I was accompanying the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, in a cycle of lectures he was delivering when I received an invitation for the 80th birthday party of a dear relative of mine. It would be in a city close to the one we were in. I asked the Old Man to join me, and he promptly accepted. I told him about my annoyance in meeting some relatives with whom I still had some unresolved grudges from the past. I mentioned a cousin who had been one of my best friends in my teen years but, at some point we had a falling out and distanced ourselves one from the other. I hadn’t spoken to him in years. I asked the Old Man not to be baffled. The Old Man commented: “Ceremonies, whether of personal, family, professional or religious nature are important rituals not only to celebrate life but to bring together those who are not only equals, but who have the same energetic vibration. In addition, and as important as that, is that they allow those who have dissents that need to be pacified to meet. Differences in the eyes should not be a reason for the distancing of the heart. The flowers of respect, compassion, humility, patience and courage are indispensable in the garden of love. To love is not just wishing well. To love is an art with many virtues.”
I thought that the monk had not understood me well, and I decided not to say anything else. At the party, I introduced the Old Man to everyone. As usual, pretty soon he had captivated all those he was introduced to. He was wearing a dark jacket and a colorful bow tie that seemed to decorate his huge white beard. The cane that helped his steps, at times, seemed like a prop in the hands of an artist. He was a man sophisticated because of his simplicity. His nobility lay in the delicate attention to everyone and everything around him. It was all going well until, at some point, I saw that the cousin with whom I had had a falling out had approached him and started a conversation. Much to my chagrin, they spoke for more time than they should have, and worse, from time to time they laughed out loud. When the Old Man came closer, I did not hide my dissatisfaction or its reasons: he was having a good time with a foe of mine. The Old Man, keeping his composure, spoke to me with his always soft voice: “No one is entirely good or entirely bad; he is not my enemy, and should not be yours.” I said he was mistaken about my cousin, and should not be deceived by his charming speech, because in intimacy he would show himself to be quite the opposite. The monk explained: “We are all like that. When we have an occasional relationship, we can show only our best; and rest assured, these features are real. However, only intimacy rips up the masks we wear in the illusion of protecting us from the world and burst out the doors of the dark dungeon of our core. Then we show the shadows that dwell within. The good thing about this is that only by knowing who we are can we turn ourselves into who we want to be, in a process of ongoing transformation. Intense relationships fray families, marriages and long-term friendships. Or make them sturdier, as the bonds among warriors who helped one another in strenuous battles, in crucial tests for maturing and improving. These relationships become the finest works of art there is, because their raw material is life carved by the spatula of love. No painting, sculpture, book or music will be more valuable and profound. All forms of art, and I am not denying their importance, are but an amplified section of the life history of each one of us.”
“Loving is the greatest art. You are the artist; your life, the masterpiece. Anonymous or not, it equals all the others. Once it is ready, instead of being placed in a museum, it will embellish the gardens of humankind through infinite mutations. The universe is grateful, expands and illuminates. This grants you power and makes of you an enchanted being.”
I said I had already forgiven my cousin, I had no ill will towards him, but I would never forget what he had done to me. I just did not want to have anything to do with him. And I added that I was not forced to. The Old Man arched him lips in a discrete smile and said: “No one is forced to do anything. However, at all times we can choose either to keep the boat in the storm or to seek out new horizons where we can cross oceans with joy and in peace. Each one is the captain of their own destiny, deciding the seas to sail and the shores to moor. Their achievements and failures. There is no such thing as chance or room for complaints.” He asked the waiter for a glass of water, had a sip and continued: “When we can’t stand a relationship with the other, it means that forgiveness is yet to flourish. Forgiveness is connected to the Laws of Renewal and Infinite Opportunities, and also to the Law of Love. Everything, absolutely everything must turn back into seed again, so that life can go on. Rebirth is a powerful instrument of the Light.”
“There is only Light when there is love; it is impossible to love and not be forgiving”.
