Void for Dummies: writer and educator Rubem Alves has written a text about the void to his grandchildren. It is sensational!
My grandchildren, today I want you to tell me, what is worth best: the void or the full? Ah! What a stupid question! Everybody knows that what is full is worth best than what is empty. Who would like to be given an empty box as birthday present? What we all want is a box with something inside. The valuable is the full. That is why it costs money. But the empty is free. Nobody buys what is empty.
It seems obvious that the full is worth more that the void… But, is it true? It is cool to buy a new pair of sandals. But sandals are made for us to put our feet inside. But to do so, it is necessary that they are empty. If it is not, there is no room for our feet. It is the emptiness of the sandals that make them useful. You like soft drinks, and want to put some in a glass. To do so, the glass needs to be empty. A glass is a void surrounded by glass. Then you smile and say: “I do not need glasses; I can use straws instead…” But they only work if they are empty. It needs to be empty to the soft drink pass inside it. Did the teacher at school explain to you about how the lungs work? They look like sponges, full of empty little holes. They have to be empty to the air come inside them. It is bad when we have a cold and the lungs get “full”. Full lungs do not let you breath. It is cool to ride a bicycle. You can feel a cool breeze on your face. To roll, the wheels need to have a hole in the middle, where the axis goes. It is the void in the centre of the wheel that makes it useful. You like cake. So do I. To make a cake, we look for the recipe in a cookery book. The first thing in a recipe is the ingredients: floor, eggs, sugar, butter, milk, and other things. But I have never seen a cookery book explaining that if you do not mix a pinch of void with the ingredients, the cake does not get good. It gets heavy, bad. It is the void that makes the cake soft and light. And then you ask me: “But how do we mix the void and the dough of a cake? “It is simple. That is why the white parts of the eggs are beaten. The yolks, not beaten, are just the “full” part. But, after beaten, they are full of void. Can you beat eggs? It is fun. We get a fork and twirl the white part of the eggs with circular fast movements. For what? To fish the void. After beaten, they turn into foam, thousands of tiny bubbles. Inside each of them, there is a bit of air. Ferment makes the same effect. Mixed with the dough, ferment begins to produce very tiny bubbles a gas similar to the ones inside the bottles of the soft drinks. The houses are also voids surrounded by walls. That is what the walls are for: to let the void be used. Architects are the artists who can catch voids with walls. What about the windows? They are voids too, holes. Have you ever pictures a house without windows? Living in a house without windows would be horrible. I just know one building without windows: the buildings of the National Congress, in Brasília. It seems that the absence of windows does not do any good for the feelings and thoughts… It is the void between my eyes and the garden that allows me to see the garden. It is the void named “silence” that allows me to listen to music. What about the mirrors? To be good, to reflect your face, they need to be empty.
Now, tell me one of you: “But grandpa: there is been a long time that you have been telling us how your life was as a boy in the countryside! And now you start talking about the void…” I will explain: “The countryside seems to be a big void. The city is a place where the void is small.” In the city, we look outside and our eyes hit a building, a wall, a car. In the city we are short-viewed. In the countryside, as the void is big, the eyes can see at large distances: the fields, the forests, the mountains on the horizon, the sunset, the moonrise, the stars… What a beautiful thing is the white curtain of rain that comes slowly… When the void is big, the world seems bigger. One thing I loved to do as a child was to lie down on the grass and keep starring at the clouds. They looked like ships sailing in the sky, shape shifting, non-stop: the duck turned into a watering can, and then it turned into an elephant… There was something I did not understand: the clouds did not fall! They fell sometimes as rain or ice rain. So I concluded that they were made of water and ice. Then I wondered how water and ice stayed right there, floating as if they were made of cotton? What about the vultures? Everybody thinks they are ugly birds. I disagree. Have you ever paid attention to their flight? Thinking of their flight, I remembered some verses by Cecília Meireles: “The happy days are among trees, as birds: they travel on the clouds, run on the waters, disarrange themselves on the sand. All the words are useless, since you look to the sky. The biggest sweetness of life flows in the sunlight, when it is in silence. Even the vultures are beautiful in the large circle of the calm days…“ Vultures fly very high – they look like black pigeons in the empty blue sky. They do not even need to move their wings to fly. They glide on the hot air flows that go up. The vultures taught men to fly using hang gliding. If there was not the void of the sky there would not be the flight of birds and men.
In the countryside, as the void was big, so was the freedom. The void is a good place to play. If it was not the void of the sky, how could we fly kites? If it was not the void under the trees, how could I swing until the tips of my feet hit the leaves in the high branches? The fields were huge voids without fences. In the morning, after having coffee with milk, bread and butter for breakfast, I used to go outside. There was no need to pay attention to the traffic for not being hit by a car. There were no fast cars buzzing. In the void I was a free playful boy, my thought flew high as the clouds and the vultures…
And there was also a void named silence. Silence is the absence of noises. In the cities, there is no void of silence: our houses are invaded by the roar of the motorcycles, the loud buzzes. When the space is free of noises, we can watch the music of the nature. 150 years ago, an indigenous chief in the United States wrote a letter to the president commenting on the cities of the so-called civilized people. He said: “There are no calm places in the cities of the white men. There is no place to listen to the bloom of the spring leaves, or an insect flying. The noise hurts the ears. And what rests of life if a man cannot listen to the lonely cry of a bird or the croak of toads around a lake at night…” Have you ever heard the music of the trees moved by the wind? Have you ever heard the singing of a thrush in the middle of the wood when the night falls, or the buzz of the bees seeking flowers?
Life needs the void: the caterpillars sleep in a void named cocoon until turn into butterflies. The music needs a void named silence to be listened. A poem needs a blank sheet of paper to be written. And the people, to be beautiful and loved, need to have a void inside. Most of the people think that it is good to be full. These are the people who think they are full of truth and wisdom and never stop speaking. They are annoying and frequently bossy. Beautiful are the people who do not talk much and can listen. It is easy to love those people. They are full of void. It is in the void of distance that the feeling of missing something or someone lives…
The countryside is a region where the void is big. The big void of the countryside, with its spaces and silence, is the lap of the nature, our mother, from where we came and to where we must return… Sitting on the lap of our mother, the fear disappears and everything is alright. The city is the full. The countryside is the void. I miss the void of the countryside…
(Correio Popular, Caderno C, 24/02/2002)