11 March 1990

Dearest Papa,

I have been thinking a lot about Mama lately. I miss her all the time, Papa. I miss her deeply. I feel— empty. Not the sort of completely gripping emptiness, just a tinge here and there that occasionally manages to color my mood and well up in my chest. I have been struggling with how to deal with her death, especially because it often triggers memories of my childhood and, thus, well, as you can probably guess, Simon. Not only that, but your absence in any part of my life. It has been years since they have passed, I thought my grief would diminish; I wanted my grief to diminish. It just hurt too much. Clara has tried to help me work through this sense of despair and, at times, it has affected our relationship. Sometimes is helps and sometimes, it does nothing. Or I feel worse, or guilty, or incredibly saddened. I turn inward and shut her off. This hurts her, I know it hurts her, and that makes it even worse.

What I am finally coming to realize, I think after dealing with this despair these many years, is that I cannot bury the layers of hurt in my empty spaces. I do not have to deal with these gripping emotions all on my own. I need to share my hurt, my stories, my past. I need to share the sound of Mama’s laugh that chimed like bells and the piercing, intelligent eyes of Simon’s gaze that gave me the chills when he was caught up in a passionate monologue. And I know I’m not the only one. Everyone in this country is carrying a burden, an empty space that so desparately wants to be filled. I don’t know if these spaces need to be filled, though. Maybe, these empty spaces in ourselves push us to become better people. They provide internal spaces for grief and hurt that allow for self reflection and intimate connection with our deepest feelings that can happen nowhere else. And I’m not saying this is easy, in fact, it is one of the hardest things I have ever had to deal with.

As Patricio Aylwin in sworn in today as the new President of Chile, I pray that our country can come to terms with what has happened to both the land and its people. That even while the country revels in this day of the first return to democracy in twenty years, Aylwin has some sort of means of addressing the difficult truths, understanding the country’s various pains, the loneliness and anger, and a process for enacting justice. I recognize the difficulties of this task and I will pray for his strength every night before I sleep. A prayer to the grass and the animals, the birds and the wind, the man on the street corner waiting for the bus, the woman in the supermarket inspecting an apple, the farmer in his field toiling under the hot sun, and the mother who has lost her child to the secrets of the military regime. God no longer exists for me. My faith has anchored itself in humanity and the strength of the human spirit.

There is not an easy fix for a return to democracy after what the Chilean people have been through. Those alive have lived through twenty years of history steeped in suffering and terror. Empty spaces have opened everywhere. I cling to the hope that our stories will be shared. Our loneliness, our grievances, our strained hearts put forth into outstretched arms of neighbors, loved ones, and the Chilean community to find our personal truths and individual justices. Our body’s small vibrations together can modulate as one to bring back the spirit that once flowed through this country.

I have decided, as an effort to deal with my empty spaces, the weekly organizational meetings will now be places for open discussion on hopes and worries for the future. A forum of sorts on how to find truth and seek justice.  A place for the community to find friends who will support them and everything they have been through. Also, Papa, I am going to begin writing a history. A history of Chile as told through my personal history with the vibrant and soulful stories of those who live and love this neighborhood of Santiago. I am very excited to see where it will take me.

Much love, your son,

Joaquin Oliveras Vidal

1 thought on “11 March 1990

  1. ssvolk says:

    What a lovely idea, Joaquín – to write a history of Chile. I fear that there was so much pain in the last few decades that people won’t even want to think about Chile’s past — put it all behind us, move ahead, move ahead! So we need good people to think about the past and record what happened. Good for you! How is Clara? Any little ones I don’t know about?

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