Ortega and his men in their coats and their ties
Are free to drink martinis and watch the sun rise.
While the braves sit like Buddha in a ten-foot cell,
Innocent souls in a living hell
In the summer of 2018, Death was reaping massively in Central America. The eruption of El Fuego buried more than 300 people in Guatemala. Meanwhile in Nicaragua, students were protesting against a new pension legislation. They were greeted by blows, tear gas and bullets. The government of Daniel Ortega killed more than 500 souls.
In la Guitarra, a young Dutch tourist had a car accident on his way to the airport. His taxi crashed with a drunk driver. The taxi and the drunk driver survived, the Dutch gentleman did not. He left behind a sobbing girlfriend and broken parents.
I received the news early morning. My childhood friend Fouras had lost his mom. I knew her well. She fed me, scolded me, heard me laugh and watched me grow. My sadness was shadowed by the pain Fouras was going through.
May they rest in peace.
I am terrible at helping people through loss. In my culture, people cry and mourn together. That had never worked for me. Instead, I bury my head in the sand and wait for the storm to fade. When enough time has passed and people resume their life, I resurface and resume mine. It is selfish and craven, but it is my way of coping with loss.
I had been avoiding the Dutch widow in la Guitarra. Every time I walked by her bungalow, she was crying. Days after the accident, she was still crying. Who cares if it's bad? Just do it. I walked up to her and in my most sincere tone, tried to express my condolences. It was awkward, sad and uncomfortable. I did not know her nor her late boyfriend, but I felt her pain. She thanked me. I hope it helped.
I called Fouras to do the same. He was hectic, finding hopeless justifications and worrying about his dad now left alone. His parents were married for three decades. Fouras' pain leaked through every breath. The mix of emotions and heavy silences fogged my brain. I tried to express my support but I mumbled the wrong words, in the wrong tone, at the wrong time. You had one job...
I felt inadequate, harsh, like that aftertaste when you crunch a rotten almond. Later on I wrote a note to Fouras. Using words, I tried to bring a little comfort to his pain. It was neither pleasant nor easy, but it was necessary. The difficulty of the task made me ponder. Why can't I fucking do it?
By burying heavy emotions deep inside, I hope time will do its job and lick my wounds. Writing to Fouras did the opposite. It made sadness come up close. I remembered his mom's smile, her voice, random and funny memories... all we had left. Expressing my support in writing led to empathy, to tears. I was devastated.
After the tears came silence, and sleep. I wasn't physically with Fouras but through written words, he felt my compassion. Sitting with sadness instead of running from it had its benefits. Peace ensued, unexpected and most welcomed. Peace because I did the right thing. I helped my friend through his pain, and by the same token eased mine.
I used my new courage to make up for my past cowardice, to close an open wound. Two years ago, my friend Marc-Antoine lost his brother. He went through the most tragic time of his life and I knew it. Yet I couldn't empathize at the time. His brother's death was too shocking, too unjust, too heavy. So once again, I buried my head in the sand...for two years. As always, time did its job. I didn't.
I called Marc-Antoine to express my support. I was truly sorry. Sorry for not having been there. Sorry for the generic and shallow “I'm here if you need me”. Sorry for not being a good friend. The mix of emotions and heavy silences fogged my brain. Our call had more silences than words.
The intention was there but it wasn't enough, so I wrote. Written words work better for me because I can break down, breathe and still make sense. Marc-Antoine thanked and forgave me. This little act of courage added a layer of trust, love and support to our friendship. Finally...so relieving.
Cowardice is deceiving. It makes us believe we have time. Time to fix it, time to build up courage, time to do it later...until death reaps. Then there is no second chance, no fix, and important things are left unsaid. The cowardice turns to regret, to guilt, to anger. And all are worse than sadness. It is often the fear of something that paralyses us, not the thing itself.
Death is unfair and unpredictable. The best thing one can do is try to find peace. Peace can take many forms. For me it was making up to my past cowardice, and being there for my friends. Awareness of our mortality in the day to day life is a powerful motivator to act now. Because the only sure thing is that death will come for all.
So until then, let us be brave.