One of my wife’s former colleagues passed away yesterday. He was working from his unpleasant extended-stay hotel in Bogota where he had taken refuge after being forced to flee his country; locked down by COVID and still carrying on with the enfeebled tasks of defiance against his dictatorship, unable to release the leavings of a once-great resistance long after history passed him by. His family, so far away across the large water was unable to hear his heart give out, unable to see the paleness in his face, the trembling of the hands that announced the approaching calamity and he died alone.
That really is not the eulogy anybody seeks. Life is like a wave, and we the tired surfers must develop wisdom. Which is the right wave to try and ride? If we pick one too soon, without having ourselves the right experience or training, or one which is cresting far out to sea we might be pulled under or the energy might dissipate mid-way through the ride leaving us lying flat upon our board looking foolish. When we have carefully selected our wave, we must ride it with experience and confidence, avoiding rocks and shoals – and do so with flair and panache. Elegance, that is what’s missing in our world that has become shameless and base. The hardest thing to do, perhaps, is knowing when to release the wave. We have been having a great time, after all. The sense of meaning and purpose, the tremendous applause when it tunnels and we push through, the hope that ours will be a prize-winning effort, we tend to hang onto the wave longer than we should to be crashed upon the rocks or worse – infinitely worse – be deposited into a tide pool to sit there on the sand playing with the remnant of the waters which have receded as we attempt to recreate the days of glory.
My wife is sad now too, but that is something which is common these days. So much to be melancholy about in 2020. But hers is an older sadness, a deeper sorrow – a country lost to the communists and their criminal conspiracies and never regained. The fallen friend was one of her last connections to the old days, the plans discussed over WhatsApp “When the dictatorship is ousted, here’s what we need to do,” and “What needs to happen now is…” The favorite pastime of the those on the outside: Cubans, North Koreans, Chinese, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans and more – loose conjecture that inspires the imagination and soothes like a balm the open wound of stories torn from their notebooks before they were finished to remain unpublished in the chest-of-drawers of the defeated.
Truth of the matter is that life is a melancholy affair. So much is out of our control – that at least we should recognize in these our world’s days of mayhem. We often-times have one moment of great significance, maybe two in a world with seven-billion souls; and if that is so, we should feel lucky for most people sit on a solitary dune in Africa minding their goats or in a broken-down fishing vessel searching the sterile seas for the now-elusive fish which were the livelihood of their grandparents as the currents of world history pass beneath them unperceived while they wait for the moment they are sure will happen – but never does.
Powerlessness, it’s hard to be weak when there are so many great names marching across the ticker of China News Network (CNN); when there are so many people who we think are important and assume are in command of their tremendous wealth and prodigious sense of purpose, until like a pastry-chef turned philosopher they take their own lives responding to impotence and the terrible vacuum of meaning which they had sought to fill with empty words and undigested reflections. Or worse, through an oh-so-great a vigor of delivery that they hoped the emptiness did not ring through, an emptiness that nevertheless resonates like steel drums played by a toddler with a stick they found in the yard after a rainstorm. Hopelessness, that is what most of us are desperately trying to avoid. The silence into which we all are eventually immersed and in which we must sit, and – quietly, with only our own thoughts to entertain us – accept.
But all is not lost. We return to our faith, when we realize meaning is meaningless. It is not a crutch, for faith is where we began our journey as hopeful children in the first place. And we give our aching souls back to the hand of a graceful God. And that is how it should be, in the end.