There are transcendent days in one’s life, for good or for ill. Day’s when everything changes, when new paths are trod and old ones abandoned. The month of October for some reason has been transcendent for me.
October, in the northern hemisphere: browns and gold and oranges where green had been. Not yet snowflakes but storms of cascading varicolored leafs accumulating in deep drifts. Closer to the equator, the weather doesn’t change seasonally but rather, daily, and leaves tend to stay green, albeit in myriad shades, and flowers bloom all year.
October, as it shifted into November, was my son’s favorite holiday season as they preferred witches and ghouls and werewolves to robust old gentlemen dressed in red, riding in sleds pulled by eight, or sometimes none reindeer. But they did like the gift giving aspects that followed on the heels of the winter solstice.
For me, October has had special meanings all my own. Rites of passage seemingly. Especially on two very different albeit perhaps complimentary occasions.
In 1952, on October 12, then Columbus Day (now a day to revile old Cristoforo and those Europeans who followed him and devastated what to them seemed like a new world), I left the beloved city of my birth to join my mother in what was to become our new home, or a collection of many new homes, all too many new sort of homes, in the United States. First in Miami and Miami Beach in Florida; then in Charlotte, North Carolina; then back to Miami; then on to New York (in numerous places over the years including Ozone Park, Hollis, Queens Village, Flushing); then on to Charleston, South Carolina; then back to New York, for many years in the old Otto Khan palace in Cold Spring Hills, then to “the City”, then in Glen Cove; then back to Florida, Fort Lauderdale that time; then Hendersonville, North Carolina; then Florida again, various places in Marion County; and then ….
October 16, 2007, was another such day for me, although it sort of started on the afternoon after the Ides of October, a sort of 48 hour long day. It started in Charleston, the Holy City to those closest to me. The day before had been the end of Parents’ Day weekend at the Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, my alma mater. My eldest son, Billy, had just received that ornate band of gold that made us brothers, as well as father and son. It was his senior year, as it had been mine forty years earlier. Our family was really together that weekend, together for one final time. And it may be that we all sensed it. My marriage to Billy’s mother had been over for a while although shards still prickled and stung, but I’d hoped then that something of family could be salvaged. I was wrong. It was a day for endings. But the next day was a day for beginnings. A long day that started on Monday morning at the airport in Charleston, then continued with a layover in Atlanta, then possibly one in Panama City (in Panama, not Florida), then one in Bogota, in Colombia, and finally, ended on Tuesday, in Manizales. Manizales where I’d been born sixty-one years earlier. Sixty-one years, two months and twenty-two days earlier. In a sense, I was going home, but to a home that had vastly changed since I’d last lived there as a young child, as I’d changed, as had my life.
The flight was long, but not just in distance and layovers, but metaphysically long, as though I were travelling to an alternative world, perhaps one of those posited in quantum hypotheses and M Theory. Or in the imaginings of Nikola Telsa concerning fairies and changelings, long before electric cars brought his name back from the grave.
Since that Tuesday in October when I arrived, arrived knowing virtually no one, and with no idea how long I’d remain or what I’d face, my life has changed completely, but echoes of my old life linger. Most I savor and treasure. I’ve not abandoned it, not really, only now, it’s lived primarily in virtual space, that strange new reality, neither inner nor outer, and all too often impossibly unreal.
Improbably for many, many reasons, my life has blossomed in Manizales. I was welcomed by hundreds of strangers as a sort of prodigal son returned, but not an impoverished and needy prodigal son, but rather, as one who had a great deal to offer, a great deal to share and a great deal to learn. I was on an incoming tide of returning members of the Latin American Diaspora. One long overdue. I spent over a decade as a university professor in Manizales, and my voice echoed all over Colombia as for some reason, the media, print, radio and television, found me interesting. Or perhaps just strange. Students taught me as much as I taught them, perhaps more, and I was able to perceive realties concerning the sort of foster homeland I’d left, that are not visible there, but need to be. And I managed to make my voice heard there as well.
Life in Manizales has been a great deal better than just good. Good and talented friends abound and hope fills the air. Beautiful verdant mountains surround me with skies full of birds and, above them, snowcapped peaks from which flow volcano heated thermal springs. Spring is perpetual and, half an hour away, so is summer, and an hour in the other direction, first fall and then winter await, whenever I need them. And I’ve found family here as well. Beautiful, intelligent and talented cousins, but also the kind of family that is formed with bonds of shared intimacy and love. I’ve perhaps had too many intimate encounters here. Too many which just didn’t work. But most have mellowed into beautiful friendships. And one has prevailed and perseveres. Manizales is a city full of learning and culture, an oasis for students and artists and writers and actors, and a city filled with real civic awareness, with a citizenry dedicated to a future where equity and justice prevail, and where empathy trumps polarization, unlike what is happening in the beloved land I left. Which perhaps explains why there are so many, many expats here.
Of course, it’s not perfect. Or rather, my life in Manizales is not perfect. My sons, now estranged (estranged as all too often happens in today’s impermanent world, one where dysfunction is the norm) are far away, in both time as well as space. And I don’t know my grandchildren, or more accurately, I know them only from infrequent photographs. And so many friends from my youth, brothers really, especially those with whom I shared Spartan moments that made us who we became, are only virtual images on social media, although always in my heart. Too many of them are passing beyond the veil well before their time, or so, we their grieving survivors believe.
I guess when one has lived and loved in so many places, as I have, no place ever seems wholly home. More so when one has lived long and fully. As have I. But Manizales is as close as it can get, at least for me. Although Charleston would not be bad, not bad at all. Nor would Manhattan. Nor Cold Spring Harbor.
But I’m not complaining.
Unlike Elvis and Frank Sinatra, “regrets”, I have many. And had I the chance, there are many, many things I’d change. I’ve inadvertently hurt too many who deserved better, especially women who’ve loved me. And although I tried my best, I was apparently not as good a father as I’d hoped I’d be, or as good a son as I should have been, or as good a brother. And probably, life has been kinder to me than I deserve, for which I’m grateful. But now I’m definitely doing my best to redress that imbalance so that when I’m no longer here, the world will be a better place than it would have been had I never been born. And I think that time will be on my side. My family is long lived, very long lived, at least a century is not improbable, so perhaps I have quite a while yet to not only make amends, but to leave a healthy credit balance on karma’s scales.
I wonder if more transcendent days await me?
I hope not.
It would be difficult for any of them to be more full of opportunity than those transcendent forty-eight hours that started right after the Ides of October, a bit less than fifteen-and-a-quarter years ago today. On the other hand, that Columbus Day in 1952 was not so shabby either.
© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, February 4, 2023; 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 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). However, he is also fascinated by mythology, religion, physics, astronomy and mathematics, especially with matters related to quanta and cosmogony. He can be contacted at email@example.com and much of his writing is available through his blog at https://guillermocalvo.com/.