“Poignant with loss”.
The phrase resonates.
Not in the sense of self-pity but perhaps a bit melodramatic. Can one just as easily be poignant with joy?
Birth is the beginning of death and every gain is also the beginning of a corresponding loss. A full life, one worth living, one where one has truly plumbed the depths and heights of feeling, one full of useful errors, is full of both loss and joy. With vulnerability, dominion and confusion in equal measures. With un-chainable emotions carefully balanced, control lost and regained and lost again.
For a very long time, most of my life really, the twin solstices have been poignant. More so since I became estranged from my sons. They are flying on their own, free to make their own mistakes and learn their own lessons. To be deceived and perhaps enlightened as well. To make their own joys and suffer their own sorrows. To betray and be betrayed. To accumulate and share experiences with their own, unique families. The permanence for which I hoped proved transitory but in my life, transition has been the only constant.
Perhaps the poignancy I feel so often but more strongly during the solstices has to do with how often I’ve moved, starting when I was around two. Back then, the constant change of situs was not yet impactful, at least not consciously so, but as I started school at five and changed schools at least once every year until I was fifteen, the changes become more and more difficult. Friends were made each year only to be quickly lost. That taught me how to make friends easily but also not to count on them. Sadly, separations became easier and easier to bear until the seemed almost inconsequential, regardless of how strong bonds had once seemed.
That changed for a while when at the age of fifteen I became a “cadet”, first at the Eastern Military Academy in Huntington, New York, and then at the Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina. Seven solid years of building bonds with schoolmates, ties which have persevered for decade after decade. Then a return to Eastern as a faculty member; nine more years during which the nature of evolving bonds changed. Bonding was no longer, for the most part, with peers, but rather, with my own pupils, young off-white tabulas almost rasas whom I sought to mentor. Apparently I’d grown and passed through several rites of passage. Some of those students have remained in my life, albeit at a distance, for more than half a century.
Fifteen was memorable for other reasons too. I’d always had a crush on some girl or other but before I attained that lofty age, they rarely knew (I wonder though whether any suspected what I felt). That changed. I started developing intimate ties with young ladies, ties I rarely handled well. Relationships seemed a game then. I had so much to learn and they had so much to teach, all too frequently bittersweet. Especially at this time of year. Julia Iglesias (my favorite singer) singing “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” has come to have a special meaning for me, but one more often than not tinged with regrets. Seemingly, perhaps I stayed fifteen for way too long. I’m still in touch with some lost loves, but not many. However, looking back, many more of them have stayed in my heart.
As it is for all of us eventually, as time slipped by, I lost precious family members and then classmates and students and friends and perhaps former lovers as well. The other side of the veil becomes more and more crowded so much faster now. Losses of places and people accumulate in profound pools of nostalgia weaving melancholy tapestries in shades of gray and the colors in rainbows fade. Melancholy becomes a place, one I visit as accumulated memories croon siren songs and I brood on things I’d change. Things that once seemed so right but now seem as though they might have been mistakes. Mistakes I’d correct, … if only I could.
So many people have touched my life. So many have shared sadness and happiness, ecstasy and despair. Others have merely crossed my path for an instant. I recall people I should have met, people who I saw in passing without a shared word and who immediately moved on but who I’ve never forgotten and wish I’d gotten to know. Roads not taken are always more plentiful than the paths we’ve trod and who knows where they might have led.
Hopefully I’ve grown wiser but wisdom is strange. It’s an imperfect mirror with distorted reflections and more and more unanswered, perhaps unanswerable, questions. Time alone doesn’t make one wise but perhaps it makes us more sage than we once were. Mistakes overcome bring wisdom, and mistakes, I’ve had my share. And not too few to mention. My way was not always the best.
This season is not only about gift giving and festivities but more importantly, it has always also been a time for reflection and introspection. A time to ponder how we’ve become who we are. As we age, some of us become less egocentric and our contemplation expands to the collectives of which we’re a part, to our future as a species. Those of us who study history professionally but by some miracle at least try to do so objectively, at some point realize that truth is more than just elusive. We come to realize that our own memories are at best an imperfect motley, an indecipherable collage, and that our collective memory tends to be even worse. What we call history, what we pass on to our progeny, is not only usually inaccurate but all too often cynically scored, liveried in beautiful music and soaring rhetoric designed to mold us into sated sheep and lyrical lemmings easily misled. To our collective detriment. Apparently, as we age, we become cynics, although the wise among us may attain that status sooner.
Things seemed so much easier to understand when I was very young, so many things seemed so clear, so obvious. Faith made belief easy. God was in his Heaven with Père Noel at his side taking notes. Fantasy seemed as likely to be true as what passed for reality. Truth and justice were tangible rather than imagined. One once among us, a Prince of Peace, had ascended to sit at the right hand of his father and certainly would never take sides in wars where we slaughtered each other in his Holy name. But then faith became more and more elusive and harsh “realities” slowly took its place, purported sanity replacing benevolent chaos.
Like so many others, I wonder: “do we lose cognitive capacity as we pass from the magic era of early childhood into the realm of knowledge acquired”? Is accumulated wisdom the antithesis of infancy’s faith or are we each a unique melding of instinct and pain, knowledge and joy, deception and rejection, unable to really communicate with anyone or anything else, even with the people we were and those we’ll become?
What a depressing thought!
Can’t we be both unreservedly alone and completely connected with everyone and everything that’s ever been? Quantically linked since before eternity was conceived, when everything was part of the primordial proto quark? After all, once upon a time, every part of what we are was joined together at the starting gate of a Big Bang, before we became Magellanic Clouds and then stars and rays of light. And isn’t light both an isolated particle and a collective wave?
Confused reflections as another solstice passes by.
© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2021; all rights reserved. Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.
Guillermo (“Bill”) Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) 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 also a citizen). Until 2017 he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales. He is currently a strategic analyst employed by Qest Consulting Group, Inc. He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation and linguistic studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and much of his writing is available through his blog at http://www.guillermocalvo.com.