The art of renouncing

I had gone down the mountain where the monastery of the Order is located and walked through the narrow and old streets of the closest lay village. It was pouring rain, and darker than what would be expected for that time of the day. It was quite early, and the shops were about to open. From afar, I saw Loureiro’s bicycle parked in front of his small store. For decades it had been the only means of transportation that old man allowed himself to use. I smiled to myself anticipating the joy of spending some moments with such a distinguished man. As soon as I went in, Loureiro looked at me over his glasses, put the plyers he was holding down on the bench, lifted his lips and stood up with open arms to greet me. As usual, the tall and lean man was impeccably dressed. The black pleated pants taken in the waist were a good match to his elegant white shirt buttoned up to the neck, with the sleeves rolled up to the elbow not to hamper his trade. His hair was the same color as his shirt and, even though plentiful and well-combed, signaled his advanced age. Loureiro was a lifetime cobbler. In his spare time, he enjoyed good wine and loved books. He favored reds and philosophy.

I had gone to the shop because the leather straps of my sandals had torn from so much wear. Despite being old, they were very comfortable; it was as if my feet and the sandals had made peace a long time ago. After the greetings and a steaming hot cup of coffee to keep the cold at bay, I asked if the sandals could be fixed or I if would need to buy new ones. “I think people are losing the good habit of having things fixed, and that may reflect in their relations. One must be sensitive enough to realize what is no longer mendable and what can be fixed. If life and everything within it become disposable, soon my trade and the reason why I exist will become senseless”, he said, half mockingly, while he took the sandals to his workbench. “Take a seat. Let’s chat while I mend”.

I took advantage of this cue and, provokingly, asked him when we should fix, when we should let go. “Understanding the difference of each one of the choices is essential. This is the art”. I sat on a small stool, as I felt that would be a sunny morning.

“Favoring silence as response when slander hits us is renunciation. Refusal to aid a hand in distress that begs for help is abandonment. To give up a material asset to avoid a family feud of unthinkable consequences is renunciation. To use the imperfections of the world to fill an afternoon with regrets instead of working is renunciation. Only what transforms the soul matters, that is wisdom”, said the cobbler while he cut new leather strips. I told him I had understood the examples, but the essence of their difference escaped me. “Choosing abandonment implies lack of understanding of the Laws of Life; resignation shows weakness in face of the difficulties that present themselves to leverage our evolution. Renunciation, however, takes place when we consciously trade the semblance of the world for the essence of life”. I told him that, at times, the difference is too slight. Loureiro continued with his explanation. “The core of the matter is when we give up passion to embrace love. From the word self comes the word selfishness, a feeling driven by mundane passions of too much shine and little sustainability. Therefore conflicts driven by lesser, short-lived interests are created, until, sooner or later, one perceives a huge existential void. Values that guided your life until then cannot fulfill the darkness that, now, embraces and distresses it. Thirsty for a beam of light, you start to grasp the power of love. Love is the joy of sharing life with the other, of learning and teaching, of understanding the limits and trying to go beyond. It is the raw material of all transformations of the being. You move on for love, or no evolution has taken place”. He paused briefly while hammering small pins to hold the straps in the sandals, and said, as in a revelation:

“Renunciation is the limit between passion and love. You must take your look away from your belly button for it to rest on the heart of the other”, said the elegant cobbler when I asked him to make himself more clear. “Life is regulated by a Code of Unwritten Laws, and the thread that connects them is love”. The dignified cobbler spoke without deviating his gaze from his labor. “The eagerness of passion covers the truth like a veil that only the serenity of love is able to reveal”. I knew he was talking about the Laws of the Path, but I wanted a more palpable example about the differences he was talking about. So, I told my kind friend that his speech was quite nice, but that further explanation was necessary. He looked right into my eyes and smiled. He knew I was provoking him. He laid his tools on the bench and turned the chair he was seated on in my direction. Then he poured some coffee in our cups and continued.

“Once a wise man was asked what was the difference between passion and love. The wise man said ‘Imagine someone who is wandering in a desert for days, under a scorching heat. This person finds a canteen with fresh water and drinks it all to quench his thirst. This is passion. However, if under the same conditions, with the same scorching heat and thirst, this person drinks half the canteen and leaves half to whomever comes later,’” he made a dramatic pause on purpose and completed “This is love”.

My cobbler friend was a noble man. Not that he had a title of nobility, he didn’t. His nobility came from the way he treated everyone and his elegance in translating feelings into words to be employed in the best possible way by anyone. To fix shoes was his trade, to mend looks; his art.

I put my sandals on and gave him a heartfelt hug. “Just like transformation cannot occur without love, it is impossible to love without resignation”, I confessed. He only smiled in response, as if saying that I had learned the lesson.

Back on the cobbled streets of the old city, it was still raining hard, under a thick cloak of gray clouds, but it was not dark. Above it, the light of the sun pointed me to the Path.

 

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