Very, very, very long ago
A prime number again in a prime numbered year. The twentieth time that the anniversary of my birth has reflected a prime number. If I were a numerologist that might have some relevance but I’m much more a historian, perhaps a philosopher, hopefully a poet. In any case an observer and commentator on what I see and feel and think and hope; frequently mistaken but that may well be the best path to learning if it’s mistakes we learn from.
What an odd and horrible year 2017 has seemed from the perspective of polity in the United States while in Colombia, it has been the harbinger of hope and peace. The two countries to which I’ve pledged allegiance, though my true allegiance is perhaps a bit broader, to mankind as a whole, my dreams perhaps best musically reflected in John Lennon’s hymn, “Imagine”.
Personally it’s a year in which I’ve withdrawn from active pedagogy and become a more public exponent of my fears and hopes and reflections for the future, exploring the more generic opportunities of social and alternate media rather than the narrow beam of classroom teaching. And I’ve read. I’ve read history and religion and philosophy. I’ve read literature that puts the foregoing into context; and I’ve read current news, extensively and from diverse perspectives, both geographically and philosophically, or at least what passes for news but seems much more fictional than creative literature. My historical research contextualizes that perception, seemingly that’s the way current news has always been; a stream of screeching propaganda seeking a place in fictional times gone by.
About to become seventy-one, my last day at seventy. Looking back with longing at so many memories of so many people, so many regrets and quite a few delights, even some moments of joy and a few instants of pride. So many things I wish I could do over, either because I enjoyed them so much I’d like to do them again or because I think I could do them so much better now, given a second chance. So many friends I miss, so many homes left in so many cities, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Charlotte, New York, Huntington, Charleston, Hendersonville, Belleview, Ocala, but now I find myself again in Manizales, the city of my birth. I miss every one. My frequent moves would have seemed strange half a century ago or so ago but now, not strange at all. I find that somewhat sad.
The future, as always, looks abysmally bleak as well as beautifully bold and full of hope. I expect to see a great deal of it and would love to see it all, at least I think I would. My health is unusually good in every respect. I’m told I would not be revealing my age were I twenty years younger and I’m active athletically with companions forty years younger, mainly in tennis, but this week I’m helping start softball and baseball leagues in this City in the Sky, a place where the level playing fields we need will not be at all easy to find. A hope to play although I’m certain I’ll be the slowest and most prone to errors, at least I’ll get to practice. I’m writing quite a bit although there are a great many works I’ve left unfinished over the years. They ought to be getting attention sometime soon but I hear rumbling in my head complaining that that’s what they’re always told. I wonder by whom?
Politics in the United States has become uglier and more divisive than at any time I can recall and very sadly there are those among those I most care for and admire who no longer care to stay in touch, feeling the differences in our perspectives too strong a barrier. Hopefully I’ll not join them, but who can say. One wonders why too often it turns out that way, but much more often now. Politics in Colombia is polarized as well, and ugly, but the edge is blunted there by an aura of hope missing in the good old USA. Sad, and worse, very dangerous. Very dangerous for everyone, everywhere, at least on this beautiful blue planet. I remember when we thought of it as green, before we ventured bravely onto the threshold of outer space. I remember Robert Heinlein and his grumbles from the grave, and remember Lazarus Long and his whole crew. I remember Tolkien and Asimov and so many more authors who left too soon. And Crosby and Hope, and Frank Sinatra and Elvis, and George Harrison too.
I just finished watching the entire original Stark Trek series in sequential fashion, several episodes a day. It was as enlightening concerning the changes in our attitudes as it was disappointing in how little we’ve progressed, and it was much more poorly done and much more boring than I recalled. I remember my rage when it was cancelled and then cancelled again. Netflix, a wonderful window into both the past and present I now enjoy, but a toy compared to the perspectives opened up by Google and the worldwide-web. I can research virtually anything in a second (almost unavoidable pun intended). But given the counterattack proposed by those who view too much knowledge and too much access to interpersonal communications as a threat, I worry about how much access my children and their children will have to those windows on the world. Dark ages seem cyclical and it smells like one is due.
I and those my age and even those close to my age have been privileged to witness technological, informational and communicative revolutions and fascinatingly, have not been surprised by the progress, although many of us perhaps find its assimilation a bit too challenging at times. Interestingly though, as we knew it would be, our music remains vibrant and new; perhaps it’s true and rock-and-roll is here to stay, as is our literature and our cinema, and our culture, both good and bad. Still, change all too often sneaks up on us when we least expect it.
Look at me. A decade now I’ve spent all too far away from home, home being where my sons are, all of them now back where they started as I’m back where I was born. I’m back among beautifully verdant mountains high in the sky, snowcapped glaciers looking down on me and thermal springs heated by a volcano, el Señor del Ruiz, pouring into pretty pools I visit when I get a chance. The beautiful girls there don’t seem all that young but somehow I’ve come to seem somewhat older to them than I’d like, the way things have always been I guess.
My alma maters. I’ve had many, but two stand out, The Citadel and Eastern Military Academy. One keeps changing a bit more than I’d like and the other not at all, it’s been gone for almost forty years now. Almost magically it seems, Facebook keeps many, many of us in touch. I have Facebook friends whom I’ve not seen for fifty years but communicate with regularly; amazing. NYU and St. John’s in New York are also still part of my life, and the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Florida too, as is my grammar school, St. Gerard de Majella’s in Hollis, Queens in the City of New York: the congregation is there but the school is gone and I’ve not been able to find my classmates, old as me now though still young in my mind. Look in Facebook and you’ll find it there. I wonder if I could find Central Beach Elementary or Biscayne Elementary in Miami Beach; that would be something. And if I did if I could find old friends whose full names I may never have known, that would really, really be something.
Too many friends have passed away and more leave all the time. I find that profoundly sad. Fewer and fewer of us are left. Each time they go I regret the time I failed to spend with them, and now, being so far away, how little I can do about it, other than stay in touch through the magic keyboard and screen on my desk.
Rambling. I know. But that’s just what I wanted to do on this last day of my seventieth trip around the sun.
Immersed in memories and melancholy. Happy and sad at the same time, and very grateful too.
© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2017; all rights reserved.
Guillermo Calvo Mahé is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia although he has primarily lived in the United States of America (of which he is a citizen). Until recently he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales. He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies). He and can be contacted at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org and much of his writing is available through his blog at http://www.guillermocalvo.com.