Have you ever seen a painting so beautiful that it stops your heart for a second; reds and greens and golds imprinted upon your essence for eternity? Do you ever listen to a song that is so remarkable that you play and replay and replay it until you’ve memorized every word, and it becomes a part of you? Do you ever read a line in a novel that is so profound that you have to close the book and set it down, to sit in silence for a moment – staring at the wall, letting it sink into your consciousness?
Have you ever encountered a moment of fullness so complete that you know you could die and it would not matter? Has your heart ever surged with such a sense of expectation and impatience at what is to come that it is hard to sleep, to eat? Did your adolescent passion ever lift you atop a majestic wave of emotion – and hold you there for a time in stasis in what you imagined was transcendence? Have you experienced epic moments of victory when you were the world’s master?
And have you agonized over a loss that is so total that you are sure you will never recover – a colossal failure that will mark you for eternity? Has the loss of something like a celebrated love wrenched a hole in your heart too deep to fill? And has a lost opportunity robbed you of words and even tears?
I have had all of these, as I imagine that you have as well – you who are reading this.
So now I ask you, would you give up any of it? Would you forfeit the chance of great opportunity to stay the hand of failure? Would you walk away from that beautiful woman in fear that she will not be yours; settling for something more secure – safer? Would you wish that the heavenly restaurant did not exist – to salve the ire of not being able to eat there? Would you smash the $1000 bottles of wine, knowing that you might never drink of them? Would you stop writing the novels of your choice, to assure that those you hated were burned? Would you stop the songs? The poems?
Would you end the celestial banquet of human existence because it is not your fate to taste of every dish?
Now, further still – would you have all these decisions made for you, and then be told it was for your own good?
Neither would I.
I said I would write no more about the death of a tyrant. I lied. Well, perhaps only changed my mind. Because I read something yesterday – something that nobody in Cuba would be able to read. “The greatest evil of the tyranny” it said “was the theft of six generations of life.”
Forget the gulags and the concentration camps and the firing squads. Those are the stories that made the papers at least – stories that were told. No – the most important part of this tragedy is not what happened, but what didn’t happen. The novels that were not written, stories of beach and mountain and freedom and loss; the beautiful paintings that did not come to be, which in turn did not inspire abounding love – the love of storybooks. The cuisine that was not refined; the businesses that did not provide for families; inventions that do not help humanity; diseases that were not cured.
The life that was not lived.
This – for me – is the greatest tragedy of all. We have this life at our fingertips, those of us from America. To a greater measure than others; but even those from Panama, or Chile, or Paraguay can see that which they wish to attain. They can uncork the $1000 bottle of wine and dream of the day they will sit in front of the sheer white tablecloth and drink deeply. They can read the novel, and imagine how they would make the stories unfold, improving them. They can look at the girl across their own malecon and imagine how they will win their fortune and then come for her.
None of these things have been imagined – for six generations – in Cuba.
For those of us who are writers, the unwritten story of Cuba is the saddest of all.