Rarely does adolescent love reach its full potential, but what happens when two young lovers reunite after eleven years? Time has transformed Pilar into a strong and independent woman, while her devoted childhood friend has grown into a handsome and charismatic spiritual leader. She has learned well how to bury her feelings . . . and he has turned to religion as a refuge from his raging inner conflicts.
Now they are together once again, embarking on a journey fraught with difficulties, as long-buried demons of blame and resentment resurface after more than a decade. But in a small village in the French Pyrenees, by the waters of the River Piedra, a most special relationship will be reexamined in the dazzling light of some of life’s biggest questions.
About the Author
Hometown:Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Date of Birth:August 24, 1947
Place of Birth:Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Education:Left law school in second year
Read an Excerpt
By the river Piedra I sat down and wept. There is a legend that everything that falls into the waters of this river--leaves, insects, the feathers of birds--is transformed into the rocks that make the riverbed. If only I could tear out my heart and hurl it into the current, then my pain and longing would be over, and I could finally forget.
By the River Piedra I sat down and wept. The winter air chills the tears on my cheeks, and my tears fall into the cold waters that course past me. Somewhere, this river joins another, then another, until--far from my heart and sight--all of them merge with the sea.
May my tears run just as far, that my love might never know that one day I cried for him. May my tears run just as far, that I might forget the River Piedra, the monastery, the church in the Pyrenees, the mists, and the paths we walked together.
I shall forget the roads, the mountains, and the fields of my dreams--the dreams that will never come true.
I remember my "magic moment"--that instant when a "yes" or a "no" can change one's life forever. It seems so long ago now. It is hard to believe that it was only last week that I had found my love once again, and then lost him.
I am writing this story on the bank of the River Piedra. My hands are freezing, my legs are numb, and every minute I want to stop.
"Seek to live. Remembrance is for the old," he said.
Perhaps love makes us old before our time--or young, if youth has passed. But how can I not recall those moments? That is why I write--to try to turn sadness into longing, solitude into remembrance. So that when I finish telling myself the story, I can toss it into the Piedra. That's what the woman who has given meshelter told me to do. Only then--in the words of one of the saints--will the water extinguish what the flames have written.
All love stories are the same.
We had been children together. Then he left, like so many young people who leave small towns. He said he was going to learn about the world, that his dreams lay beyond the fields of Soria.
Years passed with almost no news of him. Every now and then he would send me a letter, but he never returned to the paths and forests of our childhood.
When I finished school, I moved to Zaragoza, and there I found that he had been right. Soria was a small town, and as its only famous poet had said, roads are made to be traveled. I enrolled in the university and found a boyfriend. I began to study for a scholarship (I was working as a salesgirl to pay for my courses). But I lost the competition for the scholarship, and after that I left my boyfriend.
Then the letters from my childhood friend began to arrive more frequently--and I was envious of the stamps from so many different places. He seemed to know everything; he had sprouted wings, and now he roamed the world. Meanwhile, I was simply trying to put down roots.
Some of his letters, all mailed from the same place in France, spoke of God. In one, he wrote about wanting to enter a seminary and dedicate his life to prayer. I wrote him back, asking him to wait a bit, urging him to experience more of his freedom before committing himself to something so serious.
But after I reread my letter, I tore it up. Who was I to speak about freedom or commitment? Compared to him, I knew nothing about such things.
One day I learned that he had begun to give lectures. This surprised me; I thought he was too young to be able to teach anything to anyone. And then he wrote to me that he was going to speak to a small group in Madrid--and he asked me to come.
So I made the four-hour trip from Zaragoza to Madrid. I wanted to see him again; I wanted to hear his voice. I wanted to sit with him in a caf‚ and remember the old days, when we had thought the world was far too large for anyone ever to know it truly.
The place where the conference was held was more formal than I had imagined it, and there were more people there than I had expected. How had all this come about?
He must be famous, I thought. He'd said nothing about this in his letters. I wanted to go up to the people in the audience and ask them why they were there, but I didn't have the nerve.
I was even more surprised when I saw him enter the room. He was quite different from the boy I had known --but of course, it had been twelve years; people change. Tonight his eyes were shining--he looked wonderful.
"He's giving us back what was ours," said a woman seated next to me.
A strange thing to say.
"What is he giving back?" I asked.
"What was stolen from us. Religion."
"No, no, he's not giving us anything back," said a younger woman seated on my right. "They can't return something that has always belonged to us."
"Well, then, what are you doing here?" the first woman asked, irritated.
"I want to listen to him. I want to see how they think; they've already burned us at the stake once, and they may want to do it again."
"He's just one voice," said the woman. "He's doing what he can."
The young woman smiled sarcastically and turned away, putting an end to the conversation.
"He's taking a courageous position for a seminarian," the other woman went on, looking to me for support.
I didn't understand any of this, and I said nothing. The woman finally gave up. The girl at my side winked at me, as if I were her ally.
But I was silent for a different reason. I was thinking, Seminarian? It can't be! He would have told me.
When he started to speak, I couldn't concentrate. I was sure he had spotted me in the audience, and I was trying to guess what he was thinking. How did I look to him? How different was the woman of twenty-nine from the girl of seventeen?
I noticed that his voice hadn't changed. But his words certainly had.
You have to take risks, he said. We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen.
Every day, God gives us the sun--and also one moment in which we have the ability to change everything that makes us unhappy. Every day, we try to pretend that we haven't perceived that moment, that it doesn't exist--that today is the same as yesterday and will be the same as tomorrow. But if people really pay attention to their everyday lives, they will discover that magic moment. It may arrive in the instant when we are doing something mundane, like putting our front-door key in the lock; it may lie hidden in the quiet that follows the lunch hour or in the thousand and one things that all seem the same to us. But that moment exists--a moment when all the power of the stars becomes a part of us and enables us to perform miracles.
Joy is sometimes a blessing, but it is often a conquest. Our magic moment helps us to change and sends us off in search of our dreams. Yes, we are going to suffer, we will have difficult times, and we will experience many disappointments--but all of this is transitory; it leaves no permanent mark. And one day we will look back with pride and faith at the journey we have taken.
Pitiful is the person who is afraid of taking risks. Perhaps this person will never be disappointed or disillusioned; perhaps she won't suffer the way people do when they have a dream to follow. But when that person looks back--and at some point everyone looks back--she will hear her heart saying, "What have you done with the miracles that God planted in your days? What have you done with the talents God bestowed on you? You buried yourself in a cave because you were fearful of losing those talents. So this is your heritage: the certainty that you wasted your life."
Pitiful are the people who must realize this. Because when they are finally able to believe in miracles, their life's magic moments will have already passed them by.
After the lecture, members of the audience rushed up to him. I waited, worried about what his first impression of me would be after so many years. I felt like a child--insecure, tense because I knew none of his new friends, and jealous that he was paying more attention to the others than to me.
When he finally came up to me, he blushed. Suddenly he was no longer a man with important things to say but was once again the boy who had hidden with me at the hermitage of San Sat£rio, telling me of his dream to travel the world (while our parents were calling the police, sure that we had drowned in the river).
"Pilar," he said.
I kissed him. I could have complimented him on his presentation. I could have said I was tired of being around so many people. I could have made some humorous remark about our childhood or commented on how proud I was to see him there, so admired by others.
I could have explained that I had to run and catch the last bus back to Zaragoza.