I have known Juan for a long time.or, from the time we were bank neighbors in high school and studied together in the afternoons on the same team.
Juan. I remember him with his eyes always fixed on the distance or bent over the page of a book opened in the middle. Thirty-five years ago –thirty-five years already!- uHe knew thick green glasses that made him look older than he was, and although today he wears thinner and finer glasses and looks more youthful than two decades ago, he is still the same Juan.
Back then I always walked through the school corridors close to the wall, as if I didn’t want to steal space from others or needed to lean on something to keep from falling.
He never accepted anything. When, for example, we invited him to lunch or dinner, he always felt obliged to pay the bill, and if one of us begged him not to, he would shift in his chair, visibly distressed. More than once, pretending to have to go to the bathroom, he headed to the register to beat us to the punch and pay the bill. Those who did not appreciate him took advantage of him, saying among themselves: “Shall we invite Juan so that he can pay?” those of us who loved him had stopped inviting him to our meetings for two reasons: first, because we knew he was not rich and our invitations were burdensome to him, and, second, because we did not want to embarrass him unnecessarily: we felt sorry for his shy gestures, his face of orphan
One time, For her birthday, I gave her a book whose title I don’t remember now. maybe it was The little Prince, I’m not too sure though. As well, the next day he dropped off an even fatter and more expensive book at my house than the one I had given him the day before, saying that he had long thought of taking it to school with me, but that he hadn’t done so due to sheer carelessness on his part. “I always forgot to put it in my backpack,” he told me, lowering her voice and closing her eyes, as if he were asking me for forgiveness. In other words, with him there was no remedy.
A character from the novelistic world of Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964), the North American writer, was exactly like Juan: «After each meal he looked in his pocket for a piece of pencil and wrote a number: the one that, according to him, the food cost. At his time he would repay the entire sum». Juan would restore it by paying in turn at the next meeting.
In those days, as we found outJohn had a girlfriend. Does it seem strange to you? To us, cruel with the cruelty of youth, the fact seemed not only unusual, but even ridiculous. John a girlfriend? Yes, and he loved her so much that he bought her a small bouquet of roses every day. And not only that, but alsoHe used to take her to the movies, or to a shopping mall to treat her to an ice cream. Every day, every day? Yes. “This will end badly,” his friends sentenced in chorus. And so it happened, in effect, because when, doing the math, John saw that that relationship had him one step away from economic depressiona, from financial ruin, decided to simply end it.
The girlfriend, of course, did not even seek him out to tell him what is usually said in such circumstances, namely, that they come back again, that she did not mind receiving things, that with or without gifts she wanted him the same, or things like that. , but yesimplement disappeared from his life as a cockroach disappears through a crack in a door.
And then, of course, Juan’s economic depression also acquired a marked psychological bias that left him on the verge of suicide. “Why doesn’t anyone love me, why doesn’t anyone want to love me?” he would ask his friends, who all we did was give him harmless pats on the back.
Today, however, he would know how to explain why things had to end badly: becausehe love is an exchange in which it is given and received at the same time, and Juan never received anything in return for what he gave. He was the one who always had to speak, to invite, to insist. And what did he receive in compensation? The reader already knows: nothing. As a country man once told me, there are those who like to use only the hoe, and when they have to use the shovel they slip away. Juan’s girlfriend evidently belonged to this malevolent race.
«Love –says Erich Fromm repeatedly in one of his books- is essentially giving, not receiving». Yes, and yet, the one who never receives ends up getting tired of being only the one who always gives. He too, sometime, would like to be given something! like i saidor Benedict XVI in God is love, his first encyclical, «man cannot live exclusively from oblative, descending love. He cannot give only and always: he also wants to receive. Who wants to give love, must in turn receive it as a gift» (n. 7).
Moreover, according to Anselm Grün, famous Benedictine monk and author of innumerable books on spirituality, one of the enemies of friendship and love is the temptation to always be giving things to the other. «Excessive favors, he once wrote, weaken friendship instead of strengthening it. There are, indeed, people who give many things to their friends. This leads to the friend feeling that the other wants to buy their friendship. It is true that he can repress this feeling, but, immediately, the repressed feeling is transformed into aggressiveness and, finally, leads to hardening ». In other words: its roles end up being consolidated and the one who receives no longer wants to give; and, thus, if the other expected something in return for what he gave – a word of affection, a declaration of affection – he is nicely left with a span of noses.
Is this what had happened with Juan? Perhaps. But I hope I’ve learned my lesson and in your next courtship – in the event that there is one, even if it is already worryingly late – trust more in yourself and less in the value of your gifts.
(Postscript: yesterday I saw Juan in the street; he was wearing his modern glasses and, in his hands, a box of chocolates. He was also very smiling. I hope it’s not what I’m thinking…).
Also read: The noise of life | Column of Juan Jesus Priego