At first Lex Maars was just a persistent fellow. For five years he religiously sent to my office in Barcelona an invitation for me to give a lecture at The Hague in Holland.
For five years my office invariably answered that my agenda was full. The truth is that the agenda is not always full, but a writer is not necessarily someone who can speak well in public. Besides, everything that I have to say is in the books and columns I write – that is why I always avoid giving talks.
Lex discovered that I was going to record a program for a TV channel in Holland. When I came down for the filming, he was waiting for me in the hotel lobby. He introduced himself and asked me to accompany him, saying:
“I am not someone who can’t take “no” for an answer. It’s just that I believe I’ve been trying to do things the wrong way.”
One has to fight for one’s dreams, but one also has to know that when certain paths prove impossible, it’s better to save one’s energies for other paths. I could simply say “no” (I have often said and heard that word), but I decided to try something more diplomatic: set conditions that were impossible to fulfill. I said I would not charge for the lecture, but admission must be less than two Euros and the room must be limited to 200 people at the most.
“You’re going to spend more than you make,” I warned. “By my count, the airline ticket and the hotel alone cost three times what you will get if you manage to have a full house. Then there is the cost of publicity, renting the hall …”
Lex interrupted me saying that none of that was of any importance, he was doing that because of what he saw in his profession.
“I organize events because I have to go on believing that human beings are seeking a better world. I have to contribute to making that become possible.”
What was his profession?
“I sell churches.”
I stood astonished as he continued:
“I am employed by the Vatican to select buyers, since there are more churches than churchgoers in Holland. And since we have had awful experiences in the past, seeing sacred places turned into nightclubs, condominiums, boutiques and even sex shops, we changed our sales system. The project has to be approved by the community and the buyer must say what he is going to do with the property: as a rule we accept only proposals that include a cultural center, a charity institution or a museum.
“So what does that have to do with your talk, and the others that I am trying to organize? People are no longer meeting one another. When they do not meet, they do not grow.”
He looked me straight in the eye and concluded:
“Meetings. That was precisely my mistake with you. Instead of sending a bunch of e-mails, I should have shown right away that I was made of flesh and blood. When I failed to get an answer from a politician, I went and knocked on his office door and he told me: “If you want something, first of all you have to show your eyes.” That’s what I have done ever since then and I have had nothing but good results. We can have all the available means of communication in the world, but nothing, absolutely nothing takes the place of the human look.”
Of course, I finally accepted his proposal.
“The Zahir” is being published all over the world this year. Click here for more information.