Around Irene Vallejo (Zaragoza, 41 years old) there is a halo of light that surrounds her in her house full of books, and in corners of that shelf you can also see, equally illuminated, figures that are surely her son’s toys. She has chosen this day, April 14, to talk about life and books, which are actually the true subject of the most widely read and popularized book in recent years, her very famous Infinity in a reed (Siruela). This time we talk about everything that happens, and we start with the commemoration of the day.
Question. This morning it was heard in the Cortes that a criminal act is commemorated on this day.
Answer. It is an agnostic day. That adjective is terrible. The Republic collapsed precisely because of polarization and because of the inability to understand. It’s sad to see glimpses of that in the present. If we could learn the lesson, it would be to never face each other like that again. My grandmother was a republican girl, and she spoke to me many times about hopes, education, culture, and the opportunities for women in the Republic. And this is how I got to know the Republic in conversations at home. Then the war went through all the lives of my grandparents and my parents and left a terrible trail. The memories of that time are also those of when there still seemed to be a place for hope in that Republic of the childhood of my ancestors.
“The problem is not so much the opinions, but the often aggressive and violent way in which language is used”
P. You are one of the people who has generated the greatest unanimity in this tense country.
R. It surprises me, because it seemed that unanimity is also a lost cause. I am confident, I would almost say an ancient faith, in the word. I think how things are said is very important. The problem is not so much the opinions, but the often aggressive and violent way in which language is used. I always make a special effort, from humor, from softness, to use words well, to say what I have to say so that it does not go against anyone. Marco Aurelio said that kindness is invincible. When you’re speaking, if you keep your cool and grace, the one who gets discredited is the one who attacks you, and there’s no way you can beat someone who’s nice. I have tried to make that reflection a motto: care, respect for those who speak to me, careful choice of words so that there is no aggressiveness. That way of respecting those who speak to us in the end ends up being more contagious than we think. In social networks, the more aggressive you are, it seems that you are going to attract more attention, and that is a perversion.
The madness of forgetting classical languages
P. You are praised even in the networks.
R. Yes, except on an isolated occasion. I have created a community in which everyone comes expecting that which they cannot find elsewhere, that essential requirement which is respect. In the end, we have to live with people who think differently; We have them close, they are our friends or our family. The family is the last stronghold in which there are differences of opinions, because in the reality of the networks we are in a bubble where in general we talk with those who think like us, so we lose the habit of talking in a friendly way with those who do not think the same.
P. There are people who have found relief for their pain in your book.
R. It is possible that, paying close attention to reading, the pain will fade. The tragedy we are experiencing is being exacerbated in successive spirals that feed on information, social gatherings and hoaxes. It is important to focus elsewhere. I wrote Infinity in a reed as part of that therapy. I was caring for my son in the hospital, and then at home after discharge, with great anxiety for his health. And I wrote the book precisely to focus attention on something else, to think of something luminous to help me cope with the situation. He wrote almost in a therapeutic way. And maybe that’s why the book can have the same effect. I’m not saying that it can eliminate pain and eliminate it totally, but it can have a somewhat sedating effect, and also stimulating. Florence Nightingale, one of the pioneers of nursing, found herself in the Crimean War with some makeshift hospitals, in very poor condition, and she brought in the light and there were books for the soldiers. And only with that it lowered mortality, because it improved the conditions in which the disease was lived. Something similar happened in the Ifema hospital during the pandemic: they brought books and the condition of the patients improved. Books and reading, words in general, are part of the health of the world, along with medicine and science.
“I was treating my son in the hospital (…). And I wrote the book precisely to focus attention on something else, to think of something luminous to help me cope with the situation “
P. How has your book affected the way you are?
R. It has turned my life upside down. And it has consequences. Many tell me: “Don’t change!” But it’s impossible. Life is permanent change, circumstances are shaping you. I strive to maintain essential loyalties and try to adjust to this strange situation in which everything has happened. In the foreground, the pandemic, the awareness of the general suffering that surrounded me. With my articles I try to help them cope with that duel that affects us all. I am very concerned that this situation will lead us to suppress the duel. It is important that we verbalize this and that we begin to face it now because otherwise it will be the birth of many future problems. Let the fatal numbers be prevented from becoming a statistic. With all my experience of care and grief, I can help people feel accompanied in that loneliness in which they have experienced losses. In these years I took care of my father in the last days of his illness, and then I have taken care of my son… The crisis is also being experienced from a situation of special helplessness of the disabled.
P. He was writing his book while feeling and experiencing all this.
R. It was my situation, but then it has been everyone’s situation during the pandemic. Perhaps this also explains what has happened to the book and how many people have read it. I try to extrapolate what served me during that difficult period and how I found a refuge in writing and, above all, in trying to focus on the good things, on the bright side. He did it to counteract or to maintain balance while going through these experiences. Now we are going through a time of pessimistic speeches. My paternal grandfather used to say a phrase that has stuck with me: “The good is not noticeable.” He was a very caring person, he avoided hurting people, even if they didn’t know it. He said: “Evil is noisy, good is not noticeable because it does not squeak.” Now there are many people who are doing good that does not sound, and perhaps we should look around to see how many are making efforts to make things work. Now complaints, protests or indignation predominate, and we do not focus so much on civility and the scientific event that supposes that we have vaccines a year after the tragedy.
P. Now we fight over vaccines …
R … And if you try to have a historical look and contemplate how the successive epidemics in history have developed, and how they have been resolved, you would realize that this concretely enters history as an international scientific achievement. My mother used to tell me when I was little: “Never forget to be grateful when water comes out of the tap, don’t get used to it coming out just because. There are many women who walk kilometers with their empty jug to bring water to the house ”. The good is not noticeable, it should be emphasized.
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