Don’t lock people in word-cages!

Fernando Pessoa
Image via Wikipedia

He is still there, sitting outside the Brasileira, serenely contemplating the Lisbon he loves. I sat by his side once and had the privilege of drinking a coffee with him. He looked at me with his eyes of stone, and didn’t say a word. Still, sitting there with him, I could hear him talk. Fernando Pessoa was an extraordinary man, one unique personality, one of the highest of the Portuguese (and Universal) literature. In a time when the world demanded frames to categorize everything, he broke all the patterns and defined a world of his own. He refused to be placed inside a frame.   He refused to be placed inside a boundary and defined himself as a “citizen of the World”.

He was a man who was many. His heteronyms (the most known were Alberto Caeiro, Álvaro de Campos, Ricardo Reis and Bernardo Soares. But there were many others. The amazing thing and the one that no-one can explain about Fernando Pessoa was that when he was Fernando he wasn’t Bernardo nor Ricardo and he didn’t know of the existence of others. Was it a literary strategy? Was it a multiple personality? Was it… What does it matter? I’m glad no-one found a word to lock Pessoa inside. I’m glad we don’t have to see him through a word but in all his geniality instead.

And here I raise the question… Why do we have to find word-cages to lock people inside? Why does someone have to be categorized as “fat”, or “black” or “white” (no-one is black or white!) or “blind”, or “gipsy”, or “geek”, or “gay”, or “ugly”, or whatever… And be seen through this word as if it was a filter to the human being inside? Every person is a world and every person is unique and we must get to know him or her in each one’s special characteristics. Fernando Pessoa demonstrated this very clearly.  And there may come a thousand psychologists and two thousand intellectuals try to launch new theories about him – no-one will be able to understand him if this understanding doesn’t come from feeling him.


“Oh, salty sea, how much of your salt

Are tears of Portugal!

For crossing you, how many mothers cried,

How many children in vain prayed!

How many fiancés remained unmarried

So that you were ours, oh sea!

Was worth it? All is worth it

When the soul is not too small.

Who wants to pass beyond the Bojador

must pass beyond pain.

God gave to the sea the danger and the abyss,

But in it He mirrored the sky.”


Today, I was reading about Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Though I was a teacher of Special Needs for so many years, I always had a certain difficulty in distinguishing the limits between what is called the disability and the geniality. I remember Barry Levinson’s Rain man, with an extraordinary participation of Dustin Hoffman, which certainly raises questions and throws to the ground any kind of prejudice we may have concerning this disability.

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2 Responses to “Don’t lock people in word-cages!”

  1. Uncle Tree Says:

    That’s a great poem, Silvia.

    You are right about labels. The mind loves to classify,
    and our first impressions carry more weight than they should.
    Multiple personalities are so very intriguing, and mystifying.
    Uncle Tree, and me, too, for that matter, are not so different.
    They use different words, and they speak from differing perspectives,
    but their philosophy and cordiality have melded into one Keith.

    My boy (11) has ADHD, and he is a math and computer whiz already.
    I do wonder, though, if it’s not all due to his meds, the so-called
    smart pills that college students take before their final exams.

  2. Well, Uncle Tree, each person is one, as I said, and I’m sure that you, who know better, will find the right way through my words. I would say: don’t worry too much. I know it’s hard (I’ve had many children with that condition) but your child will find his dream and his path. The AHDH is very common, and sometimes has other reasons which we don’t think – sometimes the child learns too fast and gets bored; sometimes he is so attached to one subject that some others don’t really matter in his perspective. As to his intelligence, I’m quite sure it’s genuine and innate. He also needs to believe that.
    Take me seriously on this one: the day the good scientists create pills that make people more intelligent, I’ll be the first to buy! 🙂
    I’ll tell you a good example which certainly will ease your mind – Einstein. He had a serious difficulty in concentrating and paying attention in class, and look what he became – the most respectable example of modern knowledge. All the best to you.

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