An uncle of mine whose life was cut short due to that beast we are all well acquainted with, cancer, taught me a couple of things about living life. Not because we spent that much time together, but because we were probably the only two introverts in a whole family of musicians, highly intelligent doctors, men of law, teachers and somewhat well-connected politicians.

He was a surgeon, freemason and sweet father of two children who… didn’t turn out much like him. He used to sit for hours in silence, staring at nothing, paying attention to nothing and everything. Once he learned he had the same type of cancer his father had had, he didn’t rush to do all the things he wanted to do or asked his loved ones to cry him a river, he carried on with life like nothing had happened. He chose not to get treatment. He chose to live as if he had no idea he had cancer at all.

He chose to shrug.

When he visited us in São Paulo, I gave him a little bronze medal with the “Ôm” symbol. When he touched the medal, he smiled and paused for some time. He then looked up and said “listen to me little Alice, you must remember to never do something the same way you’ve done it before for the second, third time or even fourth time in a row.”

I was a bit confused. “What do you mean, uncle?”

“Well, when walking home from school, take a different path; when catching the bus to the theater, take a different line; when saying good morning to your neighbor, say it with different words.”

“Why is that?”

“Do what I didn’t do. I’m a man of habit. Let your brain create new connections, let your routine allow your brain to discover new ways of seeing things.”

He smiled. Sweetly, the way he always did. He was lovely and lovable and he never asked for attention. He lived at a slow pace and left early but didn’t forget to ask me to do just the opposite, as if he was meant to show me that not all that runs smooth on the outside is also running just as smooth on the inside.