I went to a train station today and learned that the distance between railway tracks is always 143.5 centimeters or 4 feet and 8.5 inches. Why this absurd measurement? I asked my girlfriend to find out and this is what she discovered. When they built the first train carriage, they used the same tools as they had for building horse-drawn carriages. And why that distance between the wheels on carriages? Because that was the width of the old roads along which the carriages had to travel. And who decided that roads should be that width? Well, suddenly we are plunged back into the distant past. It was the Romans, the first great road-builders, who decided to make their roads that width. And why? Because their war chariots were pulled by two horses, and when placed side by side, the horses they used at the time took up 143.5 centimeters.
So the distance between the tracks I saw today, used for our state-of-the-art high speed trains, was determined by the Romans. When people went to the United States and started building railways there, it didn’t occur to them to change the width and so it stayed as it was. This even affected the building of space shuttles. American engineers thought the fuel tanks should be wider, but the tanks were built in Utah and had to be transported by train to the Space Center in Florida, and the tunnels couldn’t take anything wider. And so they had to accept the measurement that the Romans had decided was the ideal. But has all this have to do with marriage?
It has everything to do with marriage and with the two stories we have just heard. At some point in history, someone turned up and said: when two people get married, they must stay frozen like that for the rest of their lives. You will move along side by side like two tracks, keeping always that same distance apart. Even if sometimes one of you needs to be a little further away or a little closer, that is against the rules. The rules say: be sensible, think of the future, think of your children. You can’t change, you must be like two railway tracks that remain the same distance apart all the way from their point of departure to their destination. The rules don’t allow for love to change, or to grow at the start and diminish halfway through – it’s too dangerous. And so, after the enthusiasm of the first few years, they maintain the same distance, the same solidity, the same functional nature. Your purpose is to allow the train bearing the survival of the species to head off into the future: your children will only be happy if you stay just as you were – 143.5 centimeters apart. If you’re not happy with something that never changes, think of them, think of the children you brought into the world.
Think of your neighbors. Show them that you’re happy, eat roast beef on Sundays, watch television, help the community. Think of society: dress in such a way that everyone knows you’re in perfect harmony. Never glance to the side, someone might be watching you, and that could bring temptation, it could mean divorce, crisis, depression.
Smile in all the photos. Put the photos in the living room, so that everyone can see them. Cut the grass, practice a sport – oh, yes, you must practice a sport in order to stay frozen in time. When sport isn’t enough, have plastic surgery. But never forget, these rules were established long ago and must be respected. Who established these rules? That doesn’t matter. Don’t question them, because they will always apply, even if you don’t agree with them.
Paulo Coelho, The Zahir