Bastiano, a Shepard who lived a few miles away from a mountain cabin my parents used to rent as our vacation getaway, took his sheep and cows to pasture every day; while his animals grazed the fresh grass, he sat under a tree and stared into nothing. We used to watch him from a distance and wonder how he could seem so content just being alone, with nothing to do, day after day. He was quite shy, but through the years he slowly warmed up to us, and often came by to see us and chat for a few minutes. Bastiano was not a cultured man; he had stopped going to school after elementary because his family needed him to help; he had never traveled outside the area; to him, the whole world was made out of mountain peaks, trees, and his animals. Bastiano was the gentlest soul I ever ran into.
All along, he used to tell us that life is nothing but a contract we all sign before we are born. Each of us has a predetermined path to follow, during the course of which we learn all the lessons we came here to learn. Each soul has a handful of fundamental truths to assimilate during its time on earth, and each person is born into the perfect life which will support their individual learning; Bastiano thought that was the reason why we choose to be born to a specific set of parents, in a pre-determined setting, and we meet certain people who will influence us throughout our journey. “Imagine,” he said once, “that your soul has to learn humbleness. Nothing would teach you to be humble more than being handicapped or homeless, and having to rely on others for your survival. You couldn’t learn determination and strength of spirit, if you weren’t dealt some hard cards; you couldn’t learn true love without experiencing loss; you couldn’t learn patience or forgiveness without trying events.”
When I asked him if he was scared of the horned vipers slithering all around those mountains, he always smiled and said that, until his contract expired, he had no reason to be scared. His idea of life being a contract stuck with me through the years, and often, when I meet people who seem to have a catalytic value in my life—whether their arrival triggers positive or negative changes—I wonder if their name was on my original contract before I was born.
I did ask him once if it is possible to change the terms of the contract, and his answer was: “You can change some parts through the choices you make, but definitely you can’t change the length of it; once the contract is up the job is over, whether you have finished it or not. Sometimes we think it’s over and then things turn around; in that case we are given an extension of time to make things right.”
Bastiano died at the age of thirty-six in his sleep. Although his contract was not very long, he learned more in his short life than most of us do in twice the time. His inner peace was paramount, and infectious to all others who spoke with him. To this day, I think Bastiano was an angel, sent briefly to earth not to learn but to teach and inspire. He certainly inspired me, and I will forever be thankful that our contracts allowed us to meet, if only for a short breath of time.