Seaweed From Far Away – Raúl Contreras
Today, we are all just a little more Cuban than American.
Today, we do something so uniquely Cuban, that to begin to comprehend the irrationality of it, may require a healthy portion of inborn Cubanidad, and that being able to call on one's Cubanidad is possibly the only way to even attempt to completely grasp the crystalline ambiguity of it.
It means nothing.
It means everything.
It changes nothing.
It changes everything.
It ends nothing, and nothing truly begins.
It's just us, it's what we do.
It's part of being Cuban.
We know that Fidel will die someday, we know that we will celebrate his death when he does.
We know that the celebration will be tainted with immeasurable sadness, because the last constant to being uniquely us, and the last connection to a land more vibrant and alive in our memories than in our reality, is gone.
Long ago, we stopped waiting for a change, so we just dug in and began a stubborn, single-minded wait...we became determined to just outlive the son of a bitch.
He may have beaten our hopes for a return to the homeland that we once knew, but he couldn't beat time.
For some reason, as I sit here today, wondering whether or not this really is the day that nearly everyone in the world with any measure of Cubanidad has been waiting for, I thought of a story by Rafael Contreras, another Cuban waiting somewhere for the inevitable to happen.
I'd like to share his story with you, as he and I sit and wait together, and far apart.
Time is our ally.
Seaweed From Far Away
By Rafael Contreras
Pinar del Río.- “Look, son, this seaweed comes from the shores of our land far away. It’s hard to be far from the one’s country, son.” The man said this to the boy and then put his hand gently in the sea water. He took a handful of seaweed and smelled it.
The boy asked, “Father, if it’s so hard to be far from one’s country, why did I have to come here with you and my mother?”
The man realized right away that this was a question that was going to remain unanswered for a long time. He smiled sadly and gently caressed the boy’s head. The man’s hands were still wet from the sea water. He put the seaweed to one side on the sand. He did not answer.
He limited himself to looking at the horizon as if searching for the exact place from which one day they had left. The child went running in search of shells by the side of the beach. Then the man thought it would be better that way. It was good to stay by himself for awhile when that seaweed from afar reached the shore.
He set about remembering all the smells that the seaweed had brought. Sometimes it carried the smell of those who drowned when they were halfway there. On other occasions he imagined that it carried the aroma of a remote childhood now lost forever. That made him think of the bitterness that the word exile holds. To emigrate is sad even for birds. They go because they have no alternative, but they always return. Nothing and no one stops them.
Among mankind it’s very different. A man who is forced to leave his land is like a plant that is pulled up by the roots and without taking it to other soil. The plant may be replanted and even flourish somewhere else and may bear fruit but it will never be the same.
The man thought about all those things at the edge of the beach. The seaweed kept coming on the trains of waves. The child searched for more shells. Apparently he hadn’t worried that his father had left his question unanswered. The man thought it would be better that way. He knew it was a question that carried a difficult answer. Almost all the answers are hard. The complicated part is never in the questions. It would be best if people knew that always.
This time he took a handful of sand in his hands. It felt strange. He also felt great sorrow for all the exiles of history. The thought about Martí, about Napoleon, even about Moses himself. He truly felt sorry for all the exiles of the world. And he felt sorrow for his own son. He also grieved for himself.
He tenderly let the sand fall to its place. He felt nostalgia for the sand of the exiles’ lost and distant beaches. Perhaps they were beaches of Cuba, beaches of Corsica or of Palestine. That didn’t even matter. In the final analysis there were lost beaches for every exile.
He remembered he had heard it said many times that an exile is only left with the sea for a country. He felt a lot of fear as he thought of that. Maybe the sea can be the tomb for an exile, but it will never be his country; it will never be the land where he was born. The sea is an interminable water. It will never be land.
The child came running with his hands full of shells. He shared some with his father. They were beautiful, unrepeatable shells. They looked like uninhabited houses. The man also felt sorrow for the exiles of the shells that had occupied those homes. It was then that the child surprised him with another question a thousand times harder than the first:
“Look, dad, they’re empty houses. They’re not home. I think the same thing happened to the shells that happened to us. They had to leave their homes for good.”
The child did not see him cry. The man had directed his glance the other way. The boy also would never know how much salt that tear carried. It was a tear that gathered almost all the salt that now dampened his sad body, weary of the seaweeds from afar.