We all know how painful it is when, through a misunderstanding or an inadvertent hurt, there is the end of a friendship, maybe a close relationship. We may angrily say, “I am well rid of such a person,” but the pain of rupture is real. Every person we lose is a significant subtraction from our life.
If I care for a person, his or her departure from my life is a real loss. Every person is unique and so the void is never filled. On a quiet Sunday morning, as you sip your tea, the memory suddenly returns like the sudden prick of a pin. As you listen to a song, an unexpected pang overwhelms you with a pain you thought you had put firmly behind you.
But what happens when the loss is definitive, and the door has been shut with finality? When death comes and ends a relationship, there is not even a meager hope. You know that you have lost something precious forever. There is only desolation, the sense of an unfinished story, and the despair of utter hopelessness.
I have now come to a country where for years there was an unending spate of violence. In Colombia, the extensive killing has ended, but there are not many families that have not lost a beloved member. A family I have known from Washington, whose hospitality I have enjoyed in Bogota, is one such family.
Matías was only twenty-one, a fresh graduate, a lanky young man with a broad smile and a loping gait. He was highly social, knew everybody in the neighborhood, and was eager to lend a hand, whether to get a medicine or fix a bicycle. Kind and jovial, he had access to every house in the neighborhood and friendship with every young man or woman.
That social link may have been his undoing. The stories of those violent days are seldom clear, and that of Matías is no exception. Nobody knows what happened; there is only speculation. He may have unwittingly come to know of some drug deal. He may have overheard some planned shenanigan, even the killing of a key official. He may even have been offered a part in some shady operation and his refusal may have sealed his fate. Those were not days when terminating a life, even a young, innocent life, was a big deal for cartel leaders.
Matías did not come home one evening. A night of frantic calling and checking, and of agonized search in many homes. At the crack of dawn, some villager reported a mutilated body on the town’s outskirt. Matías had been shot in the head and his body had simply been left on the street as a warning to those who doubted the omnipotence of drug dealers.
Matías’s mother, Mariana, is my friend and she has talked about her lost son several times. It hurts her to talk about it, and even twelve years later it brings tears to her eyes. But she cannot but talk about it. It is still a living reality for her. A very living reality.
How can you not miss somebody you gave birth to, saw growing up, day by day, month by month? You held him, you fed him, you clothed him, you gave him life -- that became an inseparable part of your own life. How do you live after that very important part of your life is snatched away? I don’t know. I shudder to think of the enormity of pain that suffuses every fiber of our body when such a loss occurs. And to think that somebody, for some indecipherable reason, deliberately causes that inhuman loss.
I listen to Mariana. I see the photos she shows me. I hear the painful history and its painful aftermath. She cannot help it and I cannot but hear my friend’s story. I wonder how does one live after that and live a normal daily life. How does one walk, read, cook, shower, eat, talk, do the simplest things of life? How does one sleep at all?
Yet Mariana lives and does all these things. She even laughs when I say a joke and holds my hand when I give her some insignificant gift. She says she does not know how she came out of the nightmare of the days that followed the horrific discovery. I suppose nobody knows or understands how one survives such mortifying pain.
I only know now, with a poignancy that I never knew before, that people live with such excruciating loss. They live from hour to hour, day to day, putting one step before another, doing the daily chores, while at all times nursing at their heart a wound that never stops bleeding.
You and I, exempt from such loss, – but only for a few months or some years, for our turn has to come, to lose what we value – can only sit quietly and listen. And try, earnestly, to understand what is surely beyond all understanding.