November 3rd 2010
This morning my husband Carlos reminded me that 40 years ago on this date Allende was inaugurated as president of Chile. “Where were you?” I asked. “Here in Santiago, watching the procession to La Moneda” he said, “bawling my eyes out with my compañeros de la universidad. Tears of joy, because we truly believed a fair and harmonious society was on its way.”
I think it’s important to remember these things about the past even though hearing them can sometimes break your heart wide open. But to ignore them is to shut yourself off to the bitterness of the world as well as its breathtaking possibility. The parallel realities, the could have beens, I hope can give us the strength to fight for what we want to see tomorrow, in whatever ways we can. To believe in something leaves you vulnerable to the hurt and disappointment of unfulfilled dreams, but to stop believing – well many of my countrymen have, we all have in some way or another after watching our glass dreams crushed under the boot of a violent and totalitarian regime… who I am to judge which is better – the numbness of unquestioning acceptance or the endless ache of the unwinnable battle.
In many ways I see the development of Chile over the past few decades mirrored in my own personal growth, and vice versa. I was 25 when Allende took office, so young, hopeful, energetic – looking back it’s easy to say naive, idealistic, but at the time how were we to know the unfathomable strength of the jaw that would crush our efforts… I believed, as young people do, as much of Chile did, that the future was mine to forge into my own golden image. And then came the disillusionment, the heartbreak and betrayal, that everyone, regardless of nationality, must face at some point, a part of coming of age. My father’s disappearance, the realization that my education, my political professional goals to which I’d aspired my whole life simply could not be, my first heartbreak, the crashing down of all the structures you hold dear, the realization of pain and the not knowing if you can survive it but knowing that you must. It happened for me at the same time, the same way it happened for my whole country. And then the slow recovery after heartbreak, the mending, the knowledge that though your being is forever altered, you are still alive and will continue to be so, and getting better every day and things can start again: a new love, the love of my life, when I met Carlos, as restrictions loosened, the realization that I could follow my dream to write the truth. The focus on moving forward, one step in front of the other, which is what my country tried to do, walk as far away as fast as possible and not look back.
Until you are, suddenly, decades later, decades older, and you realize you must look back, work through the past as best you can, if you ever want to recover any of the hope and happiness of your childhood. That’s all I want for Chile, true recovery. Not just the bandaging of surface wounds… To me, the past will be put to rest not when the last torturer is jailed, not when the count of the dead and disappeared is finalized, but when we can return to our childlike hope and playfulness and courage, before we were ravaged by heartbreak. When my countrymen are once again unafraid to dream of a better future, fight for a better future, for themselves and the whole world.