soft voice, as if disclosing a secret: “And sing. Always sing. Music scares the bad spirits away”, and smiled.
Then, Mercedes opened the small package sent by the Old Man. Inside, a beautiful hair clip in the shape of a flower, which she loved. There was also a smaller package, addressed to me. Surprised, I opened it and found a pair of glasses without lenses. Aside, a number of pairs of lenses, of different colors. Surprised, I looked at the gypsy, without understanding the meaning of that. She tossed her hair back and laughed heartily: “This is an old coded message among esotericists. Did you get it?” I told her I did not, and asked her to be more clear. “It states that we can select the lenses through which we want to see the world; lenses of drama or joy; lenses of tragedy or lessons. The way you look at a fact will determine the type of reaction you will have. Drama lenses bury dreams; learning lenses leverage evolution”. Together we laughed at the tricks of the Old Man, as a magician enchanting us with the unforeseen. Finally, the kind gypsy told me: “There is a sentence the Master told us thousands of years ago that defines the way we will travel the Path: ‘If you have a good eye, your entire body is Light’”.
Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.