Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What happened to Edna?

It was just another cold day with temperatures reaching 17º below zero. But it was just like so many other freezing days in there. It was sunny, though, with a completely clear blue sky. It was one of those days when people had to wear sunglasses to protect their eyes from the brightness of sunrays reflecting in the snow. The sun was especially painful that day. For some instants, several of the friends and old acquaintances reunited there - some after being away from each other for many years - took off the sunglasses to wipe away some tears. But immediately they'd put them on again, for protection, against the sun and exposure to too much emotion. I had put mine back too, although tears kept coming.

All the brightness of that day was in total disagreement with that event, or with what each of us felt about it. A little farther, away from the group but at eyes reach, near a small garden, some of our children played with the snow, totally indifferent to our black procession, totally unaware of what it meant to each one of us. My kids had stayed home with a cousin. Only my wife and me had come, because I didn’t want them to notice Edna’s picture on the cemetery gates. Edna had left us here: it was just like that. She decided to abandon us to our own fortunes after so many years, although all of us loved her so, in so many ways, for so many years. So there we were finally, at the end of one more road, paying our last respects. She had let go of the rope and our boats begun sailing away by themselves.

Just two weeks ago I had been at her place with my family, for one of those Sunday lunches that last throughout the whole day and into the night. We talked for hours about research projects and the necessary funds that should be raised, about our next holidays, about our day-to-day lives and worries. My kids were growing fast and she loved teasing and provoking them, and they loved her like a grandmother for all the cinnamon biscuits she made and all the love and respect she devoted them ever since they were born. As usual, we ended up remembering old days of when she was my teacher, and of how sometimes I got into her nerves. Of course by then I was the centre of all the jokes, and had to put up with mockery coming even from my own kids. I remember she having even said she was thinking about taking a trip to Namibia next summer, to visit an old friend of hers who had went to live there many years ago. It was a simple, normal Sunday, and everything was just OK. Life was where it was supposed to be and nothing could predict what would come later.

It was winter, just a winter like so many others in our lives. I would get up in the morning for a shower every day, followed by my wife, who would prepare some coffee, and then as my wife showered I would wake the children up and give them breakfast and prepare them for school. The kids were growing fast and healthy, full of energy, and my marriage was a very good one. We would get out everyday for work, me for the publishing house and my wife for the elementary school where she was a teacher, and we lived our lives like that, happily, peacefully. Everything was all right, or maybe not. Maybe it was just our way of not caring too much with the conditions of our lives, not caring about little details. We all know that sometimes too many questions can be suffocating and exhausting. Too many considerations can be a burden, and in a way maybe our lives are lived for the most part with the autopilot on, human intervention being required only in specific emergency occasions. The thing is we don’t have any device to warn us with a siren when something begins to go wrong with our lives, or with the lives of our loved ones, of our friends, colleagues, or simply strangers passing us by on the street. And sometimes when we realise there is a problem it's already too late to change the course of events. In other occasions, when we suspect something might not be the way it should be, people tend to dissimulate, they tend to hide feelings and emotions and just say everything is just fine when in fact it is not. We feel, we think things over, we imagine and dream about the future, we have conscience of our actions and surroundings, and therefore it is inevitable to be affected by this world, by specific circumstances of our daily lives and existences. To be alive is to be permeable to outer and inner conditions. We interact constantly with so many factors that it eventually causes us to suffer. And we also suffer sometimes for not having someone who could listen to what we have to say, someone who could understand, although we try less and less to communicate with others. We just have to be strong and deal with our own idiosyncrasies and problems by ourselves, trying not to bother others around us so much with our petty existences. I can also see myself in this wide picture. I’m so far from perfection… Maybe things I should have told others I left to be said and kept them to myself. And what good did it made me? None whatsoever. But I think we’re all like that, although this is far from being an excuse. What I mean is that it’s not just me, and I can’t be responsible for all bad things in this world. But that doesn't make this feeling go away...

The thing is that Edna is gone now, and nobody really knows or understands why. What happened to Edna? In all the faces attending the funeral I recognize old friends, old colleagues from school, old teachers… I see their families in there too. I look at my wife, I think of my kids, and in a very devious way I feel kind of happy to be here in this world, to be allowed to remain for some more time. Having said that, let me just say that all of us cried today, even in the absence of tears. No one knows why she gave up. No one saw any sign. But in all of us I realize now how much love we can expect from life: nothing bigger than the love Edna had for us all.

(Photography: Hronsek, Slovakia, December 30th, 2008 / Text: Coimbra, Portugal, January 14th, 2009)

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