“Forgiveness requires compassion and understanding that each one acts to the precise measure of their capabilities. No more, no less. However, everyone changes, transforms, evolves. Forgiving is not forgetting, this is amnesia; forgiving is the ability to recall the facts under a blanket of understanding as to the limitations and motives, according to the level of awareness and loving capacity everyone had at the time. Both him and you. So, it is necessary the support of another virtue, humility. How to demand perfection of the other if we do not have it to give? How about giving your best and willingly accept what the world has to deliver, even knowing that it will never be what you expect? That is how free spirits operate. This is living with love, and for love.” He sipped some more water and added: “Wishing no harm to the other does not mean forgiving. This is an important step towards forgiveness. Fighting evil with evil is using the dark currency of the shadows. Refusing to play the game of the shadows is the beginning of the journey towards illumination, knowledge, balance, plenitude of being and peace.” He lay his glass on a table and continued: “Wishing no harm is still far for the actual power of love. One must do good. Without love there is no light; without light we will remain in the dark cell of the shadows.” I interrupted him to rebuke. I claimed I was not stuck in a cell, I was just exerting my inalienable right of avoiding a relationship with my cousin. The Old Man nodded and said: “Yes, you make the choices, and in this resides the power you have. Only your choices transform and liberate. However, you must pay attention, because the worst prisons do not have bars, so we do not realize we are prisoners. There is no freedom without love, there is no love without forgiveness, there is no forgiveness without compassion and humility.”
I confessed I feared my cousin would turn his back on me or refuse my attempt to approach him. The Old Man shook his head and explained: “All that is left to the weak are anger, sorrow and resentment. Fear is a shadow; courage is light. Love is only for those who have courage. The courage to fight battles, to take unimaginable flights, to go beyond the curve of the road. One must be courageous to face rejection or lack of understanding from the other. If that happens, patience, another valuable virtue, is necessary, for one to realize the other is not ready for this encounter, in addition to respect, another most important virtue. Respect for the freedom and choice of the other, because, just like you, the other is not forced to do anything he does not want.”
I said that those were fine words, but life is tough and reality is quite different. I acknowledged that many a time I felt like going over to my cousin, so that we could talk and put an end to the quarrel. However, I was sure he would turn his back on me or would, somehow, humiliate me. I was not willing to demean myself. Moreover, it was my cousin who was wrong, so he should be the one to take the initiative. The Old Man opened his arms, as if he needed to make gestures to explain his words, and said: “Do you realize pride is the jailkeeper of the heart? Only those with an exacerbated ego can feel humiliated. Pride and vanity are shadows that enlarge the ego and undermine the being. They imprison and cause pain by being poisonous. The antidote includes humility and compassion. Patience, respect and courage are needed for the treatment to move on. Love is the cure.”
“To bathe oneself in Light, one must experience love in all its breadth. For that to occur, it is required that all virtues flourish within oneself.”
I refused. The Old Man did not insist, that was typical of him. He would always express his thoughts clearly and composedly to whomever had the ears to listen. The monk continued to circulate among the guests, talking to everyone and enjoying himself. We were among the last guests to leave the party. I drove the car for some minutes until I had a flat tire. I went to retrieve the spare tire, but much to my surprise, it was flat. We were in a desolate place, too far to walk to the place of the party to seek help, and the mobile phone had no signal. I waved to some cars as they passed, but out of fear, so common in big cities, none of them stopped. The monk just looked and amazed himself with what was going on, without a hint of fright. When I was at the brink of exasperation, a car pulled over. It was my cousin. He cracked a sincere smile, lent me the spare tire of his car and helped me change the tire. Once we were done, I looked at him and, somewhat awkwardly, thanked him. He said the only gesture of gratefulness I could do was to hug him. We hugged with tears in our eyes. Into my ear he whispered an apology. He apologized for having made me suffer and caused our detachment. I said we had to talk to sort out squabbles from the past. He asked if that was indeed necessary; we had had time enough to think about what had happened, and he was sure both of us knew where we could have done differently and better. Much time had already gone by, and the persons we were at the time of the facts no longer existed. We were both different people. He said he would like to meet me not to brood over the past, but to talk about the present, our kids, the dreams we have and that propel our actions. Yes, he was right. Deep inside, I knew he wasn’t responsible for the whole bill; part of the debt, larger or smaller, it does not matter, was mine. We agreed to do lunch the following day. We would celebrate the joy of a new cycle of our friendship.
When I went back to the car, I told the monk I felt a wave of peace and joy around me. Embarrassed, I conceded that he, whom I had thought was a petty person, had aggrandized himself by giving me a fine lesson. Next time, I would work hard to take the initiative myself.
The Old Man did not say a word, he only watched the landscape through the window. And smiled.
Kindly translation by Carlos André Oighenstein.