I’ve never written an epitaph before – turns out they are hard. How do you condense a lifetime of longing, of striving and dreaming, loving and yearning – a lifetime of wonder – into a few black words on a page? Celebrating a remarkable life but without glossing over the rough patches, the imperfections that make us all human, that gave the journey meaning and purpose?
And what if it’s a suicide? How do we write about that?
What if that epitaph is trying to tell the story of a nation? Thirty million souls; two hundred years of life. Weddings held by the rich in elite country clubs, Champaign and pastries – or the poor atop the flat roofs of their orange-brick ramshackle homes, beer and a sancocho soup overlooking the valley, the sweltering valley wherein they cradle their ideas of future? Stadiums full of baseball fans fighting for their team, passions burning bright over things that matter because they don’t matter at all; rooting on the “Vito Tinto”, a soccer team named after the color of their jerseys, carrying each loss with dignity and hope. Beaches on the high holidays, beer and boom boxes; the three Virgin Mary’s watching protectively over the people lest they fall to misfortune; the sacred waters of the Orinoco bringing magic and mystery. Braving the haunted path of the paramo in the Andes, wary of La Llorona lest her haunting cry drive you mad. Music – joropo and Polo Margariteno, salsa and merengue. Opportunity, not found through marches and voting but in an energetic youth looking to tomorrow. Then it was thrown away, needlessly and gaining nothing in return. How do I write about that?
I wrote a while back about a suicide – slow motion and stupid in all is venality, in all its vanity. A viral piece, harnessing the frustration of a world that can only watch and wait and wonder what the final act of stupidity would be that will bring down the edifice of what used to be a republic.
Tomorrow Venezuela will finally succumb to her self-inflicted wounds. Tomorrow she will die. She will be mourned, by those of us who have loved her – who have known her, before the folly set in. “How did this happen?” many will write, and are already asking “What happens next?” Futile questions – because what happens next is nothing. For the unwilling inhabitants of Venezuela, nothing will ever happen again. The same speeches; the same propaganda; the same food lines; the same medicine shortages; the people growing thinner and shorter generation by generation while the rulers become corpulent and obese. The same faces aging ungracefully, the hideous masters of ceremony becoming old and foul, presiding eternally over festivities that have never been festive – not for the people. A zombie apocalypse of red and rage and carnage that has burned itself out but that nevertheless keeps going. Not purpose or momentum, only persistence.
The revolution is over – and they won, those who built with expert precision an edifice of hate and stupidity could not have lost. Because what we have, freedom and prosperity and love is a delicate flower that is easily squashed under ancient prejudices and humanity’s legendary tolerance for injustice. A single tender fir tree does not withstand an avalanche, no matter how courageous she is. Oh, to be sure they won’t tell you that the revolution is over – those who used the mayhem to seize power. They need it – and they will keep up the pantomime; they will pretend that there is still something they are fighting for, and against. But they know it’s over – as do the enslaved – as do we all.
So here’s my epitaph, such as it is. I don’t know if I will write more about Venezuela – I don’t think there will be much more to say. All has been said so many times that I would risk becoming a bore, endlessly describing as I would be again and again the rotting of a corpse; its smells and sounds as a gruesome chronicle of death – who wants to read about that?
As I write this, I’m sitting in a bar in Jamaica (thoughts forthcoming); and what has struck me most about this island is the story of slavery; how it is infused into every fiber of peoples’ consciousness; not with bitterness but instead as a lesson, of a treasure hard won and cherished deeply – safeguarded in their music and their joi de vivre; in their island sounds and smells. While I listen to the songs of freedom from the band, on the other side of the small water a formerly free nation is dying, enslaved by the wicked, killed by those who refused to care for her, until it was too late.
Someday maybe I’ll sit in a bar in Caracas and think about the day Venezuela’s freedom died; and how she was reborn. That day, alas, seems tonight like a long ways away, far on the other side of a dark, painful, sad – and boring – channel